|Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries||Christian Dogmatics|
Holy Tradition: a source of faith
By the Rev. Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, fr. Hierotheos Vlachos
Excerpt from the book: “The Revelation of God” - pages 30-32
What, exactly, is “Holy Tradition”? How is it associated with Orthodoxy, the Holy Bible and Divine Revelation?
The New Testament itself mentions the term “Tradition” as something that applied along with the Scripture, which essentially constitutes proof of the fact that the Scripture is only a part of this “Tradition”.
I could quote numerous passages from the New Testament, but I will confine myself to the most characteristic. In Thessalonians, the Apostle had said: “Therefore, my brethren, stand fast and keep the traditions that you were taught, either by word of mouth, or by an epistle of ours.” (Thessalonians II, 2:15) So, apart from the Epistles, Christians are called upon to also enforce all those things that were verbally handed down to them by the Apostle.
In his 1st Epistle to Corinthians, the Apostle praises them for preserving the traditions. “And I praise you, my brethren, for you have remembered everything of mine, and you have held on to the traditions, exactly as I delivered them to you”. (Corinthians I, 11:2)
In the same Epistle, (Corinthians I), he mentions a “previous epistle” of his (chapter 5:9). We are highlighting this, only so that we might be aware that other texts had also existed, which however were not salvaged, so that they might be included in the Canon of the New Testament.
To the Christians in Philippi, he wrote: “…which you have learnt, and received, and heard from and seen in me and have thus acted, and the God of peace is with you”. (Philippians, 4:9) They had to uphold not only those things that were written in the epistle, but also those things that they had heard, and seen, and received from others. From this, it becomes clearly evident that the Holy Bible does NOT contain God’s entire Revelation.
John the Evangelist wrote: “I have much to write to you, but I did not want to do it with paper and ink; but I am hoping to come to you and speak to you, mouth to mouth, so that your joy may be fulfilled.” (John II 12) Here, as in his Epistle III 6:13, John the Evangelist reassures them that he did not write down everything that he had to tell them. He promised to analyze even more truths, “mouth to mouth”, through personal communication with them.
But even the Gospels themselves do not describe Christ’s entire life in detail, nor do they mention all of the miracles that He performed while He lived on earth. John’s Gospel ends with these words: “and there are many other things that Jesus did, which, if each one of them was written down, the whole world itself would not have enough space to hold the books that would have described them. Amen.” (John, 21:25)
Therefore, only some passages were recorded in the New Testament, so that this would act as a distinct verification of the truth that the Holy Bible is only a portion of the whole Truth that was delivered by Christ to the saints, who had in turn lived that Truth in the Holy Spirit. So, whenever we regard the Holy Bible as the only source of divine Revelation, we are in fact mutilating whatever Truth and whatever Revelation God had delivered to His friends (the saints) and has been preserved within the Church.
On the subject of Tradition, fr. Athanasios Yevtic wrote: “Tradition is the most theological of all inheritances”; in other words, the inheritance that he (Damascenos) received “from a theologian father” –meaning the theologian Gregory. This “receiving” of the “inheritance” (which is called Tradition in the Orthodox Church) is not merely the receiving of a “teaching”, because then, the Fathers would not have been called “Fathers”, but simply “teachers” and “pedagogues”. The Apostle Paul wrote: “Even if you have tens of thousands of teachers, you do not have many Fathers; for, in Jesus Christ, through the Gospel, I have given birth to you”. So, according to the Apostle, “tradition” is “to be borne of the Fathers, in Christ, through the Gospel, and to receive Christ and to form Him inside us.” (Saint John the Damascene: “The Theotokos”, Hossios Ioannis Rossos Publications, page 234)
Tradition is not something other than the Orthodox faith, in other words, Orthodoxy. The term “Ortho-doxy” means “the upright glory”, or, the upright faith or upright teaching regarding God, and all the related issues that lead to man’s salvation. But, this upright faith was revealed by God, to those who were worthy of this Revelation; to those who had reached theosis and were able to “receive” this Revelation of God. The saints, however, did receive this Revelation, and they handed it down to their spiritual children, who were re-born thanks to it. It is not a typical handing down of a teaching, but a transfusion of an entire “lifestyle”, which resurrects man who has “died” on account of his sins, and leads him to theosis. Thus, because the saints are the only ones who receive and hand down this upright faith, that is the reason why we uphold that “Tradition” relates to “Orthodoxy”. “Tradition” is not about a handful of teachings that are externally transmitted from mouth to mouth; it is a transmission of life, which Christ brought to the world, in the Holy Spirit, and transmitted it to mankind. These are no superficial forms; they represent the rebirth and the theosis of man. They also demonstrate to mankind the path and the manner of theosis.
Rev. Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, fr. Hierotheos Vlachos
Excerpt from the book: “The Revelationof God”, pgaes 30-32.
Translation by A.N.
Article published in English on: 24-2-2006.
Last update: 28-5-2007.