Holy Tradition

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Holy Tradition is the deposit of faith given by Jesus Christ to the Apostles and passed on in the Church from one generation to the next without addition, alteration or subtraction. Vladimir Lossky has famously described the Tradition as "the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church." It is dynamic in application, yet unchanging in dogma. It is growing in expression, yet ever the same in essence.

Unlike many conceptions of tradition in popular understanding, the Orthodox Church does not regard Holy Tradition as something which grows and expands over time, forming a collection of practices and doctrines which accrue, gradually becoming something more developed and eventually unrecognizable to the first Christians. Rather, Holy Tradition is that same faith which Christ taught to the Apostles and which they gave to their disciples, preserved in the whole Church and especially in its leadership through Apostolic Succession.

Holy Tradition in the Bible

As understood by many protestants (especially those of the more evangelical persuasion), Tradition stands in contrast to Scripture. However, there are number references in Holy Scripture to Holy Tradition. For example:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. Luke 1:1-4 (Note: In this instance, the oral word preceded the written word. Hence Holy Tradition.)

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.John 20:30-31

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. John 21:25

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 1 Corinthians 5:9-10 (Note: Here Paul makes a reference to a letter written to Corinth before the letter we know today as 1st Corinthians. This letter is unknown to modern scholars.

Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. 1 Corinthians 11:2

And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea. Colossians 4:16 (Note: The "epistle from Laodicea" is not available to us today is written form.)

So then, brothers, stand firm, and cling to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter. 2 Thessalonians 2:15

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. 2 Thessalonians 3:6

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Further Reading

  • Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia. “Tradition, the Bible and the Holy Spirit.” Epiphany, 2.2 (1991), 7-16.
  • Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia. “Tradition and traditions.” Contributions to Nicholas Lossky et al. (edd.), Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement (Geneva: WCC Publications/Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), pp.1013-18.

See Also

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