Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Tradition: Part II

Whether accidentally or incidentally, our outlook is undeniably shaped by tradition. We only know things as we have received them. If this is the case, then those inherited ideas and values we take most seriously should be understood to their fullest. By “fullness,” I mean going beyond our own selves past our current understanding of inherited ideas to their original intention and context- their orthodox understanding. We have no more serious inheritance than Christianity, after all. Undoubtedly we have received it from two thousand years of history, within a Christian Tradition. We the believers affirm Christianity as factually true, but do we go beyond and affirm a real connection with the Faith as it was founded?

In committing ourselves to believing the New Testament narrative of Christ and the Apostles, we also commit ourselves to that same body of believers being exclusively the seed from which Christianity grew. “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” is St. Paul’s instruction to the fledgling Church in Thessolinica. As Christ commanded, the Apostles faithfully brought the one gospel to the entire world (Matt. 28:19); a vast world of diverse peoples, religions, and languages. Thus the true miracle of Pentecost (Acts 2:5-21) became manifested in that the one gospel indeed remained one and the same over the entire world and through the subsequent generations after the Apostles. The one Faith, including doctrines, liturgies, and administration would be transmitted in fidelity with the teachings of the Apostles. Each subsequent generation then, would abide in fidelity of Faith with the generation before it. Free to change, to be sure, but changing organically to address each people for each time without losing the integrity of the Faith.

Orthodoxy, then, is not simply conscious espousal of the doctrines of the New Testament Church, but organically abiding in fidelity with that Church. The connection to the early Church is real, manifested by the handing down of Faith from one generation to the next, in both unity and continuity with all of Church history. The modern Orthodox Christian claim is that it is the legitimate heir of New Testament continuity; by no virtue of its own but by Grace. It is one thing to declare belief in the Holy Trinity. It is another to say that I believe in the Trinity standing in the same Church as the Apostles along with Ignatius, Ireneaus, Basil of Caesarea, Athanasius, Cyril, Severus, John of Damascus, and Symeon, all united over two thousand years, scattered over the world, in preaching and dying for the same Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

-Steve Kurian

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