“I Need to Know the Real Thought of God, Not My Own Personal Opinion”

St. Nicholas of Japanby St. Nicholas of Japan

Sometimes Japanese protestants come to me and ask me to clarify some place in the Holy Scriptures. “You have your own missionary teachers,” I tell them, “Go ask them. What do they say?”

“We have asked them. They say: understand as you know how. But I need to know the real thought of God, not my own personal opinion.”

… It’s not like that with us. Everything is clear, trustworthy and simple, since we accept Holy Tradition in addition to the Holy Scriptures. And Holy Tradition is a living, unbroken voice of our Church from the time of Christ and His Apostles until now, and which will exist until the end of the world. In it all the meaning of the Holy Scriptures are preserved.

(St. Nicholas of Japan, Diary, January 15, 1897)



“I Need to Know the Real Thought of God, Not My Own Personal Opinion”

How to Read the Bible: Part 2

Gospel Readingby Fr. Thomas Hopko

Then I remember sentences like St. Tikhon of Zadonsk in Russia, who on his desk when he was writing his books had only really two books: the Bible and a commentary of some parts of the Bible by St. John Chrysostom. Everything is there in the holy Scripture. [It was] St. Seraphim of Sarov who said,

“We should swim in the words of the holy Scripture, like a fish is swimming in the water.”

It’s the air we breathe, it’s the food we [eat], and so on.

Then way back in the second century, you have the early Church Fathers, the apologists, who were collecting Scriptures and comparing Scriptures, Old Testament texts, New Testament texts, trying their best to have the best possible texts and to understand it properly. I think it was perhaps Origen—maybe not good to mention him, although he was a great biblical scholar; he made some mistakes in life and then he had some… sadly, he was the victim of having some very unenlightened disciples who kind of ruined his reputation pretty badly—but in any case, Origen said that “the blood that flows through the veins of Christ, the holy Church, is the blood in which the holy Scriptures are written, and the words of the Scripture are our food.” The word of God, Jesus Christ, is in Scripture, we eat and drink the word of God. We commune with the word of God.

Yes, yes. Bible reading, Bible hearing, Bible contemplating, Bible chewing, reading those words, being acquainted with them deeply—that’s certainly the Orthodox tradition. Everyone who is ever consecrated a reader, technically had the prayer of blessing to be a reader in the Church, was exhorted and even commanded to read the Scriptures daily, to peruse the Scriptures daily.

There’s even a canon which I always love to mention when I get a chance: Seventh Ecumenical Council, second canon, Canon 2, which says that no man should be consecrated a bishop in the Orthodox Church who cannot recite the entire book of Psalms, the entire Psalter, by heart. By heart! By memory! Of course, in those days, that was probably not too hard to do, because you didn’t have all kinds of internet and Facebook and God-knows-what, Twitter and iPods and cds and players of all sorts and radio and TV and all that; that didn’t exist.

When you heard the Scripture, you pretty much always heard it—in fact, you almost always heard it, until modern America, you always heard it in the same translation, the same language. You became familiar with it, and so it wasn’t so hard. If you were a monk, for example, and you went to church every day and had the Psalter through once a week with all the other additional psalms at the various offices, various liturgical services, and you went through that for a couple of years, you would become very familiar with it.

My own children, my own little kids, when they were children, they went to church so much—of course, we took them to church—especially I remember they used to memorize the psalms of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. And they knew how to use them. I remember when I would try to get my kids to go to bed, they would say, they would quote to me:

“I will not give slumber to my eyes or sleep to my eyelids until I find the place for my Lord,”

or something. When I’d try to wake them up, they would say,

“It is in vain that you rise early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for he gives to his beloved sleep.”

So [they] always knew how to quote the Scripture; everybody knows how to quote it to their advantage. But the question is: How do you quote it for what it really means? How do you understand it? How do you read it? Of course, we remember the very famous sentence of St. Hilary of Poitiers, again in Latin, “Non in legendo sed in intelligendo.” The Bible, the holy Scriptures, the Graphoi, it’s not in the reading, in legendo; it’s in the understanding, intelligendo.

So it’s not enough to read the Scriptures. Lots of folks read the Scriptures. We want to understand the Scriptures. We want to know how we are to interpret them. We want to know how to interpret them properly. We want to know what kind of literature this is and how we are supposed to make it our own, how we’re supposed to use it.



Scripture’s Role in Mystogogy (Initiation into Mystery)

by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

open itThe doctrine of divine providence is asserted in the biblical thesis that

“all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28).

This “working together” of historical events under divine governance for particular and inter-related purposes is a mystery, in both usual senses of the word.

First, divine providence is a mystery in the sense that it is humanly inscrutable, exceeding even the furthest reaches of our thought; it is known only by faith. That is to say, it pertains to divine revelation. It is not the general, natural pronoia of the Stoics but a special and personal providence revealed by God’s particular and mysterious interventions in the actual structure of history. For this reason Holy Scripture never attempts to explain it. Although the Bible affirms divine providence, it teaches no theory of the matter.

Second, divine providence is also a mystery in the sense that human beings are initiated into it. It is rendered accessible, that is, to human revelatory experience of it, the discernment of which is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is particular and personal, sensed by the heart through the intelligible structure of events, coherent in their relationship. For this reason Holy Scripture not only affirms divine providence, but also portrays the mystery of it through narratives about events.

The Old Testament’s story of Joseph is perhaps the most elaborate example of such a narrative. We do not discern how, in the Joseph story,

“all things work together for good to those who love God,”

but the narrative enables us to perceive it intuitively, buried deep in the events of Joseph’s life and conferring coherence on that life. At the end of the story we are able to say, with Joseph,

“So it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:8).

In some cases, we can sense God’s providential purpose in a biblical story by the insinuated dynamics of the story itself, without our attention being drawn to it by any explicit statement. Examples of this are found in the Book of Ruth and, with far greater subtlety, the Book of Esther. In the latter story, in fact, God’s intrusive activity in the events is so subtle that He is not even mentioned!

In other instances the Bible conveys the providential nature of a story by the direct insertion of it through the voice of the narrator. Through such an insertion, the story takes on an entirely different flavor, being transfigured, so to speak, from secular to sacred. For instance, the tale of David’s escape from Saul at Hachilah (1 Samuel 26) is transformed into an account of divine providence by the plain statement that

“they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen on them” (26:12).

Another literary method of conveying God’s providential purpose in a biblical story is to place the affirmation of it in the mouth of one of the characters. This is the method followed in the Joseph story, in the scene where he reveals himself to his brothers (Genesis 45:5-7; 50:15-20).

Another and very fetching example of this literary device is found in Genesis 24, which describes the journey of Abraham’s servant to Mesopotamia in order to find a suitable bride for Isaac (namely, Rebekah). In this exquisitely crafted account of God’s historical intervention in response to prayer, two features should especially be noted.

First, the story is told twice, initially by the narrator (24:1-26) and then a second time by a character within in the narrative (24:34-48). This deliberate doubling of the story, which obliges the reader to think about its implications a second time, also serves the purpose of placing the theme of divine providence more completely within the fabric of the tale. In the first telling, the reader is struck by how quickly the servant’s prayer is heard –

“And it happened, before he had finished speaking” (24:15).

This promptness of God’s response is emphasized in the second telling –

“before I had finished speaking in my heart” (24:45).

God’s secret intervention is known in the servant’s experience of the event that comes crashing in, as it were, on his prayer.

Second, the doubling of the narrative is not artificial. It is essential, rather, to the motive of Rebekah and her family in their decision that she should accompany the servant back to Abraham’s home and become the wife of Isaac. That is to say, the characters themselves are made aware that God has spoken through the narrated events.


To Be Protected From Tricks

Vincent Lerinsby St. Vincent of Lerins

If someone wants to be protected from tricks and remain healthy in the faith, he must confine his faith first to the authority of the Holy Scriptures, and secondly to the Tradition of the Church.

But someone may ask, is not the canon of Scripture sufficient for everything, and why should we add thereto the authority of Tradition?

This is because not everyone understands the Scriptures in the same way, but one explains them this way and another that way, so that it is possible to get therefrom as many thoughts as there are heads. Therefore it is necessary to be guided by the understanding of the Church …

What is tradition? It is that which has been understood by everyone, everywhere and at all times … that which you have received, and not that which you have thought up … So then, our job is not to lead religion where we wish it to go, but to follow it where it leads, and not to give that which is our own to our heirs, but to guard that which has been given to us.

St. Vincent of Lerins, Notes of a Pilgrim


A Call for an Orthodox Approach to Scripture

by Fr. Lawrence Farley

This excellent article by Fr Lawrence has complete harmony with the Orthodox Tradition and is quite a distant thing from what is often passing for ‘Biblical Studies’ today – within the Orthodox Church today and without. We’ll be bringing you more along these lines shortly.

The much needed ‘return to the Fathers’, Fr. Alexander Schmemann said,

“means, above all, the recovery of their spirit, of the secret inspiration which made them true witnesses of the Church”

(quoted in Liturgy and Tradition, p. 84f).

That is, what is needed is a return to the mind-set, the inner attitude and spiritual world-view of the Fathers.

This return to the Fathers is nowhere needed more than in a return to their view and veneration of the Divine Scriptures. The Church is now suffering from a low and deficient view of the Scriptures, one gained from the liberal world of western Academia, one which feels itself free to dissent from the received meaning and interpretation of the Scriptures in favor of more modern and politically-correct views.

In the writing of ostensibly Orthodox authors, in casual conversations with some clergy, in letters to the editor in our Orthodox journals, one can often find evidence of this alienation from the attitude of the Fathers. In one article, supporting references to the Scriptures are pilloried as “biblical literalism”, in another, Pauline use of the Old Testament is discounted as “rabbinic exegesis”, in yet another, one is warned against “the hazards of appealing too quickly to patristic testimony”. Anyone who is a convert from liberal Protestantism can easily identify the common disease which produced all the above citations: a low view of the Scriptures in which they are praised as sources and authorities but ultimately discounted as products of their age rather than as living oracles of Truth.

When one steeps oneself in the literature of the Fathers, one is aware of entering a different world, of breathing a different air. For the Fathers, the Scriptures spoke with the voice of God and an apt citation of a Scriptural text (read and interpreted, of course, through the Tradition of the Church) was seen as bringing all godly controversy to an end. This was not “proof-texting” (which involves the use of Scripture separated from Holy Tradition). Rather, it was an awareness of Scripture as a locus and carrier of that Holy Tradition and therefore as a reliable arbiter in all Christian disputes.

A casual reading of the Fathers will confirm that this was their approach. Consider the words of St. Clement of Rome:

“You well know that nothing unjust or fraudulent is written in the Scriptures”.

Or the words of St. Irenaeus:

“the Scriptures of certainly perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and by His Spirit”.

Or the words of St. Hippolytus:

“those who not believe that the Holy Scriptures were spoken by the Holy Spirit…are unbelievers”.

Or Origen:

“With complete and utter precision the Holy Spirit supplied the very words of Scripture through His subordinate authors…according to which the wisdom of God pervades every divinely-inspired writing, reach out to each single letter”.

The Fathers did not adhere to a view of dictation, which would reduce the human authors of Scripture to merely passive conduits of the Divine Word. They knew full well that these were human documents, subject to the normal human variants of style and didactic purpose. Nonetheless, they were also very aware that these same human documents were vehicles for the Spirit of God, containing, as Divine Oracles, God’s timeless and transcendent Truth, and thus not subject to error.

According to the Fathers, how should we read the Scriptures today? I would point out two components of an Orthodox and patristic approach to the Divine Scriptures.

We should read the Scriptures in the Church. That is, we should interpret the Scriptures guided by our Holy Tradition as preserved in the interpretations of the Fathers. As Origen expresses it,

“That alone is to be believed as the truth which is in no way at variance with ecclesiastical and apostolic Tradition”.

This does not mean a rejection of all the fruit of modern commentary and criticism. It does mean a selective use of such modern work. The plumb-line of Tradition is to be hung against new work: only such as is consistent with Tradition is be accepted.

We should read the Scriptures on our knees. That is, we should come to the Scriptures as humble learners to be taught, not as judges to teach and correct. Humility is the pre-condition for everything in the Christian life, especially in our reading of the Scriptures. In this as in all things,

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

We are often exhorted to be diligent in reading the Scriptures. This is a valuable exhortation—but one that must be supplemented with another: read the Scriptures as the Fathers read them. We must open our Bibles as opening the oracles of God—reading, as it were, over the shoulders of the Fathers.

Only then can we gain true and eternal benefit for our souls.

Source: Milk & Honey Blog

Sola Scriptura: The Biggest Deception of All Time

This was taken from the Our Life in Christ Program. It is a must read. I would like to challenge any Reformed or Evangelical out there to read this. It will likely change your perspective of what the revelation of God is all about!

From Hank Hanegraaff’s CRI Series What Think Ye of Rome (Part 3)

CRI – All Apostolic Traditions are in the Bible

OLIC: We agree! Most people just haven’t underlined all of them.

CRI – It is true that the New Testament speaks of following the “traditions” (=teachings) of the apostles, whether oral or written. This is because they were living authorities set up by Christ (Matt. 18:18; Acts 2:42; Eph. 2:20). When they died, however, there was no longer a living apostolic authority since only those who were eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ could have apostolic authority (Acts 1:22; 1 Cor. 9:1).

OLIC: Even apostles, by themselves can be wrong. Witness in Acts the dissention between Peter and Paul, or Paul and Barnabas. It is within the context of the Church under Christ the Head that apostolic ministry and authority are effectual. When the apostles had conflicts about doctrine it was the Church in gathered in council that corrected them (Acts 15). Apostles are in the Church, not above it. Paul tells Timothy to teach faithful men who will be able to teach others also. CRI assumes that the Church added to the apostolic deposit of doctrine and dogma, but this is not the practice or understanding of Church heirarch’s authority in the Eastern Orthodox Church. They do not add to the apostolic faith, but guard it. Apostolic “authority” has nothing to do with faithful keeping of the Apostolic Tradition and handing it on faithfully to the next generation. One does not need to be an apostle to pass on apostolic doctrine and teachings, one only needs to be faithful to what was taught to you.

CRI – Because the New Testament is the only inspired (infallible) record of what the apostles taught, it follows that since the death of the apostles the only apostolic authority we have is the inspired record of their teaching in the New Testament. That is, all apostolic tradition (teaching) on faith and practice is in the New Testament. This does not necessarily mean that everything the apostles ever taught is in the New Testament, any more than everything Jesus said is there (cf. John 20:30; 21:25). What it does mean is that all apostolic teaching that God deemed necessary for the faith and practice (morals) of the church was preserved (2 Tim. 3:15-17). It is only reasonable to infer that God would preserve what He inspired.

OLIC: This sets scripture over and against the Church. THAT is an assumption that is not biblical. What is

“the pillar and foundation of the Truth”?

I Tim. 3:15 says it is the CHURCH, not the Bible! The Church was established before the New Testament, the New Testament flowed out of the life of the Church.

The problem is not that the Orthodox Church has a low view of scripture and the Protestants have a high view of it. The Orthodox Church has always held a high view of Scripture, the problem is that most Protestants have a low view of the Church. The problem with the modern Protestant is that they see the scriptures preserved in spite of the Church not THROUGH the Church.

In fact, many writings from the first few centuries of the Church were “preserved”, in the sense that they were available, circulated and perhaps even used by believing Christians. Not all of them made it into the Canon of Scripture. So, mere preservation does not at all infer inspiration. But if we grant CRI’s argument here, we MUST also then say that God used the Church to preserve the Scriptures, made the Church the steward of parchments and/or scrolls that contained the Gospels and apostolic writings, and the agency of discernment as to what constitutes authenticity regarding divine inspiration. In other words, if the Holy Spirit working through the Church had thrown out any of the writings that were available (it is historical fact that the Church did just that), they would not be and are not considered Scripture today. God has made His Church the agent of preservation, and not some extraordinary providence in spite of the Church.

The Church is both guard and guarantor of the Scriptures. If the Church of the second, third and fourth centuries was corrupted, then so was the canon, for the books they chose stemmed directly from their faith. The two are inseparable. If we cannot trust the Church, then we cannot trust the Bible, which was written, delivered, and preserved by the Church. If the early Church developed so many “unbiblical beliefs and practices” then it would only stand to reason that that same Church would have excised from the Scriptures everything that allegedly contradicts its early falsehoods. But in fact we have the Bible today that they used then. How is it that a Church steeped in “man made traditions” condemned by the Bible, gave us the Bible we use today to condemn them with?

AUTHORITY OF CHURCH: The earliest Church believed and acted under the assumption that they had the authority to decide matters of faith, doctrine, and practice. This is why the Apostles felt they had the right to cast lots for Judas’ successor (Acts 1), introduce the diaconate (Acts 6), and allow Gentiles to come into the Church without circumcision (Acts 15). Under this same paradigm and sense of authority, the Church of the fourth and fifth century firmly established the canon of Scripture.

APOSTATE CHUCH THEORY: This is the belief that “True Christianity” was put down by the apostate Church, or went underground. Without digressing into a long discourse on Church history, this is a complete myth. It is the same argument used by Muslims, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses to support their own case. All these groups, including ourselves, believe there were true Christians that taught their beliefs in the second century and onward. But no group which claims to be a descendant of an early underground Church can offer a single name of an early Christian as an example. Most groups will claim early writers or movements who were either led by heretics or taught grossly false doctrines. Who were these “true believers” that believed and taught the same doctrines as modern evangelicals? What were their names? Why don’t we publish and circulate their writings today? Where were they when the canon of Scripture was being decided by the early Fathers and Councils of the Church?

CRI –The fact that apostles sometimes referred to “traditions” they gave orally as authoritative in no way diminishes the Protestant argument for sola Scriptura. First, it is not necessary to claim that these oral teachings were inspired or infallible, only that they were authoritative. The believers were asked to “maintain” them (1 Cor. 11:2) and “stand fast in them” (2 Thess. 2:15). But oral teachings of the apostles were not called “inspired” or “unbreakable” or the equivalent, unless they were recorded as Scripture.

OLIC: And where is the Bible verse that proves this? 2 Thess. 2:15 speaks of “tradition” as being both oral and written, Paul makes no distinction between the authority or inspiration of the two. He doesn’t call his oral teaching “uninspired authoritative tradition” and his writings “inspired infallible teachings”. St Basil (4th Cent.) does say Scripture and Tradition have equal authority!

“Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us “in a mystery” by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force. And these no one will gainsay;-no one, at all events, who is even moderately versed in the institutions of the Church. For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel in its very vitals; or, rather, should make our public definition a mere phrase and nothing more.” (On the Holy Spirit, 66)

St. John Chrysostom:

“Therefore brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or by our letter.” From this it is clear that they did not hand down everything by letter, but there was much also that was not written. Like that which was written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief. Let us regard the Tradition of the Church also as worthy of belief. Is it Tradition? Seek no further”

[Homilies on the second epistle to the Thessalonians 4:2].

CRI – The apostles were living authorities, but not everything they said was infallible. Catholics understand the difference between authoritative and infallible, since they make the same distinction with regard to noninfallible statements made by the Pope and infallible ex cathedra (“from the seat” of Peter) ones.

OLIC: The authority of Christ is the claim of the apostles regarding both oral and written authority. And the Church under Christ is the discerning agency for both as well. We could infer from this statement that all of Christ’s unrecorded words were not inspired or infallible, but merely authoritative – which is a semantic rabbit trail to begin with. Protestants are predisposed to argue that written words are “more” authoritative than oral tradition because they start from the assumption of Sola Scriptura. That said, however, the Orthodox Church does indeed hold that Scripture is the authoritative reference. But using Paul’s own words to Timothy regarding the profitability of Scripture (and here Paul spoke of the Old Testament), there is no historical or factual evidence whatsoever that the Church viewed orally, and therefore, practically transmitted apostolic tradition as something LESS than the written word, or that the two ever contradict each other.

St. Basil the Great, 365-75 AD “Of the dogmas and preaching preserved in the Church, some we possess from written teaching and others we receive from the tradition of the Apostles, handed on to us in mystery. In respect to piety, both are of the same force.”

And to claim that all of the apostolic tradition in all of its detail is found in the New Testament is silly. It is a denial of the facts revealed in New Testament Scripture itself and comes from a mindset that views anything not found explicitly written therein as suspect.

CRI – Second, the traditions (teachings) of the apostles that were revelations were written down and are inspired and infallible. They comprise the New Testament. What the Catholic must prove, and cannot, is that the God who deemed it so important for the faith and morals of the faithful to inspire the inscripturation of 27 books of apostolic teaching would have left out some important revelation in these books. Indeed, it is not plausible that He would have allowed succeeding generations to struggle and even fight over precisely where this alleged extrabiblical revelation is to be found. So, however authoritative the apostles were by their office, only their inscripturated words are inspired and infallible (2 Tim. 3:16-17; cf. John 10:35).

OLIC: The fact is that the next generations of the Church did not struggle over it. It was not until the Reformation that the struggle for infallibility within the context of the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church in the West that this became an issue. In the East it has never been an issue. Extra-biblical revelation must align with Scripture and Scripture is understood within the life of the Church that has preserved the apostolic framework for understanding the Scripture. Anyone who listens to the radio show regularly will know that we ALWAYS give scriptural teachings and verses for what we believe and practice. It may not be an interpretation that anyone likes or is familiar with, but nothing we do or teach contradicts “plain teaching of the Bible”.

St. Cyril: “No doctrine concerning the divine and saving mysteries of the faith, however trivial, may be taught without the backing of the holy Scriptures. We must not let ourselves be drawn aside by mere persuasion and cleverness of speech. Do not even give absolute belief to me, the one who tells you these things, unless you receive proof from the divine Scriptures of what I teach. For the faith that brings us salvation acquires its force, not from fallible reasonings, but from what can be proved out of the holy Scriptures.” Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 4:17 (Schaff NAPNF 2nd Series vol.7, p.23)

CRI – There is not a shred of evidence that any of the revelation God gave them to express was not inscripturated by them in the only books — the inspired books of the New Testament — that they left for the church.

OLIC: What the Protestant must try to prove, and cannot, is that God somehow bypassed the Church with respect to preserving the New Testament Scripture, and that the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church was somehow NOT involved in deciding the books to include in the Canon. And regarding the idea of struggle, how has adopting Sola Scriptura lessened the amount of struggle Protestants engage in to discern the correct interpretation? The Church does not struggle over any extra-biblical revelation, the Church discerns the voice of the Holy Spirit and renders its judgments based on the Spirit referencing authoritative Scripture. As St. Cyril says: Tradition is Scripture rightly interpreted. And apostolic oral tradition is not in contradiction to this.

CRI – This leads to another important point. The Bible makes it clear that God, from the very beginning, desired that His normative revelations be written down and preserved for succeeding generations.

“Moses then wrote down all the words of the Lord” (Exod. 24:4),

and his book was preserved in the Ark (Deut. 31:26). …Jesus rebuked the Jewish leaders it was not because they did not follow the traditions but because they did not “understand the Scriptures” (Matt. 22:29). All of this makes it clear that God intended from the very beginning that His revelation be preserved in Scripture, not in extrabiblical tradition. To claim that the apostles did not write down all God’s revelation to them is to claim that they were not obedient to their prophetic commission not to subtract a word from what God revealed to them.

OLIC: In the view of the Orthodox Church, this is a red herring. The Orthodox Church has never confused the role of Scripture and Tradition. The issue is not about what is written, it is about how someone interprets what is written. The Orthodox Church does not set aside Scripture, but relies on Scripture as the standard by which all doctrines are measured. Anything within the life of the Church that is understood as extra-biblical tradition is either consistent with what we find in the Scriptures, or does not contradict Scripture in any way, period.

CRI – The Bible Does Not State a Preference for Oral Tradition: The Catholic use of 3 John …(3 John 13). Who would not prefer a face-to-face talk with a living apostle over a letter from him? But that is not what oral tradition gives. Rather, it provides an unreliable oral tradition as opposed to an infallible written one. Sola Scriptura contends the latter is preferable.

OLIC: The issue is not “what is preferable” but what is biblical and what is true within the life of the Church. This statement assumes oral tradition is unreliable when the Scriptures make it plain that it is indeed reliable and apostolically commanded to be obeyed and passed on faithfully. It also assumes only a written record is “infallible” which is not biblical either. Paul makes no such distinction in his letters to the Thessalonians or Corinthians. The modern Protestant may PREFER sola scriptura, but the Apostles and the early Church did not.

CRI – The Bible Is Clear Apart from Tradition: The Bible has perspicuity apart from any traditions to help us understand it. As stated above, and contrary to a rather wide misunderstanding by Catholics, perspicuity does not mean that everything in the Bible is absolutely clear but that the main message is clear. That is, all doctrines essential for salvation and living according to the will of God are sufficiently clear.

OLIC: Indeed the Scriptures self-testify to their illuminating qualities, but they also self-testify to their ability to be misinterpreted by the ungodly and unlearned into heresy to destruction (II Peter 3:14-16) So we have the same scriptures that indeed are capable of leading one into truth or heresy. What then is the difference? It seems that there is more to the picture than the notion that the scriptures establish their own self-validating and correcting “tradition” of interpretive method outside of the Church. EVERYONE interprets scripture from within a “tradition”. If your tradition is non-sacramental then that determines how you interpret Scripture. The “tradition” of the Orthodox Church is the Apostolic mind that produced the Scriptures. We know the “main message” because it is contained both within our ancient worship, liturgy, prayers and hymns that all affirm what is in Scripture. The fact of the matter is that everything that is “plain” in the Bible has been challenged by someone through the centuries using the Bible as a defense.

How can proper interpretation of the Scripture be separated from the ultimate authority of those Scriptures? Clearly improperly interpreted Scriptures do not give us the authoritative meaning of Scripture. This dichotomy is the problem with the whole Protestant approach to the Scriptures.

St. Hilary of Potiers:

“Scripture is not in the reading, but in the understanding”,

which is repeated by Jerome. Hermeneutics was THE issue in the Arian controversy. Arius trotted out Scripture to prove his heresy, Athanasius appealed to the “rule of faith”, the deposit of the apostolic tradition, the faith of the Church handed down through the apostles to faithful men by which the Church is able to apprehend the true pattern or interpretation of the Scripture. ST. Basil used the liturgical tradition of the Church to combat the heretics who believed the Bible taught the Holy Spirit is not God. THEY appealed to “sola scriptura”, Basil appealed to the

“proper interpretation of the scripture as it has been expressed within the prayers and worship of the universal Church”.

The rule of faith was the key to unlocking the true meaning of the Scriptures, hence the reliance upon the inner life of the Church as the guide to the right intepretation of the scripture. The Church was not an EXTERNAL authority over and above the scriptures, but the keeper and guardian of the truth deposited in the scriptures. Athanasius does not appeal to “Tradition “s”” but “Tradition”, the truth of the Scripture AND the apostolic deposit within the life of the Church seen as one body of truth, not one over the other.

St. Irenaeus uses the illustration of a man who has a mosaic of the king, then someone comes along and takes all the pieces out and rearranges them into another image. He still has used all the same pieces but now has a different image of a dog or a fox. Such is the heretic who uses the scriptures without the picture of the king that the Church knows. The heretic does not know the order and connection of the parts in order to reproduce the true image. St. Irenaeus appeals to the catechism and baptismal professions which were committed to believers as the rule of faith that would guide the believer into a right understanding of the scriptures within the Church. Tradition was the living breath of life by the Holy Spirit within the Church that preserved the rule of faith in the life of the Church through its sacraments, worship and prayer. Tradition was not just the handing down of inherited doctrines or a fixed core of propositions, but rather the continuous “life in truth” within the Church. Scripture without intepretation is not scripture at all, the moment it is used and intepreted it becomes alive, but it must be intepreted according to its own purposes.

CRI – Indeed, to assume that oral traditions of the apostles, not written in the Bible, are necessary to interpret what is written in the Bible under inspiration is to argue that the uninspired is more clear than the inspired. But it is utterly presumptuous to assert that what fallible human beings pronounce is clearer than what the infallible Word of God declares. Further, it is unreasonable to insist that words of the apostles that were not written down are more clear than the ones they did write. We all know from experience that this is not so.

OLIC: This hearkens back to the assumption that we dealt with already, that the “oral tradition” is less inspired than the written. It is utterly ridiculous to assert that the apostles are both “fallible human beings” in their oral pronouncements but that their written words are the “infallible Word of God”. Why is it unreasonable to insist that the words that came out of the mouth of the apostles are less clear than the ones that came off their pens? “We” do NOT all know that oral tradition is unclear or unreliable. That is a cultural and philosophical bias, NOT something that “everyone knows”. Those who argue against the process of Holy Tradition often do so because of an ignorant bias held by so many modern, technologically-based people against the ‘dumb’, ‘benighted’, ‘backward’ ignoramuses of centuries past. People having this bias *start* with an assumption that the only way to preserve a message is by preserving it in written form. Mere technology is no guarantee that “traditions” will get passed on purely. This whole assumption is based on the philosophical school of romanticism that believes the human race is evolving to higher and higher levels of morality, intellect, spirituality etc etc. OF COURSE we are more evolved and smarter than those technologically handicapped hicks 2,000 years ago who couldn’t keep a story straight to save their souls…. heck, at least they believed they had souls that needed saving, and in order to do that they’d better keep the story straight…..

But even so, IN PRACTICE every Christian bookstore has the writings of YOUR church fathers in them. HOW DO YOU KNOW WHICH IS RIGHT? What vehicle do you have to discern which of the hundreds of authors who claim to be rightly dividing the word of Truth is actually doing that? EVERY radio preacher says “*I* am preaching the truth….” How do they know? They studied the Bible? Like, no one else has?

Are the Scriptures a MAP or BLUEPRINT? What is the purpose of the Scriptures? They were CORRECTIVE. Some people think of the Bible as a “blueprint for the Church”, if you follow it you can reconstruct the first century Church in its “purity”. The “blueprint” was taught by the apostles (by word of mouth AND epistle, II Thess. 2:15), the Bible was written to correct what people were doing/believing wrongly. As a builder one cannot build a house from the addendums to a blueprint. Addendums are corrections to the original plans that clarify what was missing or unclear. This view also assumes that the life of the Church is static and never changed or developed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If one wishes to reconstruct the “Church in Acts” you would have to decide WHICH decade you wanted to imitate. Acts shows us a picture of the Church as it changed and developed. A MAP gives you the high points, the lay of the land, but you have to talk to the PEOPLE WHO LIVE THERE to know the town.

CRI – Tradition and Scripture Are Not Inseparable: Kreeft’s claim that Scripture and apostolic tradition are inseparable is unconvincing. Even his illustration of the horse (Scripture) and the rider (tradition) would suggest that Scripture and apostolic tradition are separable. Further, even if it is granted that tradition is necessary, the Catholic inference that it has to be infallible tradition — indeed, the infallible tradition of the church of Rome — is unfounded. Protestants, who believe in sola Scriptura, accept genuine tradition; they simply do not believe it is infallible.

OLIC: This begs the question: What good is an infallible document if there is no infallible interpreter of the document? Vincent of Lerins famous quote about “all places, by all, at all times” was an invocation of the “ecclesial mind” of the Church, which was not an independent witness FROM the scriptures, but the

“Scriptures rightly understood in the Church”.

Scripture was the only, primary and ultimate canon of truth (Commontorium Ch. 2) St. Vincent of Lerins and Tertullian’s notion of organic development was later echoed by the fifth century monk, Vincent of Lerins (see Commonitory, 2-3, 20, 23, 27-29). His Canon, which has received wide recognition throughout church history, pertains to the interpretation of Scripture in fundamental matters of doctrine and praxis:

(1) Is the belief or interpretation in question taught by the whole (i.e., catholic) church throughout the world (universality)?

(2) While universality is preferable to sectarianism or schism it is not decisive since the church as a whole may err (cf. Arianism). Therefore, a belief or interpretation must be tested by its antiquity, i.e., Has it, in a rudimentary form at least, always been taught by the church?

(3) If so, does it have the express approval of an ecumenical council, or if the matter in question is not specifically addressed by such a council the majority of clergy and teachers worldwide throughout history (unanimity)? If not, then it should be rejected.

The other statement that is flapping in the breeze is “what is GENUINE TRADITION” that the Protestants claim to accept? How do they discern that? Basically by what they THINK is genuine based on what they THINK the Bible teaches not by a study of the early centuries of the Church and its Fathers, martyrs, confessors and defenders.

CRI – The Principle of Causality Is Not Violated: Kreeft’s argument that sola Scriptura violates the principle of causality is invalid for one fundamental reason: it is based on a false assumption. He wrongly assumes, unwittingly in contrast to what Vatican II and even Vatican I say about the canon,13 that the church determined the canon. In fact, God determined the canon by inspiring these books and no others. The church merely discovered which books God had determined (inspired) to be in the canon. This being the case, Kreeft’s argument that the cause must be equal to its effect (or greater) fails.

OLIC: This assumes that the Bible is something that stands above our outside the Church and the Church “discovers it”. The Church MANIFESTS the canon from within its life and understanding of the Gospel. Gal 1:7

“If any man preaches a different gospel”…

WHAT gospel? The one they had “received” or heard from Paul and his appointed teachers, not “read in a book”. That which was written by the apostles aligns with what was received in the Church from the Apostles and preserved as the “rule of faith”. The books produced within the life of the Church, canonical and not, were discerned according to that which the Church knew to be true within its life, not by some “self-evidence” within the scriptures themselves.

CRI – First Century Christians Had Scripture and Living Apostles: Kreeft’s argument that the first generation of Christians did not have the New Testament, only the church to teach them, overlooks several basic facts. First, the essential Bible of the early first century Christians was the Old Testament, as the New Testament itself declares (cf. 2 Tim. 3:15-17; Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:6). Second, early New Testament believers did not need further revelation through the apostles in written form for one very simple reason: they still had the living apostles to teach them. As soon as the apostles died, however, it became imperative for the written record of their infallible teaching to be available.

OLIC: By the average Protestant’s take on Church history the fact that there was an “infallible written record of the apostle’s teachings” did not keep the Church from going “south” into apostasy right after the last apostle died. The fact of the matter is that even DURING the apostle’s lives people fell into error. Living infallible teachers, dead infallible teachers, or their written records do not alone keep people from heresy. And the fact of the matter is that for the first 5 centuries of the Church there was not unanimous agreement on what constituted the canon of infallible apostolic writings. And in spite of that historical fact, the Church was still able to condemn heretics, keep and die for the faith, teach the truth and preserve the apostolic gospel.



Orthodox Worship As A School Of Theology: Part One

by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev

Lecture delivered at the Kiev Theological Academy on September 20, 2002

All of our liturgical hymns are instructive, profound and sublime.
They contain the whole of our theology and moral teaching,
give us Christian consolation and instill in us a fear of the Judgment.
He who listens to them attentively has no need of other books on the Faith.

St Theophan the Recluse

In this lecture I would like to share with you some thoughts that I have been gathering over my more than 20 years’ participation in Orthodox divine services, both in Russia and abroad. What I have to say will be addressed primarily to ordained ministers and to future clergymen more than to lay people, since I scarcely have any recollections of myself as a layman, and all of my conscious church life has been connected with serving the altar.

As a fifteen-year old boy I first entered the sanctuary of the Lord, the Holy of Holies of the Orthodox Church, and from that time became an active participant in the divine services. Although I had regularly attended church beforehand, listened to the words of the services, confessed, and received Holy Communion, it was only after my entrance into the altar that the theourgia, the mystery, and “feast of faith” began, which continues to this very day. After my ordination, I saw my destiny and main calling in serving the Divine Liturgy. Indeed, everything else, such as sermons, pastoral care and theological scholarship were centered around the main focal point of my life – the Liturgy.

The school of Orthodox theology that formed my theological thinking was not so much a theological seminary, academy or university but the Liturgy and other services. The liturgical texts of the Orthodox Church penetrated my mind and heart so deeply that they became, along with the Gospel and the writings of the church Fathers, the main criteria of theological truth, an inexhaustible source of knowledge about God, Christ, the world, Church and salvation.

Orthodox divine services are a priceless treasure that we must carefully guard. Similar services were once celebrated in other Christian communities, but over the centuries they were lost as a result of both liturgical and theological reforms.

I have had the opportunity to be present at both Protestant and Catholic services, which were, with rare exceptions, quite disappointing. Protestant services as a rule are comprised of a series of isolated, incoherent prayerful actions. At first the officiating clergyman (or clergywoman) says a benediction, then everybody opens a hymnal to a certain page and begins to sing. After a pause the clergyman reads a passage from Scripture, then gives a sermon, followed by communal singing, organ playing, etc. The congregation is usually seated, now and then standing in order to sit down again after some time. The services are interspersed with explanations by the clergy, who tell their congregation in which hymnal and on which page a certain hymn is to be found, and whether they should sing it while standing or remaining seated. Such services do not normally last longer than thirty or forty minutes, and in certain parishes even rock music is used, to which the parishioners dance.

One can add that after the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, services in some Catholic churches have become little different from Protestant ones. They often share the same lack of wholeness and the same alternation of incoherent, unrelated prayers and hymns.

The liturgical texts used in many non-Orthodox churches, except for the Eucharistic prayers and certain ancient hymns still in use, are often characterized by a low level of theological content: as a rule they contain much “piety” that often borders on the sentimental, and very little theology.

Orthodox divine services, whether it be the Liturgy, vespers, matins, hours, nocturnes or compline, are a totally different matter. From the priest’s exclamation at the very beginning of the service we are immersed in an atmosphere of uninterrupted prayer, in which psalms, litanies, stichera, troparia, prayers and the celebrating priest’s invocations follow one another in a continuous stream. The entire service is conducted as if in one breath, in one rhythm, like an ever unfolding mystery in which nothing distracts from prayer. Byzantine liturgical texts filled with profound theological and mystical content, alternate with the prayerful incantation of the psalms, whose every word resonates in the hearts of the faithful. Even the elements of “choreography” characteristic of Orthodox services, such as solemn entries and exits, prostrations and censing, are not intended to distract from prayer but, on the contrary, to put the faithful in a prayerful disposition and draw them into the theourgia in which, according to the teaching of the Fathers, not only the Church on earth, but also the heavenly Church and even te angels participate.

Our New Feature

Greetings, friends of Preachers Institute,

I’m adding a little section to the top of the front page “A Word To The Fore” which will contain a pithy quote containing some wisdom or common sense in an age gone mad.

This is just a little thing, but I feel worthwhile.

Also, including Scriptural quotes, and quotations from the writings of the saints and fathers, we’ll be including wise words from others as well.

Our hope is that this will become another valuable resource for you in your daily effort of preparing to deliver the Word to your flock.

God bless all your good work, and be assured of our daily prayers for all of you.

Fr. John