Many people think of the loss of various pieces of “Tradition” when they think of the modern, non-Orthodox, churches. Some may think of the loss of liturgical riches or the loss of the canons. Others may see a wholesale change in the spiritual teachings of the Christian faith. When I think of the loss of “Tradition” I think of the loss of fullness – of various truncated versions of Christianity, which, though often true inasmuch as they say (quoting Scripture and the like), nevertheless lack the full context of those Scriptures and vital parts of the Christian faith, without which it is difficult to share correctly or fully the Gospel of Christ.
I am especially struck by this when I consider the Tradition and its teachings on the passions. The spiritual writings of the Orthodox Fathers constitute an unreplaceable treasure of the Christian life. More than “Tradition” in some antiquarian sense, their writings represent the fruit of lives lived in obedience to the Gospel and a roadmap in the struggle against that which is common to us all. I think of the writings of St. Maximus the Confessor and his insights into the actual character and makeup of the passions and why they work as they do – as well as how we may successfully struggle against them.
To this can be added such classics as St. John Climacus’ The Ladder, The Philokalia, and St. Ignatius Brianchaninov’s The Arena. I could add tens of volumes to such writings and only mention these because of their recognized universal value. They transcend the culture of their time and especially, the culture of our time. Without them we lack essential parts of the Christian experience and its testimony. Without them we are like kindergartners trying to make our way in an adult world. We are clueless.
There are great Western Christian classics as well. Even the classic Protestant Pilgrim’s Progress is largely unknown or unused by modern Protestant Christians. At least C.S. Lewis knew the Christian classics – and they made his own writings mature on a level unknown in many modern writers.
Conversations on the passions and our warfare with them should not be some peculiar province of the Orthodox – it should be a common conversation for all who love Christ, His Cross, and our call to be conformed to His image. A common knowledge and language exists in the writings of the Fathers, including those of the first five centuries that are recognized as of particular value by many modern Protestants.
The world is too dangerous and too much in need of a Savior and the truth of the Gospel for such parts of the Tradition to be neglected by any. God forbid that only Orthodox Christians stand and say that the passions are killing us (God help the Orthodox to at least say this much!). But we should have a common voice that speaks to the culture. Slavery to greed, envy, sloth, gluttony, as well as other such passions, is killing us and our children. A common voice should say to everything around us, “Enough!” And to one another, “Join the struggle! Let us follow Christ!”
The Tradition may be resisted by some on ideological grounds. But they do so to their own impoverishment. These treasures are there for all. May God give us grace to know them and use them.