Music has its own “music.” There are the notes written on a page, and the notes played by an intstrument. It is a particular quality of instruments, however, that they not only play a certain note, but that “note” itself plays other “notes.” In general, these other notes are called, “overtones.” When ‘Middle C’ is played on a piano, every other ‘C’ on the keyboard will vibrate gently in harmonic sympathy. Indeed, other related notes will sound, yet more faintly. Thus ‘Middle C’ is rarely just itself. It is a cascade, a mix of sounds. That mix will be one thing if it is a piano that is being heard. Other instruments have their own harmonic logic. An entire orchestra is something else beyond.
I had heard classical music from my childhood. Small piano pieces taught snippets of Bach and Mozart (learned on our ancient, out-of-tune, instrument). Symphonies entered my awareness in my teen years, listening to albums my mother bought at the grocery store (yep, they sold them at the grocery store, along with cheap knock-off encyclopedias). I was well into my 20’s before I ever heard a full orchestra, complete with strings, live. It was as if I had only ever heard artificial music. The “real” thing had a vibrance and soilidity like nothing else. I did not know that the orchestra, in its physical presence, offered an experience of sound that simply cannot be replicated.
There is something of the same phenomenon in the proper teaching and presentation of the gospel. I think that most people have only ever, at best, heard a small, tinny, recording of the gospel, made on a scratchy record, played back with the smallest of speakers. It is the “music” of the gospel only in the most attenuated sense. It may be argued that the “notes” are present, but this is the most minimal account possible of its fullness. Sadder still, much of what passes for “quoting the Fathers,” resembles non-musicians sitting around an isolated bit of music, written on a page, arguing about its meaning. They do not sing it. They do not sing it in a choir. They “read” it. The result is inadequate.
Frequently, the Fathers are never read in their entirety, much less in their context. The fullness of that context is an inherent part of what Orthodoxy means when it says “tradition.” Christ did not hand down a few notes to His Apostles. He handed down the whole of the Song, and taught them how to sing. In many respects, we can see this to be the case as we look at the whole tale of the Apostlic lives. The “Song” was played in the instrument of humanity, displayed as the symphony that is the living Church.
St. Ignatius, writing in the early 2nd century, said:”He who possesses in truth the word of Jesus can hear even its silence.” (Ephesians, XV,2). Vladimir Lossky described the “silence” as Tradition itself.
The faculty of hearing the silence of Jesus, atributed by St. Ignatius to those who in truth possess His word, echoes the reiterated appeal of Christ to His hearers: “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” The words of revelation have then a margin of silence which cannot be picked up by the ears of those who are outside. St. Basil moves in the same direction when he says, in his passage on the traditions: “There is also a form of silence, namely the obscurity used by the Scripture, in order to make it difficult to gain understanding of the teachings, for the profit of readers.” This silence of the Scriptures could not be detached from them: it is transmitted by the Church with the words of the revelation, as the very condition of their reception. If it could be opposed to the words (always on the horizontal plane, where they express the revealed Truth), this silence which accompanies the words implies no kind of insufficiency or lack of fulness of the revelation, nor the necessity to add to it anything whatever. It signifies that the revealed mystery, to be truly received as fulness, demands a conversion towards the vertical plane, in order that one may be able to “comprehend with all the saints” not only what is the “breadth and length” of the Revelation, but also its “depth” and its height.” (Eph. 3,18) Vladimir Lossky, “Tradition and Traditions”
This broad context, the living fullness of the “sound” of the gospel, is but one element of the Tradition. A second element, likely of equal importance, is the ability of the listener to “hear” that fullness. St. Ignatius summarized this as “possessing in truth the word of Jesus.” Doubtless, the operative phrase is “in truth.”
Christ said (in what is a great example of a verse whose first half is almost never quoted):
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
The truth comes as a living experience in which we abide. This reveals, at its heart, the nature of the Church. The Church is the community of the continual-abiding in the teaching of Christ. Its truth is revealed only in that continual abiding. In large measure, the continual-abiding of the Church is manifest in its liturgical life, and in the practices that embody that life.
It is of note, for example, that the Nicene Creed is introduced in the Liturgy by the Deacon’s admonition: “Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess!” It is arguably the case that the Creed cannot be “confessed” unless we love one another. There is no ecclesiastical expression that can supercede this requirement of love. St. John says:
“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.” (1 John 3:14)
This “love of the brothers” is a mode of existence, the proper expression of the resurrection of Christ. Every heresy, every schism, every false-teaching, is first preceded by a failure of love. This is always the first and greatest crisis of the Church. It is a deep sadness that various occasions that reveal divisions of various sorts are often treated as an isolated matter, discussed apart from the abiding crisis of failing love.
By the same token, our own growth in the faith, the journey into the knowledge of God, can only be undertaken as a journey into love itself. St. John reminds us that “he who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1John 4:8). This is the fullness of the Tradition and the most difficult thing to acquire.
Quite often, we hurry to obtain those things that are easiest. Reading books, surfing the net, stringing together quotes, and such, are child’s play. There is no true labor involved. Many people imagine that an interlinear Bible allows them to read Greek. We have many similar tricks that fool us into thinking that we know what we do not know. As often as not, these activities are weaponized in the on-going arguments of modernity.
Only the knowledge of God matters. The knowledge of God cannot be acquired apart from love. Everything within the heart that stands against His love is a wall that creates ignorance. The “silence” of love fills every word of Jesus, and it is their life. It is the song of all creation, the Wisdom that has made them all.