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Sunday, October 05, 2014

Of Scripture, Tradition, And The Saints

"Wherefore I exhort and entreat you all, disregard what this man and that man thinks about these things, and inquire all these things from the scriptures." St. John Chrysostom. 

One will notice that, although the title is, Of Scripture, Tradition And The Saints, the first quote to appear is that of a saint. Why? Because the quote emphasizes the purpose of this truth, that the writings of the saints are worthy only in that they lead us to the truth found in Scripture and Tradition. We know that the truth of the Faith, and the practice of the living out of our faith, is found in Scripture and Tradition. We know what is Scripture, but what is Tradition?

"The roots and the foundations of this sacred tradition can be found in the Scriptures. For it is only in the Scriptures that we can see and live the presence of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit...Theologians call this teaching of the Scriptures "the Apostolic Tradition." It encompasses what the Apostles lived, saw, witnessed and later recorded in the books of the new Testament." (1)

The writings of the saints throughout the years has opened to us windows of the Faith, allowing us to see examples of how one might endeavor to live out righteous lives, and abide in the truth as found in Scripture and Tradition. To emulate their lives, and glean from their words, is a vital part of the Orthodox ethos. Although these writings speak of truth and doctrines of the Faith, the saints are not the plumb-line of our Faith. Although this may be obvious to most, there is a tendency in some to elevate the saints over Scripture and Tradition. This is illustrated in comments found on some Orthodox Blogs. One blog's comment highlights a glaring imbalance when it states,  "Everything necessary can be found in the lives of the saints."  While it is true that necessary things can be found in the lives of the saints, it is an overstatement to say "everything" necessary. Everything necessary is found in Scripture and Tradition.  This might seem to be a parsing of words except for the fact that some have a propensity to glean their doctrine and practice via their preferred saint. Also found on a blog is this statement, "Let (preferred saint) be your guide." Again, though the writings of saints can be good guidance, the better way is to say, "Let Scripture and Tradition be your guide."  Another comment found on an Orthodox blog gives credit where credit is not due, "[Preferred saint] reminds us that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church." Although that saint may have said this, he was quoting the words of Christ. Why not just say, "Christ told us that the gates of hell would not prevail against us"? Are we to go through a second party for the truth?

I have seen Orthodox Bloggers who argue a point of doctrine via, not the Scriptures and Tradition, but via the experiences of particular saints. Using this flawed method, one could devise an entire emphasis for the Christian life, that, though it may be Orthodox, is not the full Orthodox Faith. Paul the Apostle saw this propensity and warned us against it.  "For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?"

The saints would reel over the idea that anyone would place their words, thoughts, experiences over those of the Lord, whom they lived and died to serve and preach. They would be baffled that anyone would look to them as the source of a everything necessary, rather than the Scripture and Tradition of the One, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, For it is "the church of the living God" ..that is... "the pillar and ground of the truth."

1. George Bebis, Ph.D. Tradition in the Orthodox Church

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