Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Scriptures and the South - Part III

The South’s concern for a proper interpretation of the [u]nited States Constitution has shown forth in the many books and essays written and speeches given by Southern statesmen and men of letters on this subject over the years, from Thomas Jefferson to M. E. Bradford.  Implicit in their argument is that in order to understand the meaning of the instrument of Union rightly, one must know and accept the proper history and tradition that gave rise to it.

Because of the Great Schism of 1054 and the Protestant Reformation, the South has had more difficulty in approaching the Bible with the same spirit of unity as they have the [u.] S. Constitution.  Who holds to the correct Tradition by which the meaning of the Scriptures may be rightly divided?  Methodists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Baptists, Pentecostals? 

Because of the South’s ignorance of the Orthodox Church, she could never have settled this question in such a way as to bring the sought-for peace and harmony among Souðern Christians.  Southern Catholics and Protestants alike stood (and remain) outside the pure waters of the stream of Holy Tradition that is found only in the Orthodox Church.  So long as they do so, so long will there be division and discord, misunderstanding and soul-sickness among Southern Christians.

For the written word of the Bible is subject to as many different interpretations as there are readers of it (whether these be right or wrong).  St Ephraim the Syrian said it this way:

And a letter cannot speak. A letter, therefore, cannot demonstrate every matter about which a man is seeking to ask questions, because the tongue of the letter is far away from it—its tongue is the pen of the writer of it. Moreover, when the letter speaks anything written in it, it takes to itself another tongue that the letter may speak with it, (the letter) which silently speaks with two mute tongues, one being the ink-pen, the other, the sight of the (reader’s) eye.

Source:  Gabe Martini, ‘The Limits of the Written Word’, On Behalf of All, http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/onbehalfofall/the-limits-of-the-written-word/, posted 13 Aug. 2013, accessed 21 Dec. 2014

Southerners must be humble enough to admit that they need help in understanding the Holy Scriptures, following the good ensample of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:30, 31).  Who should be their teachers?  The Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church, men full of the Holy Spirit who have held unwaveringly to the Holy Tradition of the Church.  One such is the Elder Cleope Ilie of Romania.  May his words about Holy Tradition and Holy Scripture sink deeply into the Southern soul and bear fruit an hundredfold. 

 . . .

Inq.: Why isn't Holy Scripture sufficient for faith and salvation, with no need whatsoever of Tradition? This is apparent from the words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy: And that from a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:15-16). These words are clear. It is unnecessary to add anything to Holy Scripture.

EC: Here he is speaking only of Old Testament Scripture, for the New Testament had not yet been written. Paul wrote to Timothy that a good teacher could use the Old Testament to support his faith in Christ and his instruction in Christianity. According to the notion that you mistakenly assert, it would follow that not one book of the New Testament—those written after the epistles of the Apostle Paul to Timothy—should be accepted. It is enough instead for us to recognize the Old Testament books mentioned in the passage to which you refer.

Inq.: Some people don't acknowledge Tradition because they say that with the passing of time it yielded to many illegitimate elements; so that, especially today, we are no longer able to discern the true Apostolic Tradition from the false.

EC: The Church of Christ determined the truths of the Faith, according to the long course of Tradition, through the teachings and canons of the holy Ecumenical Councils, decrees and the Symbol of Faith [The Creed], and by confessions [of Faith] made by holy and wonderworking hierarchs at the many local synods which have been held continuously since days of old. At these synods, the authenticity and genuineness of the holy Orthodox Faith was firmly established, primarily in those areas where it was attacked by the existing heresies of the time. The irrevocable and inalterable content of Holy Tradition emerges from the totality of those synods. This can be understood by closely examining the essence of the following precepts:

- Do not sanction concepts that contain inconsistencies or contradictions with Apostolic Tradition and Holy Scripture. (A teaching is to be considered worthy of the name ”Tradition” when it stems from the Saviour or the Holy Apostles, and is directly influenced by the Holy Spirit.)

- Tradition is that which has been protected by the Apostolic Church, and has an uninterrupted continuity up to today.

- Tradition is that which is confessed and practiced by the entire universal Orthodox Church.

- Tradition is that which is in harmony with the greater part of the [Church] fathers and ecclesiastical writers.

When a tradition does not fulfill these stipulations, it cannot be considered true and holy, and consequently cannot be considered admissible or fit to be observed.

Inq.: Notwithstanding all the efforts which you say the Orthodox Church has made and continues to make relative to the truth of Tradition, some believe only the teachings which are contained in Holy Scripture. For the first Christians—they say—accepted only such writings as were contained in Holy Scripture, as it is written: These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so (Acts 17:11). From this it follows that we should observe the teachings we find in Holy Scripture.

EC: The great Apostle Paul, however, commends the Christians of Corinth not because they kept the written teachings, but because they obeyed him and diligently observed the oral teachings that they had received from him. Listen to what he writes; Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and even as I delivered to you, ye are holding fast the traditions (1 Cor. 11:2). I wonder which is better for us to do: to observe only the written teachings, or to follow the great Apostle Paul who extols those who keep the unwritten tradition as well? Furthermore, we have established that the Holy Apostles and Evangelists believed and preached abundantly from Holy Tradition, which they inherited from of old, and which is not written anywhere in Holy Scripture.

Inq.: Where specifically does it appear that the Holy Apostles taught anything other than what was written in Holy Scripture?

EC: Here are two testimonies: The Holy Apostle Jude says in his catholic epistle, including in verse nine: But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, disputed about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him, but said, The Lord rebuke thee (Jude 9). Dearest to Christ, search all of Holy Scripture and see if you will find this citation. Still further down in the same epistle the Apostle refers to the prophecy of Enoch, saying: And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him (Jude 14-20). However, the Apostle Jude is not the only one to speak from Tradition. Listen to what the illustrious Paul says in his second epistle to Timothy: Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith (2 Tim. 3:8). And again the renowned Apostle Paul, guiding the priests of Ephesus, says: Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Now I ask you who insist on only putting faith in the written word: From where did the two Apostles—Jude and Paul—take these words? For you will not find them anywhere in Holy Scripture.

 . . .

Inq.: How was this Canon of Holy Tradition in the Church preserved over the span of thousands of years? In our age, some allege that the clergy and ecclesiastical writers alter from day to day the truth of Holy Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition, which in the beginning was authentic and genuine? They say that if you have in your hand a book that was published 50 years ago and you put it next to one published recently, they would have nothing in common. It therefore follows that if the hierarchs and priests have done this with the sacred books, they would do the same with the Holy Tradition which the Orthodox boast they have preserved unscathed from [the time of] the Holy Apostles.

EC: What your companions have accepted is not at all correct. The teachings of the Church of Christ are guarded by the Holy Spirit and cannot err (Mat. 10:17-20, John 4: 16-26, 1 Tim. 3:15). The very founder of the Church, Jesus Christ, governs it in an unseen way, until the end of the ages (Mat. 28:20). If some ecclesiastical writers, hierarchs, priests or laity translated the Bible from another language, or amended some passage containing an expression which does not correspond to our present-day speech, this would only be an adjustment and modification of the expression, and not a serious alteration of the substance of the Biblical text. If a Romanian from the time of the Elder Mirtsea or Stephan the Great (1504) were resurrected today and you wanted to speak with him, you would only with difficulty understand him, because the language has developed into something that is not exactly what was spoken then. This is precisely what has happened with respect to the books. With the passage of time, the writers' words or expressions were amended with appropriate present-day language—without however, changing the meaning of the profound and sacred writings. I previously referred you to the foundation upon which Holy Tradition rests, and the means by which its authentic, original image is reliably preserved and conveyed throughout the ages. I am referring to the ancient Symbol of Faith (The Creed), the Apostolic Canons, and the dogmatic decisions of the Seven[2] Ecumenical Councils. To these can also be added the following monumental and meaningful testaments—assurances of the unimpaired preservation of Holy Tradition:

 . . .

Source:  ‘On Holy Tradition’, http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/38631.htm, posted 10 Aug. 2010, accessed 25 Dec. 2014

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