Chapter 13 - The sacred trust of the
1. The genuine carriers of the trust
The Apostle Paul
reminds Timothy that he should guard well the "trust" which
was entrusted to him, and avoid the "profane
and idle babblings and contradictions"
of the heretics (1 Tim.6:20).
- he said - "that
good thing which was committed to you, through the Holy Spirit Who dwells in
(2 Tim.1:14). The Apostle regards this opus so basic, that he adds that
without this "trust",
one is in danger of "straying,
concerning the faith"
(1 Tim.6:21). In these verses, we notice that Christ's salvific truth is not
a "dry letter", which could be preserved by recording it in a book.
This treasure was given by the Lord to the Apostles, so that those who would
be joined to them would be guaranteed of having the truth. The
Apostles assigned this opus to the bishops. It is furthermore obvious
that bishops fulfil this Mission, provided they remain joined to the Body of
Christ -the Church- in which acts the Holy Spirit (John 14:26, 15:26,
16:13). In other words, when they don't express their own opinions, but the
opinion of the Holy Spirit which is found within the Church (Acts 15:28,
John 16:13, cmp. Psalms 81:1-8).
This is why Saint Ignatius - who sees in the person of the Bishop the
guarantee of the Church's unity and the victory over the assaults of Satan
and the delusion of heretics - characteristically says in his Epistle
Jesus Christ - our true life - is the opinion of the Father, as are the
Bishops who have been installed in all parts of the world who are of the
same opinion as Jesus Christ (the in-Christ opinion). So, you too must also
follow the opinion of the Bishop - which in fact you do - because the
worthiness of the name of your Presbyter which is also worthy by God is
linked to the bishop, like the strings are to the harp."
With all the above it is proven that Christ's salvific truth can only be
secured within the organic relations of the Church. When we speak of
the organic relations with the Church, we mean the overall Church, or, as
mentioned in our liturgical texts, the communion "with all of the Saints".
therefore which the Apostle speaks of is not a book; it is the result of the
perpetual presence of the Holy Spirit, Who leads to the full truth (John
16:13). It is life within the Church, Which comprises "the pillar and the
ground of the truth (1 Tim.3:15). This "trust" was delivered to
the "saints" and it can only be received by those who are in communion with
the "saints" (Jude 3). On the contrary, those who are not inside this
communion are irreverent and heretic people, who do not possess the truth.
This is what Jude's Epistle also testifies to, when he mentions that the
author felt the need to write that Epistle "...exhorting
you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to
For certain men have crept in unnoticed..."
When man is far from
the Spirit of God Who works inside the Church, and is also far from the life
of the Saints, he cannot quench his thirst because the "water and the
Spirit" (John 3:5) which become the "inner source of water that springs
forth unto eternal life" (John4:14) do not exist there. Even the very
Bible cannot be comprehended correctly, outside the Church. Which is
why this leads - not to salvation, but to perdition (2 Peter 3:16).
2. The Lord in relation to the Holy Bible
As known, Christ did
not come in order to write the Holy Bible, nor did He write any book
whatsoever. Christ became incarnate, He preached, He was crucified, He
died and was resurrected; He completed the opus of man's salvation with His
Church, which is none other than His own, God-human Body; He ascended into
the heavens; He sent forth the Holy Spirit on the day of the Pentecost. To
His disciples He gave the instruction to go forth to all the nations and
attract people to the faith and through Baptism render them members of the
Church. But at the same time, He reassured them : "I
am with you always, even to
the end of the age"
(Matthew 28:20) and that also with them would remain the Consoler forever
(John 14:16), Who would lead them to Christ Himself (John 14:26, 15:26) -
that is, to the fullness of the truth (John 16:13).
However, all these
do not signify that Christ abolished the laws and the prophets of the Old
Testament. On the contrary, He very frequently quotes them, in order to
underline that their words were fulfilled in His person (Luke 4:21, John
In other words, the
true significance of the Holy Bible is not found in the letter, but in the
Spirit, Who gives life to the letter (2 Cor. 3:6) and leads to the revealing
of the Son and to the personal union with Him inside the Church.
therefore, of the entire Holy Bible is the Person of Jesus Christ.
The Old Testament
consists of the sacred books that preceded His incarnation, wherein is
narrated the creation of the world and mankind, man's fall, Israel as the
chosen people of God, their liberation from the bondage of the Egyptians,
God's special Testament on Mount Sinai, the conquest of the Promised Land,
the establishing of Kings, the Mission of Prophets, the Babylonian
Captivity, the return from captivity and up until the era of Alexander the
Great and his successors.
Beyond all these
historical events, the entire Old Testament has as its centre God's promise
regarding the coming of the Messiah, as well as the summoning of God's new
people - that is, the Church.
In the Old Testament
it is the Triadic God Who speaks; or, better still, it is the Father,
through the Son, in the Holy Spirit, and He pre-announces through the mouth
of the Prophets the event of man's salvation in the Person of Christ.
The Apostle Peter says characteristically:
"Of this salvation the
prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the
grace that would come to you, searching
what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was
indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the
glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves,
but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to
you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit
sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into. (1
Peter 1:10-12. cmp also 2 Peter 1:21).
However, the Old
Testament constitutes the "shadow" of the New (Hebr.10:1).
Its deeper meaning is found within a "veil" which only "in
Christ is taken away" (2 Cor. 3:14) This is confirmed by the
Lord Himself, Who told the Judeans that the Father had witnessed in the Old
Testament regarding Christ, through the mouth of the Prophets, but that "you
do not have His word abiding in you, because the One whom He sent, Him you
do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have
eternal life; these testify of Me, but
you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life."
The "new people"
which the Holy Bible speaks of is no longer dependent on a certain nation,
nor does it recognize any difference between nations and peoples
(Rom.10:12-13, 1 Cor.12:13, Gal.3:28).
Consequently, if the
core of the Old Testament is the expected Messiah and God's new people, we -
in order to properly comprehend the deeper meaning of the Old Testament -
need to examine it from the viewpoint of how it relates to that central
purpose: to Christ and the Church. Differently, we will not be able to
grasp the cardinal meaning of the Old Testament.
With regard to this
matter, the Apostle Paul mentions that the law - that is, the Old
Testament - was given as "...
our tutor to
bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith."
"There is neither
Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor
female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then
you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Gal. 3:28-29)
In the New
Testament, God no longer speaks through the Prophets but "in the Son" -
through the Person of the Son (Hebr.1:2)
cannot separate the Holy Bible from the Person of Christ. Otherwise,
we would be in danger of turning the Holy Bible into a legal codex, which
knows only cold paragraphs that any one can interpret in their own manner.
In other words, we are in danger of not moving on, to the life-giving
Spirit, but remaining stuck to the letter and be condemned to death:
"...God, Who also
made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but
of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."
3. The place of the Apostles
were given a specific Mission by the Lord, which they fulfilled in their
lifetime: they preached, they catechized, they baptized those who believed,
and they organized the spiritual life of the Churches that they founded.
During the time of
their activity, and in order to respond to certain needs of the Christian
communities (because it was not possible for them to be near them all the
time), they wrote Epistles and other books, which they sent to certain
Churches - to the heads of those Churches - or to other ecclesiastic
personages. These books were collected at a later date and that is how
the New Testament was formed.
The above are proof
that the books of the New Testament were written for specific reasons, with
the sole purpose of confronting certain needs of one or more local Churches
(for example the Church of Corinth, the Church of Thessaloniki etc.) and
were not intended to comprise books of the New Testament.
The fact is, these
sacred authors conveyed the word of God to the Christian communities with
those books, having written it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The Apostle Paul's reassurance that "every scripture is divinely
inspired" (2 Tim.3:16) does not only pertain to the books of the Old
Testament, but for the entire Holy Bible.
4. The sole interpreter of the Holy Bible
Pursuant to the
above, the following question is posed: Who is the authentic interpreter of
the Holy Bible?
It is a basic
requirement of each Christian that he be aware that the Holy Bible is not
addressed to people who are scattered, but to the Christians who are
assembled into one body - the Body of Christ. Consequently, the
interpretation of the various books of the Holy Bible is the work of
specialized people, who have been dedicated - by the Spirit of God - to be
the shepherds of the Church. (Acts 20:28). Therefore it is not
possible for just anyone to
interpret the Holy
Bible; the sole interpreter is the Holy Spirit, Who leads the Church (John 16:13, 14:26)
and renders Her "the pillar and the ground of the truth" (1
Tim. 3:15). In this way - that is, inside the Church - the Holy Bible
continues to be the eternal word of God, which regenerates and saves.
It is not a human word; it is God's word, which had been uttered by the Holy
Spirit in the hearts of those sacred authors. In order to correctly
comprehend the divine word, that immense gift by God, we need to have "the
mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16) and have "the Spirit Who is from
God" (1 Cor.2:12). The Spirit of God must reside within us (1
Cor.6:19); however, this is possible, only inside the Church (1 John
The Apostle Paul
told the Ephesians that he prayed to God on his knees, "...
that He would grant you,
according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through
His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through
faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may
be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and
depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that
you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do
exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the
power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all
generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)
When distanced from
the Church - from the Body of Christ - the truths of the Holy Bible remain
incomprehensible and are misinterpreted. " For
who of man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is
in him? Even so, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of
God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who
is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us
Cor.2:11-12) The sole therefore interpreter of the Holy Bible is the
Holy Spirit. Everything that Christ said and did, is taught and
interpreted correctly, by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26).
When the Holy Bible
is distanced from the Spirit of God, it becomes nothing more than a "dry
letter" for mankind. And, because every person interprets every word
differently, they reach their own conclusions, which do not coincide with
the conclusions of others, nor with the true meaning of the Holy Bible -
which exists in the Church. The heretics' mistake is not that they
study the Holy Bible, but that they isolate it from the life of the Church
and thus are unable to interpret it correctly.
In Paul's Epistles -
the Apostle Peter tells us - as in the rest of the books of the Holy Bible,
"there are some
things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their
own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.You therefore,
beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your
own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked." (2
When we isolate the
Holy Bible from the Church, God's written word is left with no steadfast
basis for us humans. Because, who would then reassure us of the divinely
inspired status of those books of the New Testament which were not authored
by the disciples of the Lord? For example, there is the Gospel of Luke
and the Acts of the Apostles, which the Church included among the
books of the New Testament, albeit Luke was not a disciple of the Lord.
But we know that
these books are not without a stable foundation: It was the Church,
Who designated the books of the Holy Bible. And She did this, based on
the presence of God's Spirit, Who leads the Church to the truth (John 16:13,
1 Tim. 3:15).
All of the above also prove
something else to us: That without the Church, we would not have the
New Testament - that is, the Holy Bible - today.
therefore, is something far broader than the Holy Bible, and we cannot
confine Her to writings only. It is because the Church is Christ Himself and
the life of the Church is the very life of Christ - Christ's entire life,
not just a segment of it (cmp. John 21:25). This life of Christ,
therefore, and His entire opus is delivered both in writing (Holy Bible) as
well as unwritten tradition within the Church.
Whoever denies the
Church, cannot claim: "I have the word of God".
5. The sacred Tradition of the Church
Christian who lives the life of the Church, participates in the living and
perpetual experience of the Church. We are referring to the sacred memory of
the Church, in which the truth - the message of man's salvation - has been
preserved. Here, we are not talking about the memory or the experience
of an individual, but about the living faith and the conscience of the
entire Church, Which remains stable and unchanging throughout the ages (1
Tim.3:15, Matth. 16:18). And we are not talking about a personal opinion,
but about a universal witness. This witness is referred to as "Sacred
Tradition" by our Church.
When addressing the
Corinthians, the Apostle characteristically said:
you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by
the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of
flesh, that is, of the heart. And
we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of
ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our
sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new
covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the
Spirit gives life." (2
Here, therefore, it
is not about "teaching as doctrines
the commandments of men"
Isaiah 29:13) - which
are condemned by the Lord because they "lay aside God's
commandment" (Mark 7:8); it is about an "epistle
of Christ [...]
written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God,[...]
on tablets of flesh, that is, of
of the faithful. (2 Cor.3:3). In other words, it is about the
"sacred memory" of the Church, whose purity and clarity is guaranteed by the
Spirit of God (John 16:13).
reveal that the Holy Bible does not contain the entire opus of the Lord
(John 21:25) and every kerygma of the Apostles.
John the Apostle
writes characteristically: "Having
many things to write to you, I did not wish to
do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come
to you and speak face to face, that our joy may
John12, also 3 John 13-14
and 1 Cor.11:34).
The Apostle Paul writes the following to Timothy: "Hold
fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard
from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus."
therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the
things that you have heard from me among many
witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others
He addresses the
same exhortation to the Christians of Thessaloniki (2 Thess.2:15) and he
praises the Corinthians for keeping the traditions exactly as they had
received them from him (1 Cor. 11:2).
The kerygma, therefore, of the Church was always based on the "sacred
memory" of the Church (cmp. also Luke 1:2-4); that is, on the basis of the
overall "in-Christ" truth.
The above helps us to comprehend that the criterion of this sacred tradition
is the Church Herself. In other words, it is possible to discern between
what the experience of the Church and sacred tradition are - as opposed to
the opinions of people - and what the salvific truth is (which remains
eternally unchanging and binding for all) - as opposed to what is passing
and changing - only on the basis of the universal experience of the Church
In view of this, the Holy Bible on its own is not "complete", inasmuch as it
also includes many passing elements (for example, the number seven in Acts
brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation,
full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business);
the order of widows in 1 Timothy 5:9 (Do
not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and
of the women's heads in 1 Corinthians 11:5 (But
every woman who prays or prophesies with her head
uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head
and the washing of others' feet despite the Lord's commandment in John 13:14
(If I then, your Lord
and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s
which have not been observed in practice by the Church. In the continuing
life of the Church, we do not only discern between what the sacred tradition
is, to which we must remain steadfast (2 Thess.2:15) and what the "commandments
are (Matth.15:9, Isaiah 29:13) which we should avoid, but also discern
between what is eternal and what is temporary.
In this way, the Church always remains steadfast upon Her original
foundations; She safeguards Her own identity, and preserves the unity of Her
faith through the ages, in accordance with the Lord's will. (John 17:20-21)
We need to pay special attention to this last detail, because it helps us to
understand why the heresies that did not keep the sacred tradition of the
Church have split up and have not retained any unity amongst themselves,
whereas Orthodox Christians, albeit having lived apart externally on account
of political situations, remained united in the faith and the way of life.
The dogmas which were formulated by the Church in the Ecumenical Councils
were not personal opinions of the Fathers who participated in them; they
were the experience of the Saints of our Church, who were Christ-bearers and
spirit-bearers (1 Cor. 2:16). The Fathers of the Councils partook of that
experience also, given that they also partook of the common body of the
Thus, when we refer to Orthodoxy's
sacred tradition, we do not see it as something that belongs to the past and
as such, its place should be in a museum; we regard it to be the living word
of God - Who is forever inside the Church - and that it is addressed to
every person of every era, with the aim to animate him.
In other words, Sacred Tradition is that very life-giving presence and
energy of the Holy Spirit within the Church, thanks to Whom the Church can
interpret the divine revelation with authority, and be led to the possession
of the full truth (John 16:13,
1 Tim. 3:15).
For this reason, they who deny the tradition of the Church, also deny Her
divine nature; that is, the Church Herself. They furthermore deny - as
we have seen - the very Bible itself, because the Holy Bible is the written
trust of the Church, and only inside the Church does it find its safe
support and its authentic interpretation (cmp.also 2 Peter 3:16-17).