Thankful for Tradition
What do we mean when we use the word “tradition?” To many, especially the millions of American Christians formed and shaped by popular Christianity, it is usually seen as a negative. You know, the “traditions of men” that Jesus warned us to avoid (see Mark 7:8-9). For others, formed by various religious and cultural traditions, it can mean the nostalgic longing for the “old village” or “the way things used to be.”
We live in a very anti-tradition age where only what is seen as “relevant” or “new and improved” is valued. We are convinced that the past is riddled with evils and mistakes, bad ideas, and bad ways of thinking. We are prejudiced against that past by our arrogant prideful overconfidence in our “modern” insights. If it’s old, it must be “antiquated” or downright bad.
Sadly, we are blind to the consequences of throwing out old ideas simply because our ancestors believed them. But we don’t escape those consequences. they come anyway, even if our intentions were “good” in our own eyes. But the really bad part is that our children pay a higher price for our arrogance and tinkering with tradition. They live in a world where the memory of the past is forgotten and they end up having to relearn lessons already learned the hard way all over again. A world that denies the wisdom of the past is doomed to repeat all the old errors already discovered and solved.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe rightly once said “Ignorant men raise questions that wise men answered a thousand years ago.”
Look at our lesson today in 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17; 3:1-5:
BRETHREN, we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph, as it did among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from evil. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things which we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
Paul tells these Thessalonians, who are so very occupied with stories about the Second Coming, that they have been chosen “from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the Truth.” So this salvation thing, according to Paul has everything to do with God’s plan and purpose AND their participation in that plan and purpose! Both the embracing of timeless truths (belief in the truth) and “sanctification” (acting on and practicing those same truths) encompass what Paul calls “Tradition” (παράδοσις).
And the power of this Tradition isn’t that it’s old or even venerable. The power of tradition is that it can bear timelessness and then pass on that timelessness to the next generation. To properly embrace the power of tradition means both the humility of being taught AND the willingness to actively live this tradition.
If you’ve ever wondered what is the key to the Christian life, know beyond any shadow of a doubt it is the ability, the willingness to embrace tradition. Because if you can embrace tradition, you aren’t embracing old teachings as much as you are embracing the people who passed on that tradition to you. Look at what Paul tells us. He says “hold firm” the tradition, no matter how you received it; either by “word of mouth” or “letter.” In other words, Paul encourages us to be willing to see the timeless tradition of the Faith in the real lives of the people who lived it before us in their actions spoken and written down.
So, tradition isn’t mere nostalgia or some longing for a bygone era. No, Tradition, from the Orthodox Christian perspective is the lived-out theology of the mystery of God becoming flesh and destroying death for us all! True Tradition is the ever-new activity of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the followers of Jesus. Far from being the rote repetition of “dead traditions” or the “traditions of men,” the Tradition of the Timeless Faith is the perpetually new life of Christ in real people’s lives, in their everyday lives. True Tradition is Normal Orthodoxy! And nothing less ever is!
By embracing this wisdom, we set ourselves free from the temptations of merely being contemporary or relevant. We enter that perfect “school of eternity,” the “holy Tradition” of the Body of Christ, and allow the Holy Spirit to shape us into beings that can enjoy eternity.
The life of St. Amphilochios displays the perfect example of true tradition and its power. St. Amphilochios was born in the early 4th century in Cappadocia. His life was one of true devotion to the wisdom of the Faith both in practice and speech. He fought against the heresies of his day with a clear appeal to holding onto the precious tradition that preserved true wisdom. There is a story of St. Amphilochio’s life that illustrates this. The great saint was one of the Fathers attending the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople. The saint wished to persuade Emperor Theodosius to keep the Arians from using the churches in the capital city. The Emperor was reluctant to do this, so, the next day St. Amphilochios entered the throne room and showed great respect and reverence to the Emperor but purposefully ignored the Emperor’s son nearby. The Emperor was furious at the slight and St. Amphilochios told the Emperor that neither should he disrespect the Son of God by allowing the heretics to dishonor the Faith by teaching their heresies. The Emperor was impressed with the saint’s fidelity to tradition and the Orthodox won the day.
Today, are you willing to embrace the healthy Holy Tradition of a Normal Orthodoxy? Be thankful for the great gift of our precious Holy Tradition. This is the ONLY way we will ever Live a Normal Orthodox Life!
P.S. O thunder divine, you husbandman of faithful men, the Spirit’s clear trump, O axe that cuts down heresies, Hierarch Amphilochius, you great servant of God the Trinity, ever with the Angels on high cease not interceding for us all, O Saint.