I know that you have this doctrine that the Orthodox Church is "the One, True, Apostolic Church" that we've been confessing in the Creed all this time, and that you see yourselves as having the "fullness". I've seen it explained many times. What I am here asking for is not a simplistic answer explaining how the faith was "once delivered to the saints", but rather how you as Orthodox reconcile such exclusivistic claims with the realities and complexities that surround us.
For example, Charismatic Protestant churches are growing like wildfires in previously non-Christian territories such as China and Africa. Muslims in Africa and the Middle-East are to various degrees finding faith in Christ thanks to Protestant minitries, in countries with ancient Orthodox Christian populations.
Growth in and of itself tells us little relevant to notions like universalism, inclusivism, exclusivism, or religious pluralism per se. A great deal of the growth of Charismatic Protestant churches is represented by elements like the prosperity doctrine. Oneness Pentecostalism has grown from a handful of proponents in the 1940s to millions of followers who affirm the ancient heresy of monarchian modalism (i.e. Sabellianism). Mormonism and Islam are growing, as is atheism.
When you suggest that "exclusive claims" of any kind may be viewed as "arrogant," you are not alone. How one might answer such a charge from an Orthodox perspective in part depends on the nature of your own views.
May I ask for a bit of clarification about where you are coming from to know how it might be best addressed? You self-identify as a Lutheran, but of course a wide variety of syncretistic perspectives are hardly unknown e.g. in the ELCA. For example may I ask what your own general view regarding exclusivistic claims of any kind are? Are you a universalist? If you are not, do you consider your rejection of universalism to be "arrogant"? Do you reject the notion that everyone will be excluded from final salvation, whatever you personally conceive that to be? Does it matter if those claiming the name Christian have in many cases mutually exclusive notions of almost any theological reality one might care to name? I'll start with the extreme form of religious pluralism first; some considerations relating to this will also apply to the Smorgasbord view of Christianity which in some quarters reduces it's "core content" (historically a notorious ambiguity in itself) to most anything or nothing at all (cf. Bart Ehrman's Lost Christianities
where polytheists, angel worshipers, and antinomians are all considered "Christian" simply because they claim the label
. But back to religious pluralism...
“Aslan is Tash, Tash is Aslan.” They come from the final episode of C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, The Last Battle, where Shift the Ape bamboozles the beasts into equating Tash, the devilish deity who is one of Narnia’s enemies, with Aslan, the Christ-like lion whom the Narnians love. Says Shift, “Tash is only another name for Aslan... Tash and Aslan are only two different names for you know who... Get that into your heads, you stupid brutes. Tash is Aslan, Aslan is Tash.” The name “Tashlan” is later coined to confirm the identity. But when Tash and Aslan appear, embodying ferocious cruelty and lordly love, respectively, it becomes plain that they are distinct—and as different as can be.
What Lewis’ story reflects is his view of the attempts of liberal theologians of his day to assimilate the world’s religions and religiosities into each other. As in the twilight all cats are grey, so at the dawn of the twenty-first century many still claim that all religions must be substantially the same, however different their outward forms. This claim is, however, in its final agonies of death taken as a whole.
Trajectories in Comparative religion for some time sought to combat claims that any religion is unique and synthesize/syncretize all religions into a non-dogmatic whole from S. Radhakrishnan’s Eastern Religions and Western Thought
(NY: Oxford University Press, 1940, 2nd Ed.) to W. E Hocking’s The Coming World Civilization
(NY: Harper, 1956) until Robert L. Slater, director of Harvard University’s Center for the Study of World Religions proclaimed the attempt dead on arrival (Slater, R. L., World Religions and World Community
(NY: Columbia University Press, 1963): “Slater notes that the early widely held belief that all the great religions are essentially the same has given way to a suspicion that they may really be quite irreconcilable... He adopts the notion [of]... neither displacement nor synthesis but a rediscovery in each religion of what is most essential” (Mountcastle, William W., Religion in Planetary Perspective: A Philosophy of Comparative Religion
(Nashville: Abingdon), pp. 34-35; cf. pp. 21-42).
(“history of religions”) school is a reflection of this attitude of taking each religion in its own terms: “Unlike the approach which seeks to reduce all experience and reality to a few basic ingredients or principles, this newer perspective strives to grasp a given reality in its own terms, in its own uniqueness, and in its own context. Basic similarities are not stressed at the expense of particularities or differences” (Eliade, Mircea, and Kitagawa, Joseph, eds., The History of Religions: Essays in Methodology
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press).
Although in the halls of academia syncretism is sickly and virtually dead, it is very much alive and well in the New Age movement and a good deal of non-Christian Eastern philosophy (primarily pantheistic/monistic varieties which are philosophically committed to the unity of all things including all things religious as a first principle). Like the Borg of Star Trek fame such thinkers are convinced they must assimilate all which lay in their path and proclaim “Aslan is Tash; Tash is Aslan!” “Jesus is our Savior/Avatar!”
Proponents of variegated philosophies of religious syncretism telling Christians of whatever profession their Church and their Bible and their Savior “really” teach Buddhism, Hinduism, etc (“rightly understood;” e.g. Alan Watts) are IMO as absurd in their own unique way as a Christian would be in claiming to find the discovery of DNA, the television, microwaves, and the bicycle predicted in the book of Revelation.
In the view of John Hick the syncretic impulse collapses into an uncritical reductionism at best, and deception/ propaganda at worst. Hick affirms an irreconcilable difference between Eastern and biblical religious claims and emphasizes the dishonesty of trying to homogenize them (especially, according to Hick, regarding three basic teachings: A. Creation/Creator distinction; B. The spirit of total malignant cosmic evil; and C. The uniqueness of Christ).
I'll reply further in a bit with more specific reference to Orthodoxy if you could clarify the nature of your notion that exclusivistic claims of any kind are arrogant.