Tradition is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Through the assistance of the forms of the Tradition the Orthodox Church retains and celebrates its living continuity with the “faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). Tradition’s sources include:
SCRIPTURE – is primary; all other aspects of the Tradition must be in line with the faith taught by the written Word of God. The Orthodox Church recognizes 49 books of the Old Testament (including the Apocrypha) and the 27 books of the New Testament. We consider scripture to be the verbal icon of Christ, and we venerate it as we do the icons.
CREED – the principal Creed of the Orthodox Church is the Nicene Creed, which is a composite of decisions promulgated by the Councils of Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381). The Creed expresses our Trinitarian faith and has been recited at every Liturgy since its institution by Timothy I (511-518), Patriarch of Constantinople.
COUNCILS – Seven Ecumenical Councils are considered part of the Tradition. The Ecumenical Councils dealt with the person of Christ, the person of the Holy Spirit, interrelationships within the Holy Trinity, and the controversy over icons.
LITURGY – Orthodoxy means “right worship” and so the shape and hymnody of the church’s liturgy is of great significance. According to an early maxim, the way we pray is the way we believe. The Eucharist is our central form of worship and it presumes baptism and chrismation – all of these forms are part of our Tradition.
ICONS – frescoes, mosaics, and paintings on board or glass which depict, first, Christ and the Theotokos, then the Saints. Some icons are story icons which depict scenes from the life of a saint. The Orthodox Church does not use three-dimensional statues, but bas-relief is used for some icons. The icons bear witness to the reality of the Kingdom of God by depicting the Saint or Christ or his Mother transfigured by the glory of God in the resurrection. We do not “worship” an icon, we venerate it, i.e. give honor to it as a witness to the reality they portray.
CANONS – decrees that stem from the Councils mentioned above and others. They are regulatory but not legalistically imposed. They may be observed either in strictness (akribeia) or in latitude (oikonomia), depending on your bishop or priest. Many canons are not observed anymore because the conditions they addressed no longer exist, e.g., .
FATHERS – The writings of theological writers from the earliest centuries onward until about 800 (St John of Damascus) or 1000 (St Symeon the New Theologian) are considered “patristic” writings. Many of these are commentaries on scripture, and they hold weight in our current interpretation of scripture. Others are theological writings, e.g., St Athanasius On the Incarnation or St Basil On the Holy Spirit or the Theological Orations of St. Gregory Nazianzus. Strictly speaking, however, the patristic age never ended; it is being constantly added to, even in our time.
Tradition is not static; it grows and changes depending on place and time, but the aim is always to remain creatively faithful to the spirit of the Tradition. This requires study and discernment.