by Elias Bagas
Many use the terms 'tradition' and 'modern', but is it
possible to remain faithful to tradition and be modern?
There is a general disregard for or confusion about
Church tradition, and a readiness to accept views that are
contrary to the Orthodoxy of the Church.
We cannot deny that that there are many 'human'
traditions that permeate through the life of the Church,
which, by their nature, will change with time and fashion.
Sacred tradition, however, is Divine revelation originating
from God, Who moves and directs the spiritual life of the
Church. Christ distinguished between these two types of
tradition when He told the Scribes and Pharisees, "For
laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition
of men" (Mark 7:8). Similarly, St Paul the Apostle warns,
"Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty
deceit, according to tradition of men, according to the
basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ"
(Col 2:8). St Paul also directs "
in the name of our
Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who
walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he
received from us" (2 Thess 3:6), and "
stand fast and
hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word
or our epistle" (2 Thess 2:15).
These passages quoted places the Divine Traditions
well above the traditions created by the human mind. Divine
or Sacred Tradition must guide us in our spiritual lives,
but we must overlook or ignore human traditions that
contradict Sacred Tradition. Sacred Tradition is given to
mankind by the Triunal God directly or through the Prophets
and 'Fathers' of the Church. In other words, this tradition
is divine revelation, and examples are recorded in both the
Old and New Testament. St Paul, for example, stressed that
he spoke "
the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden
wisdom which God ordained before the ages of our glory,
which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they
known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (1
Cor 2:6-8). He continued, "God has revealed them to us
through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes,
the deep things of God" (1 Cor 2:10). It is this revelation
that distinguishes Divine Tradition from ones devised by the
human mind, which some of the Fathers called "Corporeal
Another form of Divine Tradition is the one passed
down from generation to generation that is not recorded in
the Holy Scriptures. Such teaching includes Apostolic
preaching that is preserved in the writings of the Church
Fathers. This type of Tradition is considered by the
Orthodox Church (i.e. the Church of the Ecumenical Synods
and Holy Fathers) to be just as important as the Holy
Scriptures. In fact, it was with this Tradition that the
various books of the Bible were accepted as Holy Scriptures
during the fourth century AD. St John the Apostle actually
declared that "
there are also many other things that
Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose
that even the world itself could not contain the books that
would be written" (John 21:25). About 350 years later, St
John Chrysostom said that the Apostles did not hand down
everything in writing, but have also delivered many
things in unwritten form. The former and the latter are
equally trustworthy, and so we also consider the Tradition
of the Church to be trustworthy. Is it Tradition? Seek no
further" (Homily 4 on 2 Thessalonians).
Unlike the Protestants that deny oral Tradition and
only accept the Holy Scriptures as the "Word" of God, the
Orthodox Church preserves both forms of Divine Tradition and
is the one Holy Church, the Catholic Church, the Apostolic
Church. She has remained faithful to the Apostolic teaching
and the canons, and has preserved uninterrupted continuity
of Apostolic succession from the time of Christ. This has
been done without modernisation and without innovations, so
that the Church Fathers all agree on dogma throughout
Christian history, and no other church can truthfully claim
this. This is so simply because the Orthodox Church knows
the Truth, and the truth has made Her free (c/f John 8:32)
and has illuminated Her through the action of the Holy
The 'modern' consumer-orientated system that is
spreading throughout the world exists because change means
money. Material things are being constantly 'improved',
miniaturised, and made obsolete in order to create
artificial demands for products. The same thing happens with
religion, to supposedly overcome 'boredom' or 'familiarity'.
The 'old' is replaced by the 'new' and new 'interpretations'
are constantly being put forward to explain the Holy
Scriptures; even to the extreme of suggesting that Christ's
miraculous birth and Resurrection are myths. However, Truth
neither changes with time nor grows old. Furthermore, the
Orthodox Christian religion is not a science or art that is
constantly modified with the procession of time through
human rational. Our religion, however, is the work of God,
Who is both incorruptible and never-changing.
Divine Tradition does not lead to the decay of the
Church, but it preserves its life with fruitfulness, which
is often portrayed by the Saints that testify to her saving
authority. Yet the innovative 'western' Churches continue to
adapt their teaching to accommodate contemporary thought,
and by doing so bear only a vague resemblance to the One
Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
from The Truth, v 17(19),
Christian Missionary Society of the Ascension of our Lord,
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia