The ninth and final chapter of The Compassion of the Father is an essay on “Sacred Tradition and Human Tradition,” in which Father Boris Bobrinskoy broaches the delicate subject of the relationship between Tradition as a constituent element of Orthodoxy that belongs to the very essence of Christianity, and the human traditions that are linked to religious psychology and which can lead to internal tensions within Orthodoxy and need to be considered in the light of the passions.

Memory is fundamental to the biblical narrative and also to the modern world. However, biblical memory involved an interiorization that led to a conflict between of the representatives of the law and the prophets.

For the Christian, the coming to earth of Christ represents the peak of revelation. He is the reference, at the same time first and last, of all future generations until the end of time. He appears as the one who closes the lineage of the prophets, the one who is the key and the subject of all Scriptures and of the apostolic preaching. As in the conversation with the disciples of Emmaus, He interprets in all the Scriptures what concerns Him: “These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (Jn 5:39). Starting from this, all of sacred Scripture becomes normative for church doctrine, the first link of the apostolic Tradition, inside of which it will develop. (154-155)


if Jesus is the key to Scripture, the Holy Spirit appears as the one who gives us the revelation of this, who reveals “the code” to us, the use of this key. The Holy Spirit gives us the instinct, the sense of the truth. He sets our hearts aglow and makes us recognize and profess Jesus as Lord. (155)

Father Boris then proceeds to argue for a Trinitarian interpretation of Christian Tradition. This is not simply a human interpretation, for

As a constituent dimension of the Church, the Body of Christ, this trinitarian interpretation is profoundly divine-human and belongs to the very mystery of the Church: that, in many ways, to the extent that a look at the mystery of faith must correspond to faith itself. (155)

Christ is sent by the Father and so sends the apostles.

Thus, Jesus transmits to us the words of the Father. He is the living Word. He is the living Gospel that He announces to us. St Ignatius of Antioch writes, “He is the Word which proceeded from the silence of the Father.” In a remarkable study on the Tradition, resumed in In the Image and Likeness of God, Vladimir Lossky introduces an altogether unusual concept about the Tradition and the mystery of the Church: silence. From where does silence come when we speak of Tradition? To explain this, the author cites another passage from St Ignatius of Antioch: “He who possesses in truth the word of Jesus can hear even its silence.”

In the writings of St Ignatius of Antioch, the theme of silence appears, on the one hand, as a characteristic, almost as an attribute of the heavenly Father, and, on the other, as an attribute of the bishops. That may seem contradictory, to the extent that bishops are called to announce and bring the living Word to the people. Nonetheless, St Ignatius says that “a bishop is never so much a bishop as when he keeps silent.”

“The Tradition is silence,” Vladimir Lossky writes. This is not a definition, but a first element of the Tradition. We should hear “even the very silence of Jesus,” that is, understand that the words come from an unexpected depth and that they carry in themselves a reality “from beyond.” This is true of the entire sacramental life, of all language that is our own; if our language seeks to exhaust our intelligence, it becomes hollow very quickly, at the end of its resources. It is only when it seeks to suggest and to sing about depth rather than exhaust it, that language becomes truly eloquent. (156)

The words of Jesus turn us toward the Father, but they are words that do not break silence, but rather introduce us into it.

The living Word of the Father, Jesus Christ, is the permanent content, I would say, even the only content of the Tradition. The latter is the mystery of Christ, dead and risen, which the Church announces and presents as a memorial to the world. This very important point lessens the danger in Orthodoxy to forget that Christ is the subject of its preaching and to cover Him with alluvial deposits and the gilding of time. Thus, we speak of and preach the silence of the Father, the living Word, Christ, who is the living content of the Tradition, but also the Holy Spirit who performs the permanent miracle of the Tradition, the identity of the message over the centuries.

“Thus,” Vladimir Lossky says, “Tradition is not the content of Revelation, but the light that reveals it; Tradition is not the word, but the living breath which makes the word heard at the same time as the silence from which it came. Tradition is not the truth but a communication of the spirit of Truth, outside of which the truth cannot be perceived: ‘No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.’” (157)

We can therefore speak of Tradition as the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church, which constitutes the breath of knowledge and the light of vision, and in which we find a reciprocal relationship between the Son and the Spirit.

To be continued…