October 3, 2022

The Deep Foundation of the Church and Arbitrary Traditions

By Protopresbyter Thomas Vamvinis

The Deep Foundation of the Church

One of the most misunderstood concepts in our time is the concept of tradition, without putting any definition to it.

It is known that in the Church we do not speak of tradition in general, but we speak of the Holy Tradition, which we distinguish from all other human traditions. Sacred Tradition is not exhausted by, nor is it identified with the church building, iconography or hymnology and the art of chanting. Holy Tradition is something deeper.

All the arts we mentioned are characterized as liturgical, but they are human activities that require special skills that not all people have. Holy Tradition is for all people regardless of physical skills, educational or social level. The liturgical arts are necessary to build a sacred church building, to decorate it appropriately and to perform the services and the Mysteries of the Church in it, in a way to help the believer to pray, to come to himself to receive the Grace of God. These arts have their traditions, which are human traditions.

According to Saint Sophrony the Athonite, his Elder, Saint Silouan, felt the life of the Church as life in the Holy Spirit, and Holy Tradition as the uninterrupted energy of the Holy Spirit within the Church. Holy Tradition, as the eternal and unchanging presence of the Holy Spirit within the Church, is the deepest foundation of its existence. Thus, the learning of the spiritual life, the maturing of man in Christ by the sincere observance of His evangelical commandments, is life in the Holy Spirit, that is, the life within Holy Tradition, which describes the whole life of the Church.

Such an approach to the Holy Tradition is, unfortunately, unknown to many people.

Arbitrary Traditions

Holy Tradition has asceticism as a strong element, which is mastery over the irrational powers of the soul, namely anger and desire. For this reason there is fasting from time to time, a permanent restraint of the passions, the vigilance of reason over the physical senses.

Most popular traditions move in a different direction. They have a primary element of pleasure, dispersion, feasting, dancing, singing, things that mortal man needs in order to make his life somewhat bearable, which, however, do not help him to find and realize the meaning of life.

Popular traditions, when coordinated with the Typikon of the Church, do not separate us from Sacred Tradition. They help us to have a balanced social and ecclesiastical life. However, when with arbitrary choices, thanks to so-called traditional feasts, we eliminate for ourselves the Typikon of the Church, then we find ourselves on a path outside the tradition of our holy Fathers, outside the Holy Tradition of our Church.

It is not possible, for example, on the eve of the Transfiguration of the Savior, during the fast of the fifteenth of August, to organize a "goat festival" and for the organizers and the participants of the festival to think that they respect and celebrate the Despotic and Theotokos feasts of the Church.

Sacred Tradition saves us, not common popular traditions.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.