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The Meaning of “Holy Tradition”

The Meaning of “Holy Tradition”

Author: Dr. Guy Freeland (Lecturer in Liturgical Studies and Hermeneutics at St Andrew’s Theological College Sydney). 

Source: The Greek Orthodox Youth of Australia in Dialogue 2 (1986): 98-105.

The word “tradition” (paradosis) has acquired a bewildering diversity of meanings within common usage. In the present paper, however, I am concerned with only one meaning of the word, that is the fundamental meaning it has within Orthodox theology and spirituality. As far as this special meaning is concerned, and unlike all other usages, the word should always be qualified by “Holy” and the first letters of both simple definition of the kind one finds in dictionaries. To some extent at least, we need to proceed negatively, that is apophatically, by excluding meanings of “tradition” which fall short of the required meaning. As we discover more and more about what Holy Tradition is not, we hopefully, move closer to, at least a partial, understanding of what Holy Tradition in fact is. So, although I do not wish to dwell on other meanings of “tradition”, some examination of several of the common usages could be of material advantage to us.

In everyday speech the word “tradition” is frequently used of long-established beliefs, values and practices, and a “traditionalist” is taken to be a person of conservative tendencies who upholds the worth of what has been handed down from the past and opposes the aspirations of radicals, progressives and revolutionaries who are bent on reforming or doing away with such “traditions”. The word “tradition” in this sense has beyond doubt penetrated ecclesiastical domains, but on no account must it be equated with Holy Tradition. Nevertheless, there is some link here with our capital “T” Tradition. Holy Tradition does involve a respect for the past, the well-tried and the established, but in Holy Tradition the past is not conserved simply because it is the past. The long-established if it is retained, if it is a genuine part of Holy Tradition, is retained because it is the Truth. Holy Tradition carries the past along with it, but it always relates to, operates within or perhaps, in a special sense, even constitutes the present. Holy Tradition is only, and can only be discerned through the operation of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, working in the body of the Church in the here and now.

In Holy Tradition, indeed, there is no past to look back to, no future to look forward to, no click-clicking of the clock along the path of history, of historical (linear) time. Holy Tradition belongs to the eternal present not to linear-historical time. The genuine capital “T” Traditionalist is not, and cannot be, a conservative in the restricted common usage sense, nor can he or she be a progressive or revolutionary (again in the common use senses) because these terms denote not the eternal present constituted through the operation of the Holy Spirit, who is God with us in the congregation of the faithful, but to the linear-historical time of clocks and calendars. The ecclesiastical conservative who is continually looking backwards, who is always ready to quote some obscure Church law designed to handle circumstances very different from our own, who might even tell you that Orthodoxy is the following of every detail, and in all circumstances, of each and every canon or inherited practice, such a person is not a capital “T” Traditionalist but simply a small “t” traditionalist, a conservative.

In fact, not only does such conservatism not constitute Holy Tradition, it is antithetical to it. This kind of conservatism or traditionalism, which is really simply a modern form of pharisaism, binds the people of God by the letter, as opposed to the spirit, of law. In doing so, it actually inhibits the action of the Holy Spirit (which constitutes true perception) and hence prevents discernment as to what really does not belong within Holy Tradition. Another common usage of “tradition”, is where the word is used of this or that cultural element or custom of a given people, peoples or institution of some actual or supposed antiquity. If we talk of the traditions of the legal profession, say, then we are probably talking of such practices as the wearing of gowns and wigs by judges and barristers or over-indulgence at bar dinners. In the same vein we talk of school or service traditions. We also frequently refer to folklore ceremonies and customs as traditions. Again “tradition” in this sense has penetrated the ecclesiastical domain. Orthodox are very prone to label almost anything which hasn’t obviously only been introduced within living memory as “traditional”.

What are purely cultural practices, whether local, regional or national, thus come, all too often, to be regarded as essential elements of Orthodoxy per se. This not only creates a barrier between Orthodox and non-Orthodox, but between Orthodox and Orthodox. Because what in fact is purely local, temporally and/or spatially, comes to be labelled “traditional”, Orthodox are often dismissive or other Orthodox who, belonging to different local churches, do things in a slightly different ways. Even properly instructed Orthodox, who do not make this mistake, often attach too much importance to purely local customs and ways and hence feel uncomfortable when they encounter Orthodox from other “traditions”. Even given the abundance not only of Greek but Russian, Romanian, Serbian, Antiochian and other Orthodox churches, I have a horrible feeling that only a very small percentage of Orthodox living in Sydney, of any jurisdiction, have ever attended the Liturgy in a church under another jurisdiction.

Given the rarity of communication between Orthodox of different national origins it is scarcely surprising that few non-Orthodox realise that we all do belong to one single church. Of course recently there has been a little progress, particularly with the formation of S.C.C.O.C.A (The Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Churches of Australia) but we have an awfully long way to go before the situation becomes even tolerably satisfactory. We need action at the parochial as well as hierarchical level. Given some ingenuity and a great deal of patience, I think that there is a holy task here which could usefully be taken up by youth groups.

Now I am not, please, in any way denigrating practices which belong to particular ethnic or national churches. Far from it. These practices give a special flavour, as does the language, to the celebration of the Holy Mysteries. It would serve nobody’s interests if Greek churches stopped being Greek or Russian churches Russian. The cultural variety and distinctiveness is part of the richness of Orthodoxy. My point, rather, is that tradition, in the sense of local cultural tradition, is not Holy Tradition even where it is informed by and permeated with Holy Tradition. As an Orthodox of Greek extraction one should not make the Greekness of the Greek Orthodox Church – the language, the music, the national celebrations and so forth – an end in itself. The Liturgy is celebrated as the supreme act of worship and thanksgiving to God by the Universal Church. There is nothing wrong with an appreciation of the Greekness of Greek Orthodox worship, indeed this could well be a spiritual help if kept in its place; but there is everything wrong with treating the Liturgy, as I feel some people do, as a sort of cultural sauna in which one can work up a nice Greek-feeling glow. To attend the Liturgy without discerning and responding to the presence of the living God is bordering on blasphemy.

Just as we found that tradition in the sense of conservativeness was distinct from Holy Tradition because it belonged to linear-historical time, whereas Holy Tradition belongs to the eternal present, so we can say that “tradition” in the sense of cultural customs and ways is not Holy Tradition, or indeed even a part of Holy Tradition, because Holy Tradition belongs not only to the eternal now but also to the eternal here. In other words, as Holy Tradition is not time-bound, so also it is not space-bound; it is constituted of that which the Church not only holds always, outside ordinary temporal boundaries, but also what it holds everywhere, that is universally, outside ordinary spatial boundaries. That which is not intrinsic to the whole Orthodox Church everywhere cannot belong to Holy Tradition, however desirable, however venerable and sacred it be. Holy Tradition is concerned, we can say, with what is essential, that which relates to the deposit of the Faith entrusted by Christ to the Church. Local practices and cultural colouring might be part of ethnic tradition, they are not constitutive of Holy Tradition.

This is not to say, however, that elements belonging to Holy Tradition do not have an origin within particular cultures; the New Testament was, for example, written in Greek and Apostolic teaching was permeated with Greek philosophy, thought and language. The point is that the Holy Spirit in manifesting Holy Tradition transforms, universalizes all that is purely local, that is of an ethnic or national nature. Orthodoxy as a whole possesses a sacred inner culture which is distinguishable in every least detail from any and all specific, that is ethnic, cultures; it belongs equally and without distinction or favour to all right believing and right worshipping Christians, whether they be Russians, Ugandans, Englishmen, Koreans or Greeks.

A third common usage of “tradition”, and the last I wish to mention, will also, hopefully, help us along the negative road towards an understanding of Holy Tradition. This usage, however, is one which is more familiar in scholarly than everyday discourse. This is the sense in which tradition is applied to that which belongs to, or arises from, oral as opposed to literary culture. So a traditional culture, in this sense, is one which is non or pre literate. Oral cultures differ in many ways from literary cultures. It needs to be noted, however, that literary, or literate, cultures retain or possess varying degrees of orality along with their literacy. This being the case, it is acceptable to talk of “traditional” (oral) elements even within highly literate cultures. As we shall see, there is an intrinsic orality in authentic Christianity.

In literary cultures information is contained in books and other storage systems and can be pulled out by, say, a visit to the library or bookshelf. Information can be passed on, in highly reliable forms, from one generation to another. All one needs to know are the techniques required for retrieving the information from the storage systems available. Reading is largely a private matter, one takes oneself off to somewhere where one won’t be too disturbed and limits one’s field of vision to the printed page, screen or whatever. No direct communication with any other human being is involved. We talk, for example, of students engaging in private study or reading for University degrees. It is not difficult to see from all this that highly literary culture, such as post-Renaissance Western European culture, is likely to be highly individualistic.

In an oral culture, information has to be memorised if it is to be retrievable or to be passed on from one generation to another. If you want to know something the only storage-retrieval system available to you is another human being. Oral cultures are characterised by the need to memorise vast quantities of information, and this involves an intimate relationship between master and pupil over a great period of time. It is of course next to impossible to memorise vast quantities of dry facts, so all sorts of techniques are used to aid the memory; song, dance, symbolic devices and decoration, ritual, the encompassing of information in coded form in myths, and so on.

In oral cultures that “the medium is the message” – to use Marshall McLuhan’s famous expression – is true in a very special sense. The modes of transmission of knowledge are inextricably bound up with that which is transmitted, and, indeed, with the culture in its living totality. The transmission of such “traditional” knowledge brings that which is transmitted to life, it indeed constitutes, re-creates in each generation, the culture itself. Here an observation, relating to oral tradition, of Professor A. B. Lord in The Singer of Tales is particularly apposite. He wrote: “We ought to take a fresh look at tradition, considered not as the inert acceptance of a fossilized corpus of themes and conventions, but as an organic habit of re-creating what has been received and is handed on”. (p. xiii).

Professor Lord was speaking of traditional cultures in general, but what he says applies very much to Holy Tradition also. Holy Tradition is indeed “an organic habit of re-creating what has been received and is handed on”. The term “deposit of the faith” has its uses but it is a static term and cannot be said to be synonymous with “Holy Tradition” which is a dynamic term. Within Holy Tradition the deposit of the faith is re-created within the eternal present. The mode and place of transmission are intrinsic to that which is transmitted. Through the several acts of transmission the faith imparted by Christ to the Apostles is re-created, it comes to us as something entirely new. But while the acts of transmission occur within ordinary linear-historical time, what is re-created, is made present, or shown forth, by such acts is not something which can be separated from that once and for all Revelation through Our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ two thousand years ago.

The transformation of Revelation within the Church indeed constitutes Holy Tradition as such. Within the eternal present the mystery of Salvation from Genesis to the Apocalypse is manifested or revealed within the mysteries of the Church, the Body of Christ. The Church itself operates within the boundaries of historical time, and is served by unworthy human beings who make but a fleeting appearance on the cosmic screen, but that which is made present within Holy Tradition in the midst of the worshipping congregation is eternal and complete, the fullness of the living Faith, given as entirely new to those who are reborn through water and the Spirit.

The use of the word “tradition” we have been considering does certainly help in the search for an understanding of Holy Tradition, particularly by drawing our attention to the importance of the mode of transmission. However, difficulties have arisen through associating this sense of “tradition” too closely with the capital “T” Tradition of Holy Tradition. The main difficulty has arisen within Western Christianity as a consequence of the Reformation. The cause of the Reformation cut deep into late medieval and Renaissance culture, but the principal trigger for the greatest upheaval in the history of Western Christendom was, I think it can be said, the rampant ecclesiastical abuses. The reformers wished – and given the historical circumstances one can well understand this – to return to a purer Christianity, to the Christianity of the primitive Church, as they understood it. The record of the teaching of the Church in its earliest period is of course contained in the New Testament, and so it is not surprising that the Protestants sought to base the reform of the Church on the New Testament. Unfortunately, as happens with many reformers and revolutionaries, they went too far.

The doctrine which lies at the very heart of Protestantism is that of sola Scriptura, the Scripture alone; that is, as the sole and only source of authoritative teaching. Only that which could be proved by the plain word of Scripture could bind the Christian. Moreover the Protestants believed (and still do) that the plain word of Scripture can be grasped by any Christian devoutly reading the Bible by the Divine Light which is within every true believer in Christ. The claim of the Catholic Church that it alone possessed the Divinely instituted right to interpret the Scriptures in the light of the teachings of the Fathers, the liturgical texts and practices, the decisions of the Councils, the oral traditions passed down from the Apostles, and so on, was denied. There was no need of any intermediary between God and the individual believer of good conscience. The more extreme protestant churches threw out nearly all the practices and much of the teaching of the Catholic Church.

From an Orthodox or Catholic point of view one can say that the reformers, in throwing out the murky water of the ecclesiastical fishbowl, threw out most of the goldfish as well. The crux of the resulting dispute was the doctrine of sola Scriptura. The Catholics, while fully accepting the authority of Scripture, nonetheless maintained that the authentic teaching of the Church was based not only on Scripture but also on Tradition. Moreover, the Church was in existence before the New Testament was written; the Scriptures are a possession of the Church which alone has authority to interpret them. Given the historical context, it is easy to see how the essence of the dispute came to be seen in terms of the Protestants’ insistence of sola Scriptura versus the Catholics’ insistence on Scripture and Tradition as the source of teaching.

As the Roman, the Orthodox Church has always accepted a distinction between the public teaching of the Apostles, which was in the course of time written down to form the New Testament, and those things which the Apostles had received from Christ and transmitted to the faithful but which were not written down, at least very much later. These are the (small “t”) traditions of the Apostles. Scripture itself in fact acknowledges the existence of these traditions. St John, for example, says in his Gospel: “…there are also many other things that Jesus did, were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written”, (21:25). Things which were not written down, which were not proclaimed to everyone in the Gospel, but were conveyed to the baptised faithful within the liturgical life of the Church – and here we should remember that in early times those not baptised were excluded from being present at the Eucharist – share, in the view of the Orthodox Church, an equal authority with the public teaching which was written down. These initially secret traditions related in particular, the Fathers tell us, to liturgical and sacramental practices.

To draw a distinction between the (initially) oral traditions and Scripture is proper; what, however, is not proper is to separate Scripture and the traditions to equate the latter with Holy Tradition. But this is exactly what the Roman Catholic Church proceeded to do and even embedded the separation in the decisions of the Council of Trent. The teaching of the Church, the Council declared, was founded on Scripture and Tradition, not Scripture alone. This renders Holy Tradition as something which is totally distinct from Scripture, but sharing an equal authority with Scripture. The Roman Church, in other words, effectively followed the Protestant lead in separating Holy Scripture out from Holy Tradition. The truth is, in the understanding of the Orthodox Church, that Scripture subsists within Holy Tradition alongside of the Apostolic traditions and all the summations and implications drawn from Scripture and the oral traditions in the form of creeds, decisions of the Ecumenical Councils and the like.

Scripture and the Apostolic traditions can be distinguished but not separated. The separation of Holy Tradition from Holy Scripture seems to have led to some rather odd thinking within the Roman Church. Since according to Roman doctrine the authority, the magisterium, of the Church is focused on, or concentrated within, the person of the Pope of Rome, the Pope came to be seen as the embodiment and infallible expositor of Tradition. Only in the light of this alarming distortion of the meaning of Holy Tradition can one make any sense of a remark attributed to Pius IX, the Pope in whose reign the doctrine of Papal Infallibility was promulgated (1870), “I am tradition”.

I hope you will agree that our following of a negative way in an examination of some of the meanings of “traditions” has shed some light on the authentic concept of “Holy Tradition”. I wish now to see what I might be able to add, applying a more cataphatic, that is positive, approach. But first let us gather up some of the points which have hopefully emerged thus far. Holy Tradition applies not to linear-historical time nor to any particular ethnic or national culture or location – what one might term the horizontal temporal and spatial plane – but to the vertical plane of the eternal present, the ever-present here and now. Holy Tradition is not separable from Scripture, rather Scripture, along with the Apostolic traditions, subsists within Holy Tradition. Holy Tradition is not a static deposit of the Faith passed on from generation to generation, but the organic re-creation in the eternal present of that which has been transmitted to us from the Apostles, and has been expounded and defined by the Fathers, the Councils, the sublime instruction of the Liturgy and the iconography of the Church. Finally, there is the point that Holy Tradition doesn’t simply denote that which is transmitted but involves the mode of transmission. What more can we add?

Well, firstly, the point should be made that Holy Tradition (in the words of The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church) “does not mean something handed down but something handed over”. To this we can add “something handed over within the body of the living Holy Catholic Apostolic and Orthodox Church”, for Holy Tradition is Holy not only by virtue of the fact it tells us of the Divine Revelation through our Lord Jesus Christ but by virtue of the fact that it is handed over within the Church, the very Body of Christ. Within the Church we receive the Holy Tradition, as if from the Incarnate Saviour Himself, as a gift which is pristine and new, not as some moth-eaten old garment passed down from ancestor to ancestor. “Handing down” denotes historical succession, “handing over” denotes the eternal present of the Kingdom of God. What is handed over must be cherished and absorbed and must be handed over, returned so to speak, as we received it.

This reminds me of the early baptismal practice of the Church known in Latin as the traditio symboli. Candidates for baptism (catechumens), who were usually adults, underwent lengthy instruction in the Faith, including in the later stages instruction in the Creed, which was thus handed over into the keeping of the candidates. This handing over of the Creed was known as the traditio symboli. At their Baptism the candidates returned the Creed, and act known as the redditio symboli, to the Church by reciting it to the Bishop. The handing over and the returning were thus intrinsic to the Holy Tradition itself.

So Holy Tradition, involving receiving, preserving and handing over (or back) entails dynamic interchange. This dynamic interchange can only take place within the Church; Holy Tradition has no existence outside the Church. If we wish to live within Holy Tradition then we must dwell in the Church, within its liturgical life. For the Orthodox Church, the Scriptures reside within Holy Tradition and hence their place is within the liturgy itself. When the Gospel is solemnly sung in the service of the Church, especially during the Liturgy, it is sung with power, the words are there, in their authentic context, the very living words of Christ, of God Himself. There in the Church at the Liturgy by word, by chant, by gesture, attitude and movement, by iconography, by incense and lamps and candles, by Holy Offerings of bread and wine, by prayer and supplication, by prostration and veneration, by obedience to Divine precept, with the bishops, the priests, the deacons, the readers and chanters, the acolytes and all the laity, there where Heaven and Earth become as one in that time which is outside of time, is Holy Tradition received, preserved and returned, now and for ever and to the ages of ages.

Because she has this understanding of Scripture within Holy Tradition and knows nothing of sola Scriptura or detached Tradition residing uniquely in the soul of an infallible Latin pontiff, the Orthodox Church tends to be wary of extra-liturgical Bible study groups and the like. The devotional (as opposed to strictly scholarly or historical) study of the Bible is good when it is an extension of the liturgy, when it involves reflection on the Word proclaimed within the Tradition; it can be valueless or even undesirable, as far as Orthodox are concerned, if it becomes, as it does in many Evangelical Bible groups, a wholly detached activity, a devotion in its own right which is nothing of the Scriptures outside of the living Holy Tradition of the Church’s worship. If one studies, in a devotional sense, the Scriptures outside of the life of the Church then one will quickly be led astray in a sea of personal opinion. The group nature of the activity also has the result of reinforcing error whenever it arises; and as error overtakes Truth, the home of Truth, the Church, tends to be shunned and finally possibly abandoned.

I hope that we now have Holy Tradition at least to some degree focused. I cannot give you a definition of “Holy Tradition” because it is a term which is proper to the mystery of the Church Herself, in the Body of Christ, and no definition could be more than horribly inadequate. However, we can now, I think, identify Holy Tradition as the continuous working or operation of the Holy Spirit infused into, and deposited within the Church on the Day of Pentecost. Let us recall the words of Christ to the Apostles concerning the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Church: “…when the Counsellor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even He the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning… I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; … He will glorify Me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” – (John 15.26-27; 16.12, 13a, 14-15). If one fully unpacks the meanings of these words, then I suggest, one will also unpack the meaning of the expression “Holy Tradition”.

This is the point where I am overcome by Holy terror, but, God being merciful, let me just make a few observations. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth and is the Spirit which bears witness to Christ. It is, therefore, the Spirit which determines the authenticity of what purports to be Revelation. Notice also that it is not the bare record of the words of Christ which we are to receive but the record as declared by the Spirit; the Scriptures are to be declared in the power of the Spirit, it is only the “en-spirited” words which are the Word of God. Moreover, the record is to be received within the body of the Apostolic Church on which the Spirit descended at Pentecost. Indeed, it is on the mystery of Pentecost that the Church is founded and it is one and the same Spirit received in the visible form of tongues of fire which has moved in the Church down through the ages, transforming historical time in every generation into the eternal present.

It is the Spirit working in the Church which authenticates and interprets the living Faith. The Church does not add to Revelation, it is the same Spirit in every age “glorifying” Christ and declaring and witnessing to the Word once and for all given through the Incarnate Christ, and pre-heralded by the Prophets. Notice also that the Apostles themselves are also witnesses to the Divine Revelation. The Church is thus the Apostolic Church because it preserves the Apostolic teaching and traditions. While the Church cannot add to Revelation, it can nonetheless, in power of the Spirit, draw out the meaning of that which has been received in the form of creedal formulas, decisions of Ecumenical Councils, authoritative liturgical texts, and so on.

In every age the Spirit acts within the Church declaring the Holy Tradition in its fullness afresh as is appropriate and meaningful for the people of each particular historical time. So, Holy Tradition is, as it was in the Church of the Apostles, always complete and received in its fullness, but nonetheless witnesses to the Revelation through Our Lord Jesus Christ in a way that responds to the needs and limitations of the times. Simultaneously, Holy Tradition remains as it always has, because it adds nothing to what it has already received at its beginning through Revelation, and speaks ever anew to each generation as that which is witnessed to by the Spirit is continuously re-created in the heart of the Apostolic Church. We can now see more plainly, I hope, why it is that Holy Tradition, although it involves the reception of those things which are the inheritance of all members of the Church, everywhere and at all times – quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus – is nonetheless antithetical to conservatism, to small “t” traditionalism. Although it belongs to the vertical spatial-temporal dimension, Holy Tradition nonetheless is always received within an historical context, the horizontal plane. In each generation the small “t” traditions of the past, the customs and practices and canons of the Church, are viewed with new eyes imbued with the razor’s edge of true perception, which is the work of the Spirit. It is perception in the Spirit which allows Spirit-bearing members of the Church in every generation to determine whether practices which have been inherited from the past do or do not genuinely belong to Holy Tradition.

A practice which has been virtually universal for a millennium or more might still not belong to Holy Tradition. To give an example, it has been convincingly shown in our own time that the universal practice of over a millennium of regular attendance at the Liturgy but infrequent reception of Holy Communion by the laity – a practice which has actually been enjoined by canons of local synods, encyclical letters, monastic rules, the advice of spiritual fathers, and the imposition of impeding restrictions of fasting, abstinence of marital relations, attendance at or reciting of offices and the like – not only does not belong to Holy Tradition, but is in fact inconsistent with it. But before we judge, let us note the words of Christ: “I have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now”. In every age there are those things we can bear and those things we cannot bear. The Holy Spirit is patient and, although it always witnesses to Holy Tradition in its fullness, it never forces us to bear more than we can bear, to grasp what cultural constraints make it impossible to grasp in our own time. When the time is ripe, then the Spirit will enable us to bear, will speak to us of, things which have been contained within the Holy Tradition from the beginning.Holy Tradition, we can also see, involves not only the authentication of Revelation by the Spirit of Truth, but also transmission of the message in the Spirit. As reception of the Sacraments can only take place within the Church, so with Holy Tradition. Indeed as the traditio symboli bears witness, the receiving and handing back of Holy Tradition is really in itself sacramental. For this reason, the Church, has always stressed the importance, on the one hand, of transmission within the context of the liturgical life of the Church by duly ordained or appointed ministers, and, on the other, by Spiritual Father (and Mothers) who are recognised by the faithful as true bearers of the Spirit.Finally, let us note the Trinitarian character of the transmission and receiving of Holy Tradition. The Spirit, which bears witness to the Son and guides us into all truth, proceeds from the Father, but is sent by the Son to the Church. Moreover, it is only by the Son that we can come to the Father. In receiving and handing back of Holy Tradition we are indeed sharing in the life of the Holy Trinity itself; not in its essence, of course, but by virtue of the Divine energies.The Holy Tradition in which we live today is the same Holy Tradition in which the Apostles lived after Pentecost, although the Spirit is continuously acting and making all things new for each succeeding generation. Holy Tradition is, therefore, one and the same thing as the life of the Church Herself within the Holy Spirit; indeed, in a sense, it is the Spirit moving in the Church. The Holy Spirit is both the life-giver and the Spirit of truth, the witness and counsellor. Hence, the appropriateness of the conjunction of “Tradition” and “Life” as the theme of this Conference. Holy Tradition is indeed the very life in its fullness of the Church Herself.


Anyone who has any familiarity with contemporary Orthodox Theology will almost certainly detect my substantial debt to Vladimir Lossky’s analysis of Tradition. Material assistance was also provided by two papers published by Sobornost, one by Constantine Scouteris and the other by George Dragas. In addition, I must acknowledge my debt to the papers given by Archbishop Stylianos and Professor Yannaras at the National Youth Conference and to a number of entries in that invaluable reference work, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (notably Traditio Symboli and Tradition). The quote from The Singer of Tales was taken from Marshall McLuhan’s, The Gutenberg Galaxy, a work which I found particularly helpful for one section of the paper. The New testament quotations are from the Revised Standard Version. Finally I would like to thank organisers, all those involved in typing at any stage and especially Athena Sclavenitis, who translated the English text into Greek, for their industry, patience and cheerful goodwill.


Dragas, G. “Holy Spirit and Tradition: The Writings of St. Athanasius”, Sobornost, N.S. 1, 1, 1979, pp. 51-72.

Lossky, V., “Tradition and Traditions”, In the Image and Likeness of God, London & Oxford: Mowbrays, 1975, pp. 141-168.

McLuhan, M., The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962.

Scouteris, C., “Paradosis: The Orthodox Understanding of Tradition”, Sobornost, N.S. 4, 1, 1982, pp. 30-37.

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