A Unified Theory
I honestly had no idea how much the traditions of the church played on the running and overall life of the church. Tradition is what bring everything together. Like the physicist who wants to find the unified theory to make quantum and standard physics work together, tradition brings together all aspects of what Christ passed on to the Apostles and them to their disciples and on until today. There are differences in Big “T” tradition and little”t” tradition. If it has to do with the foundations of the faith; the bible, the Nicene creed, or the teachings of the seven Ecumenical Councils it is big T. These are the things God did working through the Holy Spirit in the lives of the men we call the church fathers.
For instance, We have the bible in its current form because the tradition of where the books came from allowed the bishops through the Holy Spirit to put it together. Early bibles didn’t look like our bible. They had books like The Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache, and the Epistle of Barnabas.1)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Sinaiticus But, through the traditions of who wrote each book they only included books written by an apostle or a scribe of an apostle. God used men just like us to arrange the bible the way it is today. God did not hand the bible to the men in its finished form straight from heaven.
This is what really got me started in my search for the “Original” church. If God uses men all through the bible but we are taught that God gave us the bible without the help of men, what does that say about God? God is so much bigger than we, as protestants give him credit for. God created us and he uses us to fulfill his will here on earth. Remember, we do pray, “Thy WILL be done.” Church tradition shows us how He has accomplished his will in the generations before us. We don’t have to guess, we can read and see.
No one person gets to decide which traditions stick and which ones get left out. As we watch the Holy Spirit work in the life of the church we see which traditions are at work and which ones are fading away. In the early church The Church Fathers then Ecumenical councils decided the direction of the church through the work of the Holy Spirit. Through the middle ages up to the 21st century it has been the teachings of some bishops and non-ecumenical councils that over time became tradition. Always looking to the Holy Spirit as guidance.2)Ware, Timothy, The Orthodox Church, (London: Penguin, 1997), 206-207
The Holy Spirit has not ceased to work. We have to remember that fact. The Holy Spirit didn’t take a break after the bible then re-enter the church with Martin Luther. Every generation tends to look at its time and believe it has all the answers. The orthodox Church looks to history as its guide for where the church is and should go in the future.
Tradition in the 21st Century
If you ask 10 Orthodox Christians what the 21st century hold for the traditions of the church you will get ten different answers. Some will tell you we have to hold on to all our traditions because if we give up one the rest will fall. Others will take a middle road and a few will want a complete overhaul. I am not an expert, just an observer, so I will defer to the authorities to make the decisions. However, I want to make a few inferences.
If the Orthodox church wants to grow in America, it has to come out of its ethnic shell. Many people will not go to a church where they can’t understand the service, remember this is America, we have made church fit our lifestyle for the last hundred years. The US is the only country where the original language is not predominantly spoken in the Liturgy. For instance, I’m Orthodox because the theology filled in gaps I could never seem to find answers to as a Protestant. My family attends a Greek Orthodox church because we chose to. We love the Byzantine chanting and the richness the original language adds to the service. But, while we have been welcomed and loved beyond any of our wildest dreams, there are things we still have trouble with because we don’t speak the language.
Don’t get me wrong, many Greek, Antiochian, and Russian churches use English in their Liturgy. The Orthodox Church in America is a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church. The service is Russian in style and the Russian traditions are observed instead of Byzantine and Greek. Their Patriarch is Kyrill Bishop of Moscow which, at the time of writing this, will turn some people off because of US-Russia relations.
Several things run against the traditions of the church. The US should have a Patriarch and each city should have a Metropolitan, but these are forgotten because the church in America is predominantly an immigrant church from every corner of the Orthodox world. The church also can’t just change this. Every Orthodox tradition has a stake in the game and no one is willing to give up what they have. Again, the church is made of humans and the church is governed by tradition.
This is the downside of tradition unchecked. We are humans and we make mistakes. We wait too long to make changes and people lose out. We forget what our mission is and we build ethnic conclaves instead of churches. We get caught up in trying to survive and forget to rely on God. We isolate ourselves and forget to learn anything new. We are human! But God is bigger than we are and he is alway ready to give us a new start. Church traditions can hold us back, but in the end, our traditions are what gives the beauty that many people outside Orthodoxy are starting to see.
At the beginning of the 21st century, we are looking at what can be the dawn of Orthodoxy in the west. More and more people, like me and my family, are looking for the original church and wanting to see the church the way it was meant to be not the way we made it for ourselves.
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|2.||↑||Ware, Timothy, The Orthodox Church, (London: Penguin, 1997), 206-207|