(from a lecture given at New Martyrs Church, Mulino Oregon 1994)
The word tradition, which in of itself means a handing down from the past, be it beliefs or customs, is of extreme importance to us as Orthodox Christians. How so?
The following will attempt to answer this...
In Holy Scripture we read
"stand firm and hold fast to the traditions you have learned from us by word or letter" (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
"The tradition which I handed on to you came to me from the Lord Himself" (1 Corinthians 11:23).
"I praise you, brethren, that you always remember me, and keep the traditions as I delivered them to you" (1Corinthians 11:2).
The fathers of the church have said this concerning tradition...
" Of the beliefs and doctrines preserved in the Church, certain ones we have from written instruction, and certain ones we have received from the Apostolic Tradition, handed down in secret. Both the one and the other have one and the same authority for piety, and no one who is even the least informed in the decrees of the Church will contradict this. For if we dare to overthrow the unwritten customs as if they did have great importance, we shall thereby imperceptively do harm to the Gospel in its most important points. And even more, we shall be left with the empty name of the Apostolic preaching without content" (St. Basil the Great on the Holy Spirit, Ch. 27).
St. Vincent of Lerins wrote in his Commonitory entitled " I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church"
"If one tenet of Catholic (universal) dogma were renounced, another, then another, and finally one after the other would be abandoned, first by custom then by right.... On the other hand, once there is a beginning of mixing the new with the old, foreign ideas with genuine, and profane elements with sacred, this habit will creep in everywhere, without check. At the end nothing in the Church will be left untouched, unimpaired, unhurt, and unstained....The Church of Christ, zealous and cautious guardian of the dogma deposited with it, never changes any phase of them. It does not diminish them or add to them; it neither trims what seems necessary nor grafts things superfluous; it neither gives up its own nor usurps what does not belong to it. But it devotes all its diligence to one aim: to treat tradition faithfully and wisely; to nurse and polish what from old times may have remained unshaped and unfinished; to consolidate and to strengthen what was already clear and plain; and to guard what already was confirmed and defined.".
A comment was heard from a man who was not Orthodox, who was talking to another Orthodox priest in my presence. He stated that " I've read the writings of the early church and they spent the first four or five centuries just trying to figure out who God was!" To this the priest replied "my friend your perception is a little mistaken the fathers of the church where defending the "Faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3) from innovations and teachings that where contrary to what had been handed down from their instructors, continuing back to the Apostles and our Lord Himself. The Fathers of the councils only made clear "that which was believed by all, at all times, throughout all the world."
Anyone who is the least familiar with the universal or Ecumenical Councils knows that the Fathers always upheld the decisions of the previous Councils. Their entire approach was always tempered with the knowledge and fear that they take heed as to what they would build upon the foundation of the Church, which is Christ. Special care was used to ensure that their decisions did not contradict any Apostolic teaching. They understood the Holy Spirit to be guiding the Church and always considered the previous times to be times of great miracles, of great faith and their times to be poor spiritually, unworthy of God's mercy. So, being armed with this soul-preserving humility they would proceed to deal with the matters which have caused a disruption in the peace of the Church. Anything that did not fit the universal understanding was rejected.
In the hymns of our Church we continually sing the praises of those who stood fast against people, who under the influence of the demons attempted to introduce innovation, compromise, and wrong doctrine into the faith. These people we refer to as confessors. They gave up there homes, their secure positions in society, suffering even the dismemberment and mutilation of their bodies, and would have given up even their own lives. This was done all in the name of preserving some ideas that their contemporaries called "old fashioned", not according to what their society at that time considered valid. Why? Could they not have found some happy medium? A way to peacefully co-exist?
I am reminded of something that I heard about the time in our church when the Iconoclastic heresy was raging. The Iconoclasts proposed that the Icons could remain as long as they where placed high up where the faithful could not venerate them. The Orthodox rejected this. Why? Could not they have foreseen that this rejection would cause immense suffering for the church? And could not they have reasoned that with time and prayer those who objected to their veneration would come around to see that this in reality was a denial of Christ and repent of this foolishness? Also they should have absolutely seen that this would preserve the church at least officially, for even the Emperor was taken with this heresy. If this was to happen in our own time wouldn't we think that some sort of compromise could, or should be reached? The answer to why they did not take this approach is crystal clear and beautiful in its simplicity:
"There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism,"(Eph 4:4;5)
Throughout the entire history of the Church we see this same theme, this golden thread, or rather chain as one writer put it, unifying and linking us with our past. For the countless multitudes of all those who suffered and where persecuted for the Orthodox faith knew that only the purity of the faith will save, only the fullness, not a dilution. They understood the words of the Apostle Peter when he said that "We have not followed cunningly devised fables" and they knew that the Church had not concocted an arbitrary approach based on the philosophies of the past, designed to control men for earthly gain, or some Gnostic idea of union with the infinite. But rather they understood our Faith to be the revelation of the One True God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, and the Church to be the living manifestation of the Holy Spirit's influence on the Apostles, and their successors. To put it more succinctly: "the breathing of the Holy Spirit" as described by Saint John of Kronstadt. And they perceived the power in this teaching that was able to restore to them the union with their Creator which was lost by the sin of Adam and Eve.
This sober, humble understanding can be seen also in the conversion of ancient Russia. When the people of Rus accepted Christianity they embraced the full faith complete with the "flavour" of Byzantium. This is evident in the chanting, iconography, and the fact that Russia did not have Russian bishops for a few hundred years, for the reason of the spiritual immaturity of the people at that time. It is clear from this example that they accepted the fullness of the faith, and did not take an attitude of "pick and choose" of those things which they did not deem to be suitable for there times or character. But rather as was stated they conformed themselves to Christ and not Christ to themselves.
And now comes the time when we must focus on how all this applies to us as Orthodox Christians today. Tradition is our anchor, or perhaps more to the point the ink with which the way to the kingdom of heaven is written. We have witnessed and are witnessing the eroding and destruction of Orthodox traditions and doctrines, especially Baptism and fasting rules. The regenerating act of baptism that is only in the true Church of Christ and can be only performed by valid priests, the mystery that transforms and prepares the person for the spiritual warfare that he will endure on his journey to Heaven is being denied, and has been supplanted by the Ecumenical belief that all invocations of the Holy Trinity are valid. Fasting, which purifies our spiritual senses, teaches us what things we have excessive attachments to, and what is most important enables one to become aware of the spiritual battle going on in our hearts. This ascetical aspect of the church has been either eliminated or minimized dramatically by the opponents of tradition.
Services have been shortened and even altered bringing in practices from other religions, confessions have been altogether eliminated or its importance has been diminished.
All of these acts together cloud the soul and do not help it to develop the discernment that it needs. To fill the void that this inevitably produces, all kinds of workshops and committees are formed to give people a "ministry". Self-help encounter groups within the parish are formed and unity with each other through the "cup" is stressed, forgetting that our first purpose is unity with God unity with one another is secondary. Does this sound strange? Then consider monastic life, consider desert-dwellers who would receive Holy- Communion alone. The other-worldly message of Christ is being changed into pure Humanism. Unity with each other! This is not the salvation that Christ came to give.
The modernist churches who usurp the name of Orthodox by setting up a standard that is in direct opposition to the Church's standard reveals the spirit of the ruler of this world that motivates them. The systematic degradation in the fundamental trust and belief of the Orthodox church as "the pillar and the foundation of the truth", has prepared the hearts of many to accept a new understanding. We hear that the canons do not apply anymore, the Holy Spirit guides the church! As if the two are separate from each other! We witness today the widespread belief that the lives of the saints have been embellished and that the magnificent confessions of the martyrs where not truly spoken by them through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This contradicts our Lord's words in the scripture to "take no thought how or what ye shall speak... For it is not you who speak, but the spirit of your Father which speaketh in you" (Matt. 10:19;20). We witness the elimination of the use of the menaion in the modernist churches. Why? We are told "because it interferes with the celebration of the Lord's resurrection." Perhaps more to the point is that contained within its pages is the living tradition of the Church; how the saints whom we have mentioned already have lived and died for Christ. The words contained within it's pages completely and unequivocally refute the errors and outright heresies the modernist bishops want their flocks to follow.
Let me give one very striking example to drive this point home. On July 11th Old Style, 24th N.S. we celebrate the miracle of the Great-Martyr Euphemia that she performed at the Fourth Ecumenical council through her relics. The following quote is from the "Prologue from Ochrid" volume 3, page 48.
"This council was called together in the reign of the Emperor Marcian and the Empress Pulcheria, in 451, after the death of the Emperor Theodosius the Younger, and was summoned because of the Heresy of Dioscorus, Patriarch of Alexandria, and Eutyches, an Archimandrite in Constantinople, who had disseminated the false teaching that there were in Christ not two natures, divine and human, but only one, a divine nature. At this council, the chief role was played by Anatolius, Patriarch of Constantinople and Juvenal, Patriarch of Jerusalem. Because through the quarrels and evidence on both sides, no decision could be reached, Patriarch Anatolius suggested that the Orthodox and the heretics each write down their confession of faith, and that they be put into the coffin that contained the relics of Saint Euphemia. All agreed to this. Two confessions of faith then were written and placed in the hands of the Great Martyr. The coffin was closed and sealed with the imperial seal, a watch then being set over it. They then spent three days in fasting and prayer. On the fourth day, when the tomb was opened, they saw the Orthodox confession of faith in the saints right hand and the heretical one beneath her feet. Thus was the conflict resolved by God's power. "
The menaion service for this day also collaborates this story, as does the icon commemorating the councils. The modernist churches tell us that there was a misunderstanding, and that "cultural differences and political power struggles also played a part in the schism" (Christianity Today magazine Jan. 10,1994).
The introduction of modern psychology as a valid means of healing souls is introduced most notoriously in the use of the twelve-step program. Let me quote Saint Macarius the Great in his homily number nine contained in the book "Fifty Spiritual Homilies".
"... The gift of the Holy Spirit, which is vouchsafed to a faithful soul, proceeds with much contention, with much endurance and long suffering, temptations and trials, the man's free will being tried by all manner of afflictions. And when it does not grieve the spirit in anything, but is agreeable to grace through all (the) commandments, then it is permitted to obtain freedom from passions, and receives the fulfillment of the spirit's adoption, spoken of in a mystery, and of the spiritual riches, and of the intelligence which is not of this world, whereof true Christians are made partakers. For this reason they are for all purposes superior to all the men of prudence, intelligence, and wisdom, who have the spirit of the world. For such a one judgeth all men, as it is written. He knows each man, from whence he speaks, and where he stands, and what measure he is in; but not a man of those that have the spirit of the world is able to know and judge him".
These men and woman are the fathers of our faith, they have given to us the only true way to heal the soul. How unfortunate are those souls who have "lost the savor of Orthodoxy and find "wisdom" from sources outside the Church's tradition" (from Father Seraphim Rose O.W. #78 pg.14). for they have dulled their senses, and have stripped themselves of the great salvation that our Lord has given to us, "having a form of Godliness but denying the power thereof". (2 Tim:3;5)
In conclusion what must be stressed to all is that the way of a Christian is one of "manifold trials and temptations and that those who cleave to God alone are delivered from the temptation of the evil one."(Saint Macarius the Great) and if we follow the "narrow thorny path" it will be difficult, but I ask you, do you not endure many hardships in life to get what you desire? Then let us, "who are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith", (Heb 12:1-2), for our Lord is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Our faith has stood the test of time and will continue, as our Lord has promised.
Traditions safeguard the purity of the faith and uphold a way of life that has grown out of the living experience of the Church and are inseparable from it for this very reason. I would like to conclude with a quote from Saint John of Kronstadt...
"If the truth of something has been revealed in the Word of God, has been investigated and explained to us by the divinely enlightened mind of the saints, whom God has glorified, and has been recognized by the heart in its light and life-giving effect, then it is a great sin and diabolical pride of the intellect and heart to doubt it and to be perplexed about it.