Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Apostolic Church Tradition and Holy Scripture

Part one, of two pieces of writing , written with much help and guidance from the late professor Fr John Romanides. They will be generally centred around ecclesiology and the Holy Scriptures. Part 2 will be titled 'The Body of Christ' , and should be posted within the next two days. I hope they are of interest and enjoyable.

The deposit of the Holy Orthodox faith is the shaping power of Holy Tradition. This deposit of faith is seen through the prophets and people of God throughout the Old Testament, even though death dominated the Church. Christ destroys death, and makes this participation in the Glory and Kingdom of Christ, through prophets and believers permanent, clear and whole.

The Divine Logos, who manifested Himself to the prophets and the Apostles, who in the Spirit manifested Himself God the Father, born as man from the Theotokos, is Himself the deposit, which the Hierarchy transmits from generation to generation at the Holy Eucharist to the Bishops and Presbyters at the time of their ordination, so that through the clergy it may be kept and transmitted for the sanctification and theosis of the believers. Christ Himself (Ο Μέγας Αρχιερεύς) is He who transmits the deposit, with His angels and saints. He is the Vine, the Church, which God planted and with which destroyed death. The souls are the branches of this Vine, and God is the Vinedresser. God, through the Incarnate Logos,  in the Holy Spirit, makes possible the fruitful growth of the branches with man's cooperation and synergy.

The true believers - the Prophets, Saints and Apostles do not hold some imagination or philosophy about God, but believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - in the Lord of Glory, who by His Spirit revealed in Himself the uncreated glory and kingdom, in a discarnate manner in the Old Testament, and in the flesh in the New Testament. These holy people of God were not necessarily intellectuals, but were eyewitnesses of the Godhead, Kingdom and Glory of Christ. After Pentecost, the Apostles were led into the whole and pure truth by the Spirit - and for this reason those who are sanctified, the fathers of the Church who follow them, do not theologise in an intellectual way - but in a spiritual manner. They partake in revelation, and as faithful Christians we are participants of the same deposit, which is hidden in symbols and images. It is the uncreated grace and energy of God, the work of the Holy Spirit , that infallibly enlightens the saints, prophets and apostles - and all the faithful in turn, passing on this charisma and sanctification leading to theosis. Holy Scripture, and the liturgical life of the Church in the sacraments are manifestations of the energy of God and guide the faithful on this path of deification and holiness.

The deposit of Holy tradition was revealed to the Prophets in the Old Testament, and was consecrated through the incarnation of the Word. It is active in the purification, illumination and theosis of the faithful in the Church - and the Holy Tradition is not different or separate from the scriptures, but contained in them. However, the deposit of true faith and the Holy Tradition only exists within the Church - since the Church is the bride of the bridegroom Christ, and Christ is the vine in which the branches abide and bear fruit. Therefore, Christ exists and is fully present in the Holy Scriptures only when they are read and interpreted within the Church. Scripture is interpreted by the Church, and indeed by those deified within it - who experience,  and receive the revelation and Divine Glory. Divine glory and participation in it, transcends intelligence and sense, and so someone who employs scientific, philosophical and rational methods to reading scripture will only distort the meaning of the Holy Scriptures. Surely one cannot interpret Holy Scripture correctly if they have no idea about the revelation of the Glory of Christ to the Prophets and Apostles, and consequently to the whole Church. Scripture, and its interpretation belongs to the Church, and to its Holy Tradition. Not any given scholar or reader, who is often ignorant of the way that leads to the participation in the Divine Glory, and of the existence of this participation in general, can fruitfully read the Scriptures.

Holy Scripture outside of the Church, is no longer infallible as the interpretive operation of the Holy and Life-giving Spirit ( that has guided and continues to guide the prophets, apostles and saints of the Church) is not there to lead to the pure and whole truth. A person that is outside of the communion of God ( in other words the Church ) and does not follow its teaching, is ignorant of the key of the Holy Scriptures.

Why put so much emphasis on revelation, guidance, and participation in Divine Glory through the Prophets, Saints, Apostles and fathers?

Neither in the Old Testament, nor in the New Testament or in the Church is there the sense of holy servants of God being called to their position by themselves, or criticising the teaching and catechetical method of those who are in a state of sanctification and theosis, in order to decide for themselves what to do and what to throw away or keep.Throughout the Bible, we see that there are people who have been granted 'to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven.' The mysteries of the Kingdom which are seen and experienced through Scripture are the Mysteries of the Church - and are known because of the eye-witnesses, the believers who are guided by the Spirit, and catechised by Spiritual fathers who possess the charisma and have experienced the Glory of Christ. Those who wish to live according to Christ, place themselves under the guidance of a father, who is able to teach the manner through which one becomes a participant in the mysteries of the Church.  How else would the Church continue evangelising and bringing great saints and martyrs? It is this passing on of the Holy faith and tradition, through the Prophets, Saints and Apostles,  continuing on to the spiritual fathers of each generation - guiding and teaching the truth of the Gospel.

Holy Scripture and the Church infallibly teach us about God, because the Holy Tradition in them are identical. In the centre of this Tradition, we have the friends of God - in other words His saints, prophets and apostles. Faithful Christians participate in this truth of the Holy Church's Tradition, through the Bishops ( as long as they remain faithful to the Orthodox theology )

This is why Apostolic Succession is not only about the unceasing succession of ordination from the Apostles, but also the true teaching of the word of God, and spiritual life. The patristic teaching tells us that this true teaching is the fruit of the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection, which is manifested to the world in its friends of God, who are in theosis. Several fathers of the Church emphasise that the main way of being able to know whether the Church is true or not, is if it produces Saints, and also if miracles occur.  We can see through history that it is when groups interrupt this Holy Apostolic succession, and fall away from the true Church that there is a clear absence of saints and miracles.


  1. I really enjoyed this article - you explain thoroughly and cogently the Orthodox position, and provide a very compelling case for ascribing to 'tradition'. Indeed, I thought your explanation of it as being based not in intellectual games but spiritual devotion was great!

    However, in your last sentence you make a powerful claim, that when the Church is abandoned (which you equate with leaving the apostolic succession) that saints and miracles disappear from the said community. I just wondered if you had evidence for this claim; I can think of notable examples, such as the Vineyard Movement, the Iona Community, events like Soul Survivor etc. However, I still think this was one of your best articles to date! Looking forward to the second part :)

  2. Thank you for your comment Nathan.

    I think that with regards to the examples you have given, we unfortunately have cases where these groups have rejected the Holy Tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation, from the Prophets, Saints and Apostles - and so this is where their validity should understandably be questioned. Of course the general Orthodox point of view, is that the fullness and wholeness of truth is experienced and lived within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church - however other denominations and groups may ( and certainly do ) consist of truth, and God can be experienced within them; but not to the same full extent.

    As the saying goes ' the proof is in the pudding' - and I believe that this is certainly the case within the context of Christianity. How do we know that the Church is indeed alive and true? Well, it must produce ( and venerate ) Holy Saints, and sanctified servants of God, and true miracles should be taking place through the prayerful and liturgical life of the Church.

    This is all an indication of the validity and truth of the Church, as we can see that it is not all about 'smells and bells', and preaching - but the experience of Christ and the communion that the faithful have with Him through the mysteries. Am I saying that miracles cannot take place out-with the Church? I am in no place to say that, or even question the faithful's experiences within other denominations - because God is of course 'present everywhere and in all things'. A humble muslim man for example, that prays five times a day, and has devoted his entire life to helping other people and sacrificing his luxuries for others will surely attain God's love, forgiveness and peace. Therefore, that is the case (to an even greater extent) within Christian groups that may not reflect the fullness of the true faith, and may have fallen away from the Orthodox tradition; they will still be watched over and guarded by Christ - the Christ of all nations and all groups. I am sure that within every community and group of people, there are beacons of great hope and love, however as I highlighted we have a fuller, clearer and more true communion with the Lover of Mankind Christ within His body - the Church.

    I hope that is of help, and forgive me for making my reply so long winded ! Thanks again.

    1. Thanks for your detailed and in depth response Alexis, I appreciate you taking the time to reply. I just have one further question so I may understand your position better (however, if it preempts material in part two, don't be afraid to postpone any answer till then :) ) Given your description of Orthodox Christianity as the true faith and that which communion with Christ is most intimate, do you consider other denominations still to be a part of the body of Christ, even those who deny the apostolic succession? Thanks again, and don't apologise for long answers, a short answer would not suffice for such matters!

    2. Thank you again Nathan. To put it simply, other denominations are not considered part of the Body of Christ, for the reasons aforementioned.

      I hope you enjoy the next part - I'm currently writing it, and will try to bring in more detailed explanations relating to the great questions that you've brought forward. Can I say that I have recently read your own posts, and they are very interesting! I wish us both many more years of successful, yet humble blogging!