A Question of Intention

edited December 1969 in Non-Orthodox Inquiries
The "Holy Spirit - a Wild Goose?" thread has got me wondering about something, and I want to dash off a quick thought and question before retiring. If any of you wonderful Orthodox people can provide your insights, I would very much appreciate it.

In many aspects of Christian religion as I have experienced it, much is made of the intention or self-conception of the believer. Sometimes this forms a basis for the interaction with other religions (as in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which famously states in a passage on Islam that Muslims "claim to hold the faith of Abraham"), other times it seems to be practically a wholesale substitute for engaging in any theological reflection at all ("Just accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and ta-da! You're automatically on the guest list in heaven").

What does the Orthodox Church teach about this? Does the intention of the believer (in whatever religion) somehow mitigate whatever wrong theology or other belief they might hold? Does their conception of themselves or of their own religion allow them to be considered differently with regard to the acceptability of their worship? I ask this second question because one of the most frequent responses I got from Catholics in defense of their church's wrong and misguided stance on Islam is that as there is only one God to begin with, and the Muslims endeavor to worship God, then how can it be said that they are somehow not worshiping the true God? Doesn't God care about intention at least enough to accept sincere prayers from people who, after all, are likely misguided through no direct fault of their own?

I know the answers I've given to each one of these questions in the past, but I remain...unconfident (pfft...whatever, spell check...that is so a word!) with regard to their soundness, particularly as I learn more about Orthodoxy, and hence realize how I don't really know anything at all.

Again, any help or even just fellow speculation is very much appreciated.


  • Intentions lead to actions. If one intends to worship the True God, then they should do everything in their ability to seek Him.
  • I think that intention does matter in so far as it is a measure known only to God of how a person is responding to the call of God in their own heart and life. As one who was a Protestant I believe that by the grace of God I was responding to this call and had the intention of seeking after God, and he led me to Orthodoxy. Of course there are those who are formally Orthodox and have no intention of seeking after God.

    But this says nothing about these various religions. The error which they represent is demonic even while mitigated to various extents by the actual reality of how people live out their religion, either truly seeking God or not.

    Those who say there is only one God and all who worship are worshipping him are wrong. There are many gods and many objects of worship. But all the other gods are not God but demons. It is possible for someone who is a Muslim to be led to the truth but Islam is demonic. And those who follow Islam rather than seeking God are deceived.

    Today in the news a Satanic group of child abusers were exposed in the UK. They worship a spiritual being, would anyone want to say that they were worshipping God? When tens of thousands were sacrificed to the Central American gods were they worshipping God? When a Muslim blows up women and children and shouts out, is he worshipping God or a demon of death?

    Yet in all these cases a person might find some knowledge of God. But only by essentially rejecting the tenets of the religion in which a person found themselves.
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