Acts 1:12-14; I Peter 4:13-16; Psalm 27; John 17:1-11
In the Eastern Church, the Seventh Sunday of Easter commemorates the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council held in 325 AD, in which the heresy of Arianism was condemned. Arianism taught that the Son was created by the Father and that there was a time when the Son did not exist. Our Gospel lesson this morning is the same that is read on that Feast and our Lord’s words are enough, by themselves, to dismiss Arianism. I bring this up because the Fathers of the Council upheld and defined Sacred Tradition, the Apostolic Tradition that is the lifeblood of the Church, and our lessons today point to the Apostles and that Tradition. In Acts we read of the Apostles in the upper room and the remaining eleven are named, and in the Gospel of John Our Lord is praying for the Apostles, for their mission after he has gone.
Since adherence to Sacred Tradition is the main thing that sets the Orthodox faith apart from other Christians, we need to understand what it is, and what it means. I will be quoting from the book “Sacred Tradition in the Orthodox Church” by Lazarus Moore.
“The word Tradition (Latin traditio, Greek paradosis) means transmission, delivery, handing on, handing down, something handed down from the past, inherited beliefs, culture, customs. Tradition may be good or bad… By Holy Tradition the Orthodox Church means the divine revelation given by God to his people through the mouths of his holy prophets and apostles. This divine revelation is the body of truth which God himself has revealed to men, so that they may rightly and savingly believe in him, love, serve and glorify him, and do his holy will… For convenience in teaching, we say that the divine revelation, our holy faith, stems from two sources: Holy Tradition and Holy Scripture. Of these two, Holy Tradition takes priority as being the older, more primitive and original way of transmitting the divine revelation. From Adam till Moses there were no books, so that for many centuries the word of God was entirely subject to oral transmission. It was only gradually that the writings of the Old Covenant were sifted and gathered to form the Old Testament…For many generations of Christians, Holy Scripture meant the Old Testament… gradually the New Testament writings came to be accepted and recognized as Holy Scripture. In fact it was not until 397 AD (400 years after the birth of Christ) that the canon of the Bible…was finally fixed…by the Church in council…The Bible is the product and expression of the mind of the Church. We need to know the mind of the Church if we are to grasp the meaning of Scripture. We do not accept and believe the divine revelation on the direct authority of Holy Scripture, we accept and believe it on the authority of Christ and his Church. And the witness of Holy Scripture is a guarantee to us that what we learn from the Church is the truth…The Bible is given to us by tradition, so it cannot be self-sufficient…Not that the Bible is deficient or defective, but by its very nature it makes no claims to self-sufficiency. It is an ikon of truth, not truth itself. The Church, the Body of Christ, holds the primacy and is more comprehensive than the Scripture…the life of the infant Church revolved around the Eucharist. Here the incarnate life of Christ was re-lived dramatically…In the Liturgy Christians learned to know and love the Christ of the Gospels…Tradition is the life and voice of the Holy Spirit in the Church…It is impossible to remain in the holy tradition or tradition of holiness in a state of lethargy, complacency, inertia or inactivity…true tradition is the union of human freedom with the dynamic action and grace of the Holy Spirit…The primary aim and concern of holy tradition is holiness…what the world really needs is saints. They alone can lead the world to health and happiness, truth and holiness…Tradition is not so much a protective and preservative principle, as a principle of growth and regeneration. Tradition is authority to teach and make disciples, to save and sanctify, and to bear witness to the truth. The Church bears witness to the truth not by harking back to the past, but by sharing the fruits of its own living experience…Tradition is the constant abiding of the Spirit and Glory of Christ in his Church…The apostolic tradition (is) not a static deposit, but a dynamic and inexhaustible source of life, power and inspiration, capable of infinite renewal and development…Essentially it (is) divine love…Orthodox Tradition shows that the impact of divine revelation creates a total revolution in human affairs. The traditional Church is a revolutionary Church…Holy Tradition is…a continual revolution against death and corruption (and) the supernatural life of grace and truth, purity of heart and life. Therefore it is utterly revolutionary…It reverses all the old standards and values. Finding men upside down, it sets them upright…To be in the saving tradition, every man, woman and child is bound to be salt arresting corruption, light dispelling darkness, a vital force changing lives from within. Only changed lives can make a changed world. This is the proper work of the Church, the Body of Christ, the sole reason for its existence on earth. Christ has no other hands than ours…Such in brief is Christian Tradition. Could anything be more revolutionary? Yet this is the only true revolution, for it demands only the death of the old unregenerate nature, the unredeemed self; whereas godless revolutions require the (death) of others. This revolution brings in the new order where love reigns supreme, for which all creation is groaning…The communication of happiness and holiness is the essence of Tradition…The objective is a transfigured world through transformed men and women. The goal of Tradition is the Kingdom without frontiers in which Christ is the oldest among a large family…whose vocation and work is to ‘renew the face of the earth’.”
Quite a long quote from a really short book, but it is important that we know why we are Orthodox, why we have chosen to follow this difficult path. In our second lesson St. Peter writes, “Rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God is resting on you.” That is our life in our holy faith, our Holy Tradition, suffering and joy in the Spirit bearing Christ’s Name.
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