Tradition

October 1, 2016

In keeping with the theme of this past week’s Orthodoxy 101 class I thought I might share some words with you from one of the great theologians of the 20th c., Fr George Florovsky. The following are excerpts his essays, “The Function of Tradition in the Ancient Church”, and “The Catholicity of he Church”. -Fr John

 

Tradition was in the Early Church, first of all, an hermeneutical principle and method. Scripture could be rightly and fully assessed and understood only in the light and in the context of the living Apostolic Tradition, which was an integral factor of Christian existence. It was so, of course, not because Tradition could add anything to what has been manifested in the Scripture, but because it provided that living context, the comprehensive perspective, in which only the true “intention” and the total “design” of the Holy Writ, itself of Divine Revelation, could be detected and grasped. The truth was, according to St. Irenaeus, a “well-grounded system,” a “body of truth”, a “harmonious melody”. But it was precisely this “harmony” which could be grasped only by the insight of faith. Indeed, Tradition was not just a transmission of inherited doctrines…but rather the continuous life in the truth. It was not a fixed core or complex of binding propositions, but rather an insight into the meaning and impact of the revelatory events, of the revelation of the “God who acts”….

 

The appeal to Tradition was actually an appeal to the mind of the Church. It was assumed that the Church had the knowledge and the understanding of the truth, of the truth and the “meaning” of the Revelation. Accordingly, the Church had both the competence and the authority to proclaim the Gospel and to interpret it. This did not imply that the Church was “above” the Scripture. She stood by the Scripture, but on the other hand, was not bound by its “letter.” The ultimate purpose of exegesis and interpretation was to elicit the meaning and the intent of the Holy Writ, or rather the meaning of the Revelation.… The Church had to preach Christ, and not just “the Scripture.” The use of Tradition in the Ancient Church can be adequately understood only in the context of the actual use of the Scripture. The Word was kept alive in the Church. It was reflected in her life and structure. Faith and Life were organically intertwined….

 

“Liturgy,” in the wide and comprehensive sense of the word, was the first and initial layer in the Tradition of the Church, and the argument from the lex orandi [Rule of worship] was persistently used in discussion already by the end of the Second century. The Worship of the Church was a solemn proclamation of her Faith. The baptismal invocation of the Name was probably the earliest Trinitarian formula, as the Eucharist was the primary witness to the mystery of Redemption, in all its fullness. The New Testament itself came to existence, as a “Scripture,” in the Worshiping Church. And Scripture was read first in the context of worship and meditation.

Tradition is not a principle striving to restore the past, using the past as a criterion for the present. Such a conception of tradition is rejected by history itself and by the consciousness of the Orthodox Church... Tradition is the constant abiding of the Spirit and not only the memory of words. Tradition is a charismatic, not a historical event….

 

"And this "true tradition," according to St. Irenaeus, is grounded in, and guaranteed by, that charisma veritatis certum, which has been deposited from the very beginning in the Church and
preserved in the uninterrupted succession of Apostolic ministry….

 

Thus, "tradition" in the Church is not merely the continuity of human memory the permanence of rites and habits. Ultimately, "'tradition" is the continuity of divine assistance, the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. The Church is not bound by "the letter." She is constantly moved forth by "the Spirit." The same Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, which "spake through the Prophets," which guided the Apostles, which illumined the Evangelists, is still abiding in the Church, and guides her into the fuller understanding of the divine truth, from glory to glory”….

 

Tradition is the witness of the Spirit; the Spirit's unceasing revelation and preaching of good tidings. For the living members of the Church it is no outward historical authority, but the eternal, continual voice of God - not only the voice of the past, but the voice of eternity. Faith seeks its foundations not merely in the example and bequest of the past, but in the grace of the Holy Ghost, witnessing always, now and ever, world without end. As Khomyakov admirably puts it: 'Neither individuals, nor a multitude of individuals within the Church preserve tradition or write the Scriptures, but the Spirit of God which lives in the whole body of the Church.'

 

With love in Christ,

Fr John

 

“Give me a word!”

 

In times of affliction, unceasingly call out to the merciful God in prayer. The unceasing invocation of the name of God in prayer is a treatment for the soul which kills not only the passions, but even their very operation. As a doctor finds the necessary medicine, and it works in such a way that the sick person does not understand, in just the same way the name of God, when you call upon it, kills all the passions, although we don't know how this happens.

-St Barsanuphius the Great

 

Do not say: "I have sinned much, and therefore I am not bold enough to fall down before God." Do not despair. Simply do not increase your sins in despair and, with the help of the All-merciful One, you will not be put to shame. For He said, "he who comes to Me I will not cast out." (John. 6:37) And so, be bold and believe that He is pure and cleanses those who draw near to Him. If you want to accomplish true repentance, show it with your deeds. If you have fallen into pride, show humility; if into drunkenness, show sobriety; if into defilement, show purity of life. For it is said, "Turn away from evil and do good" (I Pet. 3:11).

-St Gennadius of Constantinople

 

The Commandments of God are higher than all the treasures of the earth. Whoever has acquired them has received God within himself.

-St Isaac the Syrian

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