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Tradition

The ongo­ing life of God’s Peo­ple is called Holy Tra­di­tion. The Holy Tra­di­tion of the Old Tes­ta­ment is expressed in the Old Tes­ta­men­tal part of the Bible and in the ongo­ing life of the Peo­ple of Israel until the birth of Christ. This tra­di­tion is ful­filled, com­plet­ed and tran­scend­ed in the time of the Mes­si­ah and in the Chris­t­ian Church.

The New Tes­ta­men­tal or Chris­t­ian Tra­di­tion is also called the apos­tolic tra­di­tion and the tra­di­tion of the Church. The cen­tral writ­ten part of this tra­di­tion is the New Tes­ta­men­tal writ­ings in the Bible. The gospels and the oth­er writ­ings of the apos­tolic church form the heart of the Chris­t­ian tra­di­tion and are the main writ­ten source and inspi­ra­tion of all that devel­oped in lat­er ages.

This Chris­t­ian tra­di­tion is giv­en over from peo­ple to peo­ple, through space and time. Tra­di­tion as a word means exact­ly this: it is that which is “passed on” and “giv­en over” from one to anoth­er. Holy Tra­di­tion is, there­fore, that which is passed on and giv­en over with­in the Church from the time of Christ’s apos­tles right down to the present day.

Although con­tain­ing many writ­ten doc­u­ments, Holy Tra­di­tion is not at all lim­it­ed to what is writ­ten; it is not mere­ly a body of lit­er­a­ture. It is, on the con­trary, the total life and expe­ri­ence of the entire Church trans­ferred from place to place and from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. Tra­di­tion is the very life of the Church itself as it is inspired and guid­ed by the Holy Spirit.

Not every­thing in the Church belongs to its Holy Tra­di­tion for not every­thing in the Church is done by the grace of the Holy Spir­it, and not every­thing in the Church per­tains essen­tial­ly and nec­es­sar­i­ly to the King­dom Of God. Some things in the Church are just tem­po­ral and tem­po­rary things, mere­ly human cus­toms and tra­di­tions of no eter­nal and ever­last­ing val­ue. Such things in them­selves are not sin­ful or wrong. On the con­trary, they may be very pos­i­tive and very help­ful to the life of the Church as long as they are not tak­en to be what they are not. Thus, it is very impor­tant in the Church to make the dis­tinc­tion between tra­di­tions which are mere­ly earth­ly and human and pass­ing away and the gen­uine Holy Tra­di­tion which per­tains to the heav­en­ly and eter­nal King­dom of God.

It is also impor­tant to rec­og­nize that there are also things in the Church which not only do not belong to Holy Tra­di­tion, but which are not even to be count­ed among its pos­i­tive human tra­di­tions. These things which are just sin­ful and wrong are brought into the life of the Church from the evil world. The Church in its human form, as an earth­ly insti­tu­tion, is not immune to the sins of its unholy mem­bers. These devi­a­tions and errors which creep into the life of the Church stand under the judg­ment and con­dem­na­tion of the authen­tic and gen­uine Holy Tra­di­tion which comes from God.

Among the ele­ments which make up the Holy Tra­di­tion of the Church, the Bible holds the first place. Next comes the Church’s litur­gi­cal life and its prayer, then its dog­mat­ic deci­sions and the acts of its approved church­ly coun­cils, the writ­ings of the church fathers, the lives of the saints, the canon laws, and final­ly the icono­graph­ic tra­di­tion togeth­er with the oth­er inspired forms of cre­ative artis­tic expres­sion such as music and archi­tec­ture. All of the ele­ments of Holy Tra­di­tion are organ­i­cal­ly linked togeth­er in real life. None of them stands alone. None may be sep­a­rat­ed or iso­lat­ed from the oth­er or from the whole­ness of the life of the Church. All come alive in the actu­al liv­ing of the life of the Church in every age and gen­er­a­tion, in every time and place. As the Church con­tin­ues to live by the inspi­ra­tion of the Holy Spir­it, the Holy Tra­di­tion of the Church will con­tin­ue to grow and devel­op. This process will go on until the estab­lish­ment of the King­dom of God at the end of the ages.