What do we mean when we use the word “tradition?” To many, especially the millions of American Christians formed and shaped by popular Christianity, it is usually seen as a negative. You know, the “traditions of men” that Jesus warned us to avoid (see Mark 7:8-9). For others, formed by various religious and cultural traditions, it can mean the nostalgic longing for the “old village” or “the way things used to be.” That’s what struck me when I saw that great Broadway show “The Fiddler on the Roof.”
When Tevye sings the song “Tradition! Tradition” well, it gives me goosebumps. You see, all of us have tradition, even if it’s the tradition we just made up ourselves this very day. We all use traditions to order our lives. Even the most radical anti-traditionalist is following a long line of traditions of anti-traditionalism! So, the real trick is to make sure you’re following a healthy tradition.
But what do the Bible and the Faith really teach about Tradition?
Look at our lesson today in 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17; 3:1-5:
BRETHREN, we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph, as it did among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from evil. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things which we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
Paul tells these Thessalonians, who are so very occupied with stories about the Second Coming, that they have been chosen “from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the Truth.” So this salvation thing, according to Paul has everything to do with God’s plan and purpose AND their participation in that plan and purpose! Both the embracing of timeless truths (belief in the truth) and “sanctification” (acting on and practicing those same truths) encompass what Paul calls “Tradition” (παράδοσις).
And the power of this Tradition isn’t that it’s old or even venerable. The power of tradition is that it has the ability to bear timelessness and then pass on that timelessness to the next generation. To properly embrace the power of tradition means both the humility of being taught AND the willingness to actively live this tradition.
If you’ve ever wondered what is the key to the Christian life, know beyond any shadow of a doubt it is the ability, the willingness to embrace tradition. Because if you can embrace tradition, you aren’t embracing old teachings as much as you are embracing the people who passed on that tradition to you. Look at what Paul tells us. He says “hold firm” the tradition, no matter how you received it; either by “word of mouth” or “letter.” In other words, Paul encourages us to be willing to see the timeless tradition of the Faith in the real lives of the people who lived it before us in their actions spoken and written down.
So, tradition isn’t mere nostalgia or some longing for a bygone era. No, Tradition, from the Orthodox Christian perspective is the lived-out theology of the mystery of God becoming flesh and destroying death for us all! True Tradition is the ever-new activity of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the followers of Jesus. Far from being the rote repetition of “dead traditions” or the “traditions of men,” the Tradition of the Timeless Faith is the perpetually new life of Christ in real people’s lives, in their everyday lives. True Tradition is Normal Orthodoxy! And nothing less ever is!
By embracing this wisdom, we set ourselves free from the temptations of merely being contemporary or relevant. We enter that perfect “school of eternity,” the “holy Tradition” of the Body of Christ, and allow the Holy Spirit to shape us into beings that can enjoy eternity.
Today, are you willing to embrace the healthy Holy Tradition of a Normal Orthodoxy? This is absolutely the ONLY way we will ever be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, You are the same yesterday, today, and forever. Your true Life is given to us through Your Church, Your Body. You perpetuate Your True Life in Your Church through our common lives together. And that is why the Holy Tradition is just another way of saying this is the normal way for a human to live freed from the slavery of the passions. Grant us, O Lord, the courage and the strength and the humility to embrace and be embraced by Your Holy Tradition. Amen
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