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Holy Tradition from, Order of Creation/Order of Redemption

Holy Tradition

from Order of Creation/Order of Redemption
by Michael Azkoul, publ. Orthodox Research Institute, 2007, pp. 9-13.

Republished on our website with permission of the author.

St. Paul commands "in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" that the Faithful of Thessalonica separate themselves from brethren who do not follow the "tradition" which he, the Apostle, delivered to them. They are to "withdraw themselves" from any "brother" who "walks disorderly" and not after the "tradition" he has transmitted to them. Paul is not the source of the "tradition" (traditio, paradosis). The instructions which he "handed over" to the churches was nothing more than the "teachings" which Christ gave to the Apostles, "Go, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always even to the end of the you: and, lo, I am with you always even to the end of the you: and, lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age. Amen(Matt. 28:19-20). In a word, the holy Tradition possessed by the Orthodox Church at this hour originated with the Savior Himself.

Tradition is “handing over” or “delivering the revealed truth to the Church through the Apostles, those men whom He empowered to teach His theological and ethical doctrine. Tradition contains everything necessary for salvation — about the Trinity (theology), the Creation (cosmology), man and the Fall (anthropology), Old Israel, the Incarnation, the Church and her Mysteries (ecclesiology), the Theotokos (mariology), the Last Things (eschatology), etc. Tradition is not only what is "delivered" but also the means or method by which what the Church transfers Her Faith from one generation to the next. The means of delivery are: the Scriptures, the writings of the Fathers, the rites of the Church, the canonical and doctrinal decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, the liturgies, the icons, music, sacred customs, even the lives of the Saints.

May holy Tradition be altered? May we add to or subtract from it? Is it open to diverse interpretation according to time and circumstance? If we mean by "change" or "alteration" believing now what was not believed before, and from the beginning, we answer in the negative. According to the doctrine of the Orthodox Church, Tradition is divine, therefore, infallible and immutable. It was "once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3), and will remain the same until the "end of the age" by the Will of the Holy Spirit.

Since Tradition is unchanging, we must expect conflict with the ever-changing non-Orthodox societies to which the Church ought to be the leaven. Her children must anticipate opposition. She is "a stumbling block to the Jews and a scandal to the Greeks" (1 Cor. 1:23) Its resistance to her mission will be even greater when the worldly learn that Christians will not conform to contemporary society; and that her mission is, in fact, the conversion of the nations. In other words. Tradition is her mind, her memory, the power by which she meets every "challenge and crisis."

No wonder Ms. N.V. Harrison holds that any description of the Tradition as unchangeable kills all hope of "creative development" and reduces Tradition to "the argument from authority," which reflects negatively on the moral character of God.(9) Her discontent is clearly a product of her dreams. She is right, however, that there is a relation between Tradition and our understanding of God. If we believe that He permits correction of His revelation from one generation to the next, God has left His Church without a flawless standard for the understanding of His Will — or the world. To be sure, if Orthodoxy modifies her Tradition to accommodate present social trends, future generations may be led by force of circumstances, to more adjustments, with the result that revelation eventually loses all its relevance.

Without a fixed and inerrant Tradition, the Church is defenseless before a world in which believers are "children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive" (Eph. 4:14). If we may add or subtract from it, then there will be no spiritual and doctrinal continuity between one generation of the Church and the next. If the fullness of doctrinal truth is necessary for salvation, then, with the constant realignment of the Faith, there will come a time when none can be saved. By what means shall we identify the teachings the Lord commands us to observe? How shall we speak of "the Apostolic Tradition," having lost touch with the Apostles by virtue of the incessant innovat­ing. The spirit and doctrines of the Fathers will become anachronistic, while the Bible becomes a closed book for the number of clashing interpretations. Soon her children will not know what to believe — if it will make any difference.

I am weary of this tinkering with Tradition, and all for the sake of new causes and movements, as if, indeed, the Church is obliged to accommodate every soi-disant "enlightenment." It is not the Church that must be "de­constructed," but the world. Unfortunately, some modern Orthodox "theologians" seek, in the face of great challenge to the traditional Faith, to find solutions that satisfy both the so-called "traditionalists" and the "pro­gressives" Thus, Bishop Kallistos (Ware) characterizes holy Tradition as "the critical spirit of the Church." Apparently, secular society ignites the process of rethinking old ways in terms of new relevancies, leading to the abrogation of "patriarchal prejudices, practices and canons of the Church," which, at this present moment, have deprived women of their full membership in the Christian community. Current exigencies demand that they should have “roles as teachers in the pastoral ministry of the Church,” he remarks in his 1997 interview with Teva Regule of the Mary/Martha periodical. He is not alone in speaking of “creative fidelity” to tradition, in order to resolve problems the Orthodox Church has never met before. He sees in this attitude no effect on the internal and essentiol teachings of the Christian Faith.

His Grace is not alone in thinking that unless such changes are made in Tradition, the Church loses her pertinence; or more, she ceases to be a living thing. He seems unaware that "change" is a product of the fallen world; but Christ "is the same yesterday and forever" (Heb. 13:8). Failure to take such verses seriously, he calls upon Orthodoxy to abandon her "slavish adherence to the past." One need not conjecture from where Kallistos Ware derived his theory of Tradition. It is also clear that he, and those like him, have not considered the theological, ecclesiological and moral implications of their opinions Already we have seen the impact of diversity on the Orthodox Church. If only it were nothing more than "the Calendar issue" or "church order" or canonical infractions. The unwillingness to cling without compromise to holy Tradition — whether under the influence of "ecumenism" or "reactionaries" — has put the Orthodox mission in peril.


9. Ms. Harrison argues that if the only reason women have been excluded from the priesthood is "divine authority" it "would make God not only arbitrary, but unjust as well. Such conduct cannot reflect his true character" ("Orthodox Arguments for the Ordina­tion of Women as Priests" Women and the Priesthood, p. 167).

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