The word of the day is “revelation.” In today’s reading of Galatians 1:11-19, St. Paul defends His Gospel message, “But I make known to you, brethren that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ (vs. 11-12). These words refer to the origin of Holy Tradition as The Orthodox Study Bible notes, “Apostolic tradition is grounded in divine revelation from Jesus Christ” (OSB fn. on 1:11,12).
But what was the revelation? It was not a bound book drifting down from heaven or a discourse dictated by an angel. According to 2 Peter, “we [the apostles] did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ but were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (vs. 2 Peter 1:16).
Like the Other Apostles
The Apostles were witnesses of the revelation of the Son of God, who came to earth “in person.” Their testimony to what they saw and heard is the unshakeable foundation of our faith. But what was Paul’s role in the reception of this revelation? The OSB notes, “Just as the Twelve were called by Christ, so was Paul (vs. 1). Just as the Twelve received the gospel directly from Christ, so did Paul” (Acts 9:3-6; 26:13-18).
When Paul and the other Apostles broadcast the revelation they received to the world, it became what the Orthodox call “Holy Tradition.” St. Paul uses that concept in 1 Corinthians when he writes, “Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you” (vs. 11:2). Again, he wrote in 2 Thessalonians, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (vs. 2:15).
Tradition, the “Deposit of Faith”
The word for “tradition” is what is “handed down” or “handed over” (Strong’s #3862). It denotes the entire body of the truth of the faith that Christ delivered to the Church. The Apostle, therefore, calls it a “deposit” (2 Timothy 1:13-14). That is, it is the inestimable treasure that the Lord has entrusted to His Church.
In summary, the Orthodox Church holds that Holy Tradition is “the deposit of faith given by Jesus Christ and handed down in the Church from one generation to the other.” This “deposit” is both oral and written, and it is without change, addition, or subtraction. St. Athanasius summarizes, “Let us look at the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the catholic Church from the very beginning, which the Logos [Christ] gave, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers preserved. Upon this, the Church is founded” (Athanasius 1951, 48).
How precious is the Holy Tradition that has been handed down to us! How sacred is our calling to pass along this precious “deposit of faith” to others!
Athanasius, St. 1951. Letters of St .Athanasius Concerning the Holy Spirit to Bishop Serapion. Translated by C.R.B. Shapland: Epworth Press