Church Tradition

  1. Alexandria and Christian Dogmas
  2. Our Belief in God
  3. The Church
  4. The Heavenly Creatures
  5. The Saints
  6. Church Tradition

For a long time, some western writers looked to "tradition" as a blind obedience to the past, and stickfast to a passive solid deposit. In their point of view, tradition is a precise catalogue of a set of ancient doctrines, canons and rites, or it is a museum for antiquity. Therefore, the traditional church, in their view, seems to be a solid obscurant and retrograded one, attached to what is old, simply for its antiquity.


The word "tradition," in Greek, as it is mentioned in the New Testament, is "Paradosis," which does not mean "imitation," but "delivering a thing and receiving it, i.e., delivering a deposit of faith and receiving it along the generations (Jude 3).


1. The message of Faith in the Holy Trinity and God's redeeming deeds.

2 . The deeds and words of Christ.

3. The books of the Old Testament.

4. The spiritual and ethical teachings of Jesus Christ. 5. The curriculum of worship, its concept and order.


In the apostolic age, tradition was the only source of Christian faith, doctrines and worship. Its role in the Church life of that period may be summarized in the following points:

1. The Early Church received from Christ and the apostles a new understanding of the Old Testament, which the Jews did not acknowledge. She received the Old Testament with a new concept.

2 . Through tradition, Christians accepted the books of the New Testament as the inspired word of God, before they were canonized by the Church.

3 . Tradition was the source of the Apostles' teaching (I John 1: 1; John 19:35, Luke 1:2; Acts 1:21,22). The Apostle Paul considered what he received from the Church through tradition as if received from the Lord Himself (Gal. 1: 7; 1 Cor. 11: 23).

4. By tradition, the church practiced the active new life in Christ.


The Holy Scriptures in fact are a part of the Church tradition. The tradition in its essence is declaring the word of God by various methods. For tradition concentrated on the apostolic teaching. The appearance of the books of the New Testament did not cancel the tradition, but these books command us to preserve the tradition (2 John 12; 3 John 13:14; 1 Cor. 11:34; Titus 1:5; 2 Thes. 3:16; John 21:25; 2 Cor. 11:23).


In the apostolic age, tradition was the only source of Christian faith, doctrines and worship. Its role in the Church life of that period may be summarized in the following points:

* Origen says: "By tradition, I knew the four Gospels, and that they are true ones."

* Church Tradition preserve the unity of understanding the Holy Scriptures throughout ages, so that no believer interprets them according to his own will. Origen states: "The true disciple of Jesus is He who enters the house, that is to say, the Church. He enters it thinking as the Church does, and living as she does; this is how he understands the word. The key of the Scriptures must be received from the tradition of the Church, as from the Lord Himself.


Christ rejected the literal Jewish tradition, which opposed the word of God (Matt. 15:3; Mark 7:13; Col 2:8). The early Church used to participate in the ministry of the Jewish temple with its hymns and Psalms. The Church accepted what was living and in accordance with the word of God. From the Jewish tradition St. Jude knew the dispute between Michael and the devil (Jude 9), and the prophecy of Enoch (Jude 14,15), and the apostle Paul knew the names of those who opposed Moses (2 Tim. 3:8), etc.


Church tradition in faith, worship, behavior and practical life was delivered to us through the decisions of the Ecumenical and local councils, the patristic writings and also through the practical life of laymen who played a vital role in delivering the spirit of the new life to us throughout generations.


* Tradition does not mean "rigidity," but giving attention to the past as a basis for the present, and to the present as a basis for the future. Tradition is the mystery of church growth and vitality and not of rigidity.

* We have to understand tradition in its spiritual depth and theological basis and not in holding fast its literality without understanding.

* When the Church of Alexandria preached to Ethiopia, she offered her the living Church tradition, but did not oblige the Ethiopians to accept the Coptic traditions in their details. We have to distinguish between tradition as a general Church thought and the traditions which concern the local churches. For example, Ethiopia accepted the tradition of using liturgies in her worship but did not use the same texts in their literality. She accepted the spirit and the general frame of the liturgies. Ethiopia also accepted tradition of venerating icons but she used her own art and not the Coptic one. Thus the Coptic church offered Ethiopia the essence of her tradition but not its details. Therefore if we preach to a foreign country, we

have to present the Orthodox Church Tradition without obliging them to accept a certain local thought. This is what happens today as the Coptic church preaches to Africa, and Kenya for example.


Some believes that preserving the Church tradition means canceling the personality of every member of the Church in his relationship with God, his understanding the Holy Bible and in practicing worship. The Orthodox Church believes in the moderate way without any exaggeration, for she holds fast the church tradition that organizes the church life, clarifies the principal concepts of worship and reveals the spirit of the Holy Bible without canceling the personal relationship of every member of the church with his Savior. Besides his personal understanding of the Bible, and his enjoying freedom.

For example, in any society, social organization and family relationships or bonds furnish the personality of every member within the spirit of the community, but do not ignore his personality.

The Church of Europe in the middle ages used church orders and canons as rigid laws and got the believer's personal rights. While today the majority of the Western Christians believe in the individual freedom in understanding the Bible according to one's will, and to acknowledge Christianity individually. The Orthodox church in fact follows midway, i.e., sanctifies the church thoughts as a community and at the same time appreciates the personal life of every member of the Church.