‘Sir,’ the woman said to him, ‘I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.’She asked him a question about cult, and in reply Jesus changed the whole perspective of the matter. Nowhere in the New Testament, in fact, is Christianity presented as a cult or as a religion.
Jesus saith unto her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father… But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him’ (John 4:19-21, 23).
Religion is needed where there is a wall of separation between God and man. But Christ who is both God and man has broken down the wall between man and God. He has inaugurated a new life, not a new religion. It was this freedom of the early church from “religion” in the usual, traditional sense of this word that led the pagans to accuse Christians of atheism.
Christians had no concern for any sacred geography, no temples, no cult that could be recognized as such by the generations fed with the solemnities of the mystery cults. There was no specific religious interest in the places where Jesus had lived. There were no pilgrimages. The old religion had its thousand sacred places and temples: for the Christians all this was past and gone. There was no need for temples built of stone: Christ’s Body, the Church itself, the new people gathered in Him, was the only real temple. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up…” (John 2:19).
The Church itself was the new and heavenly Jerusalem: the Church in Jerusalem was by contrast unimportant. The fact that Christ comes and is present was far more significant than the places where He had been.
The historical reality of Christ was of course the undisputed ground of the early Christians’ faith: yet they did not so much remember Him as know He was with them. And in Him was the end of “religion,” because He himself was the Answer to all religion, to all human hunger for God, because in Him the life that was lost by man — and which could only be symbolized, signified, asked for in religion — was restored to man.
From Fr. Al. Schmemann’s, For the Life of the World.