Orthodoxy: Tradition and the Continuity of the Faith

 In a Facebook discussion from two years ago, the question was asked,

“So…if Eastern Orthodoxy is THE church founded by Jesus and the Apostles, and Catholicism and Protestantism are merely heretical groups which branched off of the original church…how is it you guys, exclusively, have managed to maintain true doctrine all of these years?” 

I promised to answer the question when I was on a computer rather than a phone, but life happened and I completely forgot about it. Now, two years later, Lucas has reminded me of the question and I will attempt to answer it as best I can. This will be at best and introduction to the topic.

TraditionThis word carries a lot of baggage in today’s Protestant Christian world. Fond of quoting Jesus’ remarks about nullifying the commandments of God in order to keep the “traditions of men”, it is then thought that all tradition is bad and evil. But St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, said otherwise.

“Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.” – I Corinthians 11:2

You will find in many modern translations (and even the KJV) that “traditions” has been variously translated as “ordinances”, “commandments”, “directions”, and “practices”. While all these words are acceptable translations, why would they NOT use “traditions”? The Greek work is “paradosis” which means:

“a giving over which is done by word of mouth or in writing, i.e. tradition by instruction, narrative, precept, etc.

  1. objectively, that which is delivered, the substance of a teaching

  2. of the body of precepts, esp. ritual, which in the opinion of the later Jews were orally delivered by Moses and orally transmitted in unbroken succession to subsequent generations, which precepts, both illustrating and expanding the written law, as they did were to be obeyed with equal reverence”

This is the sense in which the Orthodox Church uses the word, a handing down or transmitting, without change, a practice, doctrine, teaching, or ritual.

When the Apostles established churches during their travels, they ordained reliable men to continue teaching after they had departed the area, and ultimately, departed this life. We see St. Paul instructing Titus to do this very thing.

“[Tit 1:5 KJV] 5 For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:”

The “elders” here are “presbyters” from which we get the English word “priests”.

Go ahead and read through Timothy and Titus and you will find the kind of men that St. Paul sought to put in charge of the Churches he established. The other Apostles did the same thing.  These men then continued to pass on to their congregations and succeeding generations, the “faith once delivered to the saints.”

Of course, during the first few decades of the Church, they had no New Testament. Christians relied solely on the Apostles teachings and interpretation of the Old Testament Scriptures, written in Greek (called the Septuagint). This was the most common version of the OT that was in use in the time of Christ in Israel. The majority of the OT quotations In the NT come from the Septuagint version. This is why when you go to look up Old Testament quotes in your modern Bible, they often don’t match. (See here for more information on that fascinating topic.)

Once the Gospels were written down, they began to be copied and spread over the known world along with the Epistles of Paul, Peter, James, and Jude. Many spurious writings appeared, claiming to be Apostolic in origin, but were rejected by the Church because they either contradicted the Gospels and Epistles and the known Tradition or just outright taught things that were known to be untrue about Jesus the Christ. The gnostic cults generated much of these writings. It wasn’t until sometime much later that a New Testament canon was actually codified by the Church to what we have today.

The Tradition as received and the Scriptures form the basis for all Orthodox life and practice.

Apostolic Succession is the tracing of a direct line of apostolic ordination, Orthodox doctrine, and full communion from the Apostles to the current episcopacy of the Orthodox Church. All three elements are constitutive of apostolic succession. (Orthodox Wiki).

Notice that for Apostolic Succession to be valid, the three elements of apostolic ordination, Orthodox doctrine, and full communion must exist. If one element is missing, there is no succession. The Roman Catholics, the Anglicans, and some Lutheran bodies can claim the first, but not the second or the third. Each Orthodox Bishop or presbyter (priest) can trace his ordination directly back to an Apostle. An Orthodox bishop must be ordained by at least three Bishops in good standing with the Church (meeting the three criteria set forth above.)

Scripture – The Orthodox Church codified the New Testament. These books, originally written in Greek for the most part, are cherished by the Church. Through them, we maintain the basic dogmas of the faith. So why does the Orthodox Church have so many practices that are rejected by Protestants, such as prostrations, veneration of icons, written prayers, and the rejection of reformation doctrines? Consider that Sts Paul and Peter did not write down everything they passed on to their disciples. St. Paul himself said that he passed things either by word or by letter. In other words, he spoke some thing and wrote some things down. He preached all day and all night, so long that Eutychus fell asleep and fell out of the window! Those sermons were not written down. What was he telling them? The Tradition. How to act in church, how to live a godly life, what the Old Testament scriptures actually meant. How to worship God in a pleasing manner.

God gave Moses specific directions on how worship was to be conducted. Do you think He just threw all of that out the window after Pentecost? Not hardly. The first Christians were Jews and they worshipped God in Christ in the same manner as they had always worshipped Him, except there was no need for a temple or animal sacrifices. The liturgy was maintained, priests wore vestments, reverence for God was the watchword in all the assemblies. The Gospels and Old Testament and Epistles were read at every Divine Liturgy. The gifts of bread and wine were consecrated by the bishop or the priest and consumed by the people as the very body and blood of Christ. Have you received Christ? Why yes, yes I have!

Christians are made through baptism by triple emersion and are then chrismated (anointed with oil) to receive the Holy Spirit of God. These were the practices of the first Christians and continue to be the practices of the Orthodox Church today. In contrast to the Roman Catholics and the Protestant groups, Orthodoxy has held fast to the “faith once delivered”, unchanged through the centuries. Through martyrdom, Muslim conquest, communism, the Church has survived.

Helpful links:

http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/onbehalfofall/

http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/orthodoxbridge/

http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/orthodoxyandheterodoxy/

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The Manners of the Christians

 [a.d. 130.] The anonymous author of this Epistle gives himself the title (Mathetes) “a disciple”  (263)  of the Apostles,”

Chapter V.—The manners of the Christians.

imagesFor the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity.

The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking(281) method of life.

 

  They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers.

They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring.(282)  They have a common table, but not a common bed.(283)   They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh.(284)  They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven.(285)  They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all.

They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life.(286)  They are poor, yet make many rich;(287) they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless;(288)  they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.iii.ii.v.html

263    Cap. xi. ἀποστόλων γενόμενος μαθητης 

282    Literally, “cast away fœtuses.”

283    Otto omits “bed,” which is an emendation, and gives the second “common” the sense of unclean.

284    Comp. 2 Cor. x. 3.

285    Comp. Phil. iii. 20.

286    Comp. 2 Cor. vi. 9.

287    Comp. 2 Cor. vi. 10.

288    Comp. 2 Cor. iv. 12.

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The Priest Who Did Not Want to Serve the Divine Liturgy

Divine-Liturgy-as-it-truly-is

There was once a priest who did not want to serve the liturgy because it was a cold winter day.

The temperature was 10 degrees below zero and the priest knew that the only person who was likely to come to the service was the chanter. The priest had no idea about the Church’s teaching on the presence of the Triumphant Church and how the Divine Liturgy benefits the living and the departed. With difficulty he forced himself to go to church. On the way to church he kept wishing that the chanter would not come so that he would not have to serve and go home. However, the chanter did come.

The priest did the Prothesis (or Proskomedia, the service of preparing the holy gifts) in a hurry and began the Divine Liturgy. Shortly after, some bishops, priests, monks and nuns and some lay people arrived. Most of them sat in the choir section and began to chant so beautifully that the priest forgot about how cold and lonely he was earlier. His whole body was warm and his whole being was all a flame…. When he did the small entrance he noticed that the church was full of people – most of them familiar – he did not pay much attention and just continued with the Divine Liturgy.

When the time came for the Sanctification of the Holy Gifts he saw three bishops, brightly clothed and radiant entering the Holy Altar. They knelt with him and prayed. The priest then stood up very carefully with fear, took the censer and in a loud voice said,

‘Especially our All Holy, Immaculate, Most Blessed and glorious Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary…’.

The soul of the priest was amazed and filled with divine joy. Peace and heavenly stillness, hesychia, dominated his inner self. When the time came for the elevation and dividing of the Host (Lamb) the whole church filled with the sweetest melodies. The whole multitude of people who were present along with the monks, priests and bishops chanted not only once but many times,

‘One is Holy, One is Lord: Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen’.

Next they chanted the Holy Communion hymn,

‘Taste and see that the Lord is good, Alleluia.’

The priest was wondering what to do. Should he partake of the Holy Communion first or step aside for the three bishops who were present. Just as he was thinking this, one of the bishops nodded to him indicating that he should receive Holy Communion and then to Unify and Place the remaining of the portions of the Lamb into the Chalice along with the portions in memory of the Holy Theotokos and the Saints. Having completed this the priest then opened the Beautiful Gate … and saw no one in the Church… he turned and looked back into the holy altar, he looked to the right, looked to the left, the bishops had disappeared, he stood there speechless, amazed. He slowly opened his mouth and chanted the next petition,

‘With the fear of God and faith and love, draw near …,’

and the chanter slowly drew near to take Holy Communion. The priest was still amazed, still wondering! The whole Triumphant Church was present. All those present in the church were persons familiar to him, they were persons that had departed from this life and he would from time to time commemorate their names during each liturgy:
‘that’s why they were present, that’s why they all seemed so familiar’, he thought.

As for the bishops in the altar they were the Three Hierarchs: Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory the Theologian.

So many years of study at university, so much research and so many sleepless nights he spent studying and these efforts were not able to give him not even one drop of the sweetness and divine knowledge that this one Divine Liturgy gave him. (Hat tip: Jim Kolettis and Monomakhos.com)

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A Worthy Cause

If you have five or ten dollars to spare, please head over here http://www.gofundme.com/zdbnsf7 and show some love to a warrior woman who fights the good fight of faith daily. Through many years as a navy wife, she raised the kids alone while I was out to sea or stationed across the country.
Now she is battling cancer and needs a better bed. Please do what you can by sharing this link.

Thanks.

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ROCOR Synod Statement

Statement by the Chancery of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America on the Issue of Homosexual Marriage to the Clergy and Flock of the Diocese

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In light of yesterday’s Supreme Court usurpation of power…

His Eminence, Archbishop Melchisedek, Archbishop of PIttsburgh and Western Pennsylvania, has issued an archpastoral letter regarding the Supreme Court’s recent ruling.

Archbishop Melchizedek’s statement

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Nothing new under the sun

There is nothing new under the sun. What is now has been before and what shall be has already been.

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