My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
The Fundamental Principles and Main Characteristics
of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
By Panagiotis P. Bratsiotis, Professor
of the Theological School of the National
The University of Athens, formerly Dean of the
School and head of the University.
The Central Idea of Orthodoxy
THE QUESTION of the fundamental principles and main characteristics of the Orthodox Church was first raised not by Orthodox but by Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians. In attempting to answer it many misunderstandings and adverse comments have arisen on both sides.
Many attempts to discover a synthesis have been made by both Orthodox and non-Orthodox theologians, others have considered all such attempts hopeless. The common idea that Orthodoxy lies halfway between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism may perhaps be accepted. But although this idea is in general correct, it touches only on the form of the Orthodox Church. The question remains: WHAT IS THE ESSENCE OF ORTHODOXY, quite apart from Roman Catholicism and Protestantism? What would remain of Orthodoxy if there were no antithesis between these churches…
In our view, the fundamental principle in Orthodoxy is rather the idea that the Orthodox Church adheres TO THE PRINCIPLES AND PIETY OF THE EARLY, UNDIVIDED Catholic Church. This fundamental idea constitutes (in our opinion) the most PROMINENT FEATURE OF Orthodoxy, and contains THE NORM AND CRITERION OF ITS TRUTH, ITS CLAIM TO BE THE EARLY Catholic Church itself.
Therefore, parallel to our attempt to ascertain the fundamental principles and main features of the Orthodox Church, I shall endeavor to point out its points of agreement with the fundamental principles and essential characteristics of the early undivided Church, in order to show whether our Church’s claim TO BE THE DIRECT AND TRUE CONTINUATION OF THE EARLY CHURCH IS JUSTIFIED, AND THEREFORE WHETHER THE FACTS JUSTIFY ITS BEING CALLED "Orthodox."
The Main Characteristics
A. Holy Tradition
THE FIRST FUNDAMENTAL and ESSENTIAL characteristic of the Orthodox Church is its steady adherence to the Holy Tradition which it inherits from the early Catholic Church. The Orthodox Church IS INDEED A CHURCH OF TRADITION, and this is its highest honor, although this very fact has caused many non-Orthodox theologians to call it "a petrified mummy." It is not surprising that liberal Protestant theologians held, and still hold, this view concerning a Church that adheres to Tradition. But it is surprising if not inexplicable that our Church’s adherence to Tradition should be regarded as "petrification" by representatives of that Roman Catholic church which, like the Orthodox, recognizes Tradition as a source of the Christian Faith, but at the same time admits the principle of development and progress more than Orthodoxy…
But if Holy Tradition is accepted as a source of faith, ITS IMMUTABILITY MUST BE RECOGNIZED, JUST AS THE BIBLE (the other source of faith) is recognized TO BE IMMUTABLE. Moreover, in the Orthodox Church Tradition is not regarded as a static factor–as many non-Orthodox people think–BUT AS A DYNAMIC ONE. Loyalty to Tradition does not simply mean slavish attachment to past times and external authority, BUT A LIVING CONNECTION WITH THE ENTIRE PAST EXPERIENCE OF THE Church. Like the Holy Bible, Holy Tradition IS REGARDED IN THE Orthodox Church AS THE "LOGOS/WORD OF GOD," AS "WATER SPRINGING UP INTO EVERLASTING LIFE" [John 4:14], as it was in the early Church and has been proved to be through the inexhaustible and almost miraculous vitality of the Orthodox Church… A certain stagnation observable in our Church is due to historical, NOT ORGANIC, reasons and NOT to its strong adherence to Holy Tradition. Although the Orthodox Church has remained somewhat static, it has NOT become petrified but CONTINUES TO BE ALIVE AND LIFE-GIVING. A Church that only produces learned theologians and good Christians in peace time is less entitled to be called a living one than is a Church that nurtures and inspires Martyrs and other Saints and great clouds of witnesses, as the Orthodox Church has done.
Orthodoxy is often criticized by non-Orthodox for its alleged traditionalism, but they overlook the fact that adherence to Tradition has constituted A FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE AND AN ESSENTIAL CHARACTERISTIC of the Church of Christ EVER SINCE IT WAS FOUNDED. It is known that Christianity took over the idea of tradition from Judaism and that the Church IS BASED ON TRADITION. The Message was delivered ORALLY by Our Lord to the Apostles and WAS HANDED ON ORALLY TO THEIR SUCCESSORS (1, Clem. 42). Two of the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses; the other two are based on indirect tradition. Saint Luke expressly states, "EVEN AS THEY DELIVERED THEM (THE THINGS MOST SURELY BELIEVED) UNTO US, WHICH FROM THE BEGINNING WERE EYE-WITNESSES AND MINISTERS OF THE WORLD" [Luke 1:2]. The "TEACHING" OF ALL NATIONS commanded by Our Lord [Matthew 28:19] WAS MAINLY CARRIED OUT BY VERBAL PREACHING. The importance attached to Tradition by the Apostles is also well known: "STAND FAST AND HOLD THE TRADITIONS" [2 Thess. 2:15], "KEEP THE ORDINANCES AS I DELIVERED THEM TO YOU" [1 Corinthians 11:2], "I HAVE RECEIVED OF THE LORD THAT WHICH ALSO I DELIVERED UNTO YOU" [1 Corinthians 11:23]…
"…As is known, Holy Tradition, the VERBAL TRADITION, has since early times, been handed down from generation to generation in the Church, PARALLEL TO THE WRITTEN Word, and EQUALLY REVERED. this Tradition, the Apostolic Tradition, has become STRONGER, ESPECIALLY SINCE THE APPEARANCE OF SECTS; FOR IT IS ON THIS TRADITION, AND ON THE CANON OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURE, THAT THE DEFENDERS OF SOUND CHURCH DOCTRINES TAKE THEIR STAND. Saint Irenaeus, who is known as THE MAN OF TRADITION, may be mentioned as a notable example of this practice.
"Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostomos
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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God