Friday, June 8, 2012

Why Tradition?

So... have you ever wondered why we Orthodox are all about our Traditions? What is the deal with our Church and Tradition? Why do we place so much importance on Tradition?
Long before there was a set canon for the Bible (Old and New Testaments) there was the Tradition of the Church. Now, as I have stated earlier, the early Church used the Septuagint (LXX) for it's Old Testament, but there was no set canon for New Testament books. Even when all of the books of the NT were written there still was not an expedient way for everybody to be able to obtain these writings, and again not many people could read.


How does one go about teaching people who can not read? Use pictures (Icons). But where do the stories for the Icons to use come from? Tradition. Specifically the Tradition passed on to us by the Apostles. And there are two types of Tradition, written and oral. Much of the written Tradition can be seen in the Bible, and some of the oral as well. But oral was the way to go for a culture that could not read and did not have writings readily available.


Do you know the game Telephone? Its a  game where one person whispers something in another persons ear and continues down the line until it reaches the last person. The last person says what they heard and everybody gets a good laugh about how mangled the original message is. Telephone is nothing like what we are talking about. And it annoys me to no end when Protestants insist on comparing our Tradition to a simple game to show how we are wrong for following Tradition.


Now then, do you have that relative who has told a story so many times that every one can repeat it word for word? That is exactly what we are Talking about (minus the pain of hearing about how grandpa saved the world from Nazi's after riding a dolphin to the Battle of the Bulge for the umpteenth time). I'll explain the difference below.


In telephone the game starts rigged: you can only whisper your message... once. No repeating, no asking for clarification. You start with a phrase like, "I love her hair in the light of a full moon," and end up with a phrase like, "I love Barry White in a monsoon." But grandpa knows that he has a story to tell. He knows that every little detail is important (like how in the world did he end up on a freaking dolphin... did they even have those back in WWII?). Grandpa is not just going to give you a little whisper and send you on your merry way to mangle the story of his Nazi-slaying, dolphin-riding days. No, grandpa is going to tell you the story over and over and over again ad nauseam until you remember every little detail.


The Apostles were like grandpa (minus the dolphins but i'm pretty sure they slew Nazis); they knew that they had a story that they needed to tell, so they told it to every one. They told their story until their dying days and they made sure that their story had taken care of the details. They made sure that their disciples knew the story, the full story, not just a piece of the story. The Apostles' story passed on to their disciples, to their disciples' disciples, and so on and so forth until it has reached us in the modern age. And we are confident that this is the same story as the Apostles told us because repetition has a way of ingraining things in to your memory. Think of when you're trying to learn a Bible verse; you read it, say it, and write it until you can do all three with out pause. If you stop trying to learn that particular verse then you might forget it, or the correct reference. But if you keep at it you will remember that verse until your dying day and you will be able to tell anybody else that verse too.


St. Paul told us to follow the traditions we received, whether by the written word or the spoken word.
"13 But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, 14 to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle." (2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 NKJV bold, italics and underlining mine)

That verse there tells us that there was an oral tradition being passed around in the time of St. Paul. St. John even tells us that there are not enough books to hold all of what Jesus did.
"24 This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.25 And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen." (John 21:24-15 NKJV)

But what about when we finally got a canon for the Bible? Why did we still need Tradition? Why can't we just use the Bible as our guide, sola scriptura and all that?

I'll tell you why. It is because of our Tradition that we have those books in the New Testament. Those books were chosen because they could be verified as being Apostolic (not necessarily written by the Apostles, but in holding true to their Tradition). There were many books floating around, like the Gospel of Thomas and other such things that were off base. The Tradition of the Church protected it from heresies and helped to codify the Bible that you have today. Also, St. John said that there isn't enough room in the world to hold the books that could be written (see above quote) about Jesus, so why settle for one part when you can have the whole thing?

Lastly, on the subject of sola scriptura: which church is correct? There are over 25,000 Protestant denominations. Twenty-five thousand. All of them have different theologies based off of sola scriptura. Sure they may be close to each other, but they each have something different. But why split hairs right? I'll tell you why. If you are falling and you must reach out and grab a cliff to keep yourself from dying do you want to be even half a hair breadth away and possibly plummet to your doom; or do you want to be sure that you will have a good and secure hold to keep yourself alive? Half of a hair can mean life or death, ask any one who has been shot and the bullet missed the vein by a hair (or even a half hair) - conversely ask those who weren't so lucky as to have that space to save their lives. So again, why settle for part when you can have the whole thing?
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