Divine Tradition

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 knowledge".

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 Spirit.

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, Perth, W.A.,
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia

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