Tradition and Traditions
Tradition and Renewal
Venerable Fathers and brethren,
We fully understand the reason that led certain of our brothers further away from their Paternal House, which is the One Church. The arbitrary innovations of the Papal Church degraded every sense of verbally delivered Tradition. But, instead of these scandalized Roman Catholics returning to the paternal hearth as our Patriarch at the time, Jeremiah II, had so courteously and caringly asked them to do, they moved even further away. (G. Florovsky, Christianity and Civilization, pages 181-196)
And even though they were warned -by the carefully worded hints of the Patriarch- that they were following human inventions, they persisted in the dogma of a “semper reformanda” (Lat.=ever reforming, transforming) Church. But this dogma led them to that which a French protestant e-magazine proclaims with “liberal” brazenness over the Internet: “Heresy is a duty!”
If they had returned to their Paternal home, they would have seen that the Orthodox Church never aligned itself with the “Theology of Divine Inertia” as we are sarcastically accused by the above magazine. It was never allergic, in the sense of proper reform. The Orthodox Church was never plagued by barren tradition-leadership (as are plagued the sympathetic, old-calendar Christians who, on account of their morbid adherence to traditions -traditions with a small ‘t’- have ended up with Luther’s slightly altered assertion that ‘every Christian is to himself both Patriarch and Church’!’ And because of this, their groups will be soon competing with Protestant sects in their numbers).
The Orthodox Church did not have any problem in 268 A.D. at the Council (Synod) of Antioch in condemning the term “ïìïïýóéïò” (omo-ousios = Greek: of the same essence), when blasphemously used by Paul of Samosata to support his theory of Unitariansim, and then, 50 years later, adopt (orthodoxically of course) this same term “ïìïïýóéïò” (homo-ousios = Greek: of the same essence) and actually insert it in the Nicene Creed! And that ….. master reformist, Athanasios the Great, provided explanations and reassurances to the “ultra Orthodox” of his time that: “…All of them (attending in Antioch and in Nice) were Fathers. All of them are resting in Christ. All of them believed in everything pertaining to Christ; and all of them promptly acted against heretics: the former (Fathers at Antioch) condemned the one of Samosata, and the latter (Fathers at Nice) condemned Areios..” (On Councils, 43,1 – 45,2)
And although for 56 whole years the orthodox lived under a relentless persecution by Arianists, preferring to be decapitated rather than concede to decapitating their creed by removing the word “ïìïïýóéïò” (omo-ousios = Greek: of the same essence), quite suddenly, the 2nd Ecumenical Council (Synod) sidestepped this much-afflicted word. They knowingly put aside a term that portrayed dogmatic precision, acting providentially. Yes, you heard correctly: providence, over a dogmatic term (!!!), for the sole purpose of facilitating the return to the Church of the well-meaning Spirit-combatters of that time. This, Christ-simulating providence, was wholly approved also by the pillar of Orthodoxy, Gregory the Theologian; yet, there are the Apollinarians, who albeit project themselves as “super orthodox” and supporters of the term “ïìïïýóéïò” (omo-ousios = Greek: of the same essence), nevertheless accuse him of betraying the faith!!
Please allow us this parenthesis, to mention that the “ultra orthodox” of the time of Athanasios the Great, of Gregory the Theologian and of every era, are in the habit of “itching to find” supposed ‘heretic’ words an making a ‘fuss’ over them. If only these poor souls had been familiar with the words of saint Gregory Palamas, who had boldly stated: “It was usual, from the very beginning, - not only by the Holy Bible but also the holy Fathers - to pay no attention to words, because words do not injure anything, when things themselves prove to be different.” Palamas concludes with the following: “ the ‘fussing over words’ was unknown to the holy Fathers. Furthermore, whomsoever pays attention, ‘not to the purpose of the author but to his words’ ends up ‘respecting lies’, in other words, he will have a false perception of the faith and will even gloat about it.” (To Dionysos, para.13, Pan.Christou, 2, 490)
We close this parenthesis.
The fidelity towards Tradition (tradition, with a capital ‘T’), did not hinder the Fathers of the Church to create “new names” (as quoted by saint Gregory the Theologian), whenever that was deemed necessary for the protection of the unalterable faith, even if those “new names” sometimes scandalized the supposed lovers of Tradition. Let us remember –for example- by how many of his contemporaries saint Simeon the New Theologian was considered a modernist, when he counter-poised conventional religiosity versus the experience of life in Christ! Even saint Gregory Palamas was characterized by his adversaries as a ‘new’ theologian and a dangerously modernist one.
But none of these orthodox reforms ever injured ‘the once-only, delivered-to-the-saints faith’. Quite simply, in the face of any threat of counterfeiting of the faith, the Church was obliged to guard its one, unalterable faith, by rephrasing it, with the addition of new names (as saint Gregory tells us). These rephrasings didn’t add any new truth or new revelation that the Church wasn’t previously aware of, nor did they lead to a better and fuller understanding of the revelation. They were simply terms that were adapted to and compatible with the new notional framework that the uprising heresy had introduced, so that through these newly-introduced terms, the usually masked heresy would be exposed.
Basil the Great clarifies matters, by saying: “If we changed the content of the faith every time we encountered challenges and circumstances, then the decision of the one who said “One Lord, one faith, one baptism” would be fallacious. But if those words are true, then let no-one deceive you with empty words.” And he concludes: “And we admit no faith that has been newly written by others, nor do we dare relinquish the fruits of our intellect, for fear that we make the words of piety a human product; but, just as we were taught by the holy Apostles, thus we ´proclaim.” (Epistles, 226,3 and 140,2)
I will succumb to the temptation to mention one more amazing passage by Basil the Great, where he refers to another “increment, supplement and/or renewal” of the delivered faith, not necessarily related to the challenges of heresies. In his letter to the unstable in faith Eustathios of Sebastia, he confesses the following: “My entire life is pitiful. I dare to boast only of one thing: that I have never become deluded in beliefs pertaining to God, or (note this) by re-learning something after believing otherwise. The faith that I received from my deceased mother and my grandmother Makrina, is the EVER-INCREASING faith that I carry inside me.”
And he explains what this ever-increasing faith is attributed to: “I did not partake of other things for the perfecting of the word, instead I PERFECTED those principles that were already bestowed on me. For, just as that which increases in magnitude begins from a smaller size, yet still remains itself, unchanging as to its species, but becomes perfect during its growth, so do I expect to increase the word within me, through my improvement. And this increment does not imply that I spoke otherwise then and otherwise now. Nor did any change occur in the things that I said, from worse to better, but, quite simply, a ‘supplementing of missing information during the incrementing of knowledge’ (Epistle 223, 3-5).
These words of the holy Father are evidence of his incremental knowledge of God; his renewable –let’s say- experience in the faith. But it is a renewal that is rooted within the living Tradition of the Church.
One such (let’s call it) ‘reform’ (so that we are understood by Protestants) is not only justified, but necessary. Because, quite simply, the experience of the living God and the word or confession pertaining to Him, cannot possibly be considered a dead or static element, especially within the problems of the world and of history. According therefore to Basil the Great, the increment, the improvement, the supplement and the perfecting of faith, comprise the only orthodox renewal of Tradition, which is nothing more that the perennial, living experience of the UNALTERED faith throughout history, and the -relevant to it- living word, confession, theology, testimony or however else you want to call it.
File created: 10-9-2005.
Last update: 10-9-2005.