Father Boris Bobrinskoy continues his discussion of Tradition in the ninth chapter of The Compassion of the Father by citing Father Georges Florovsky on the need for an “ecumenism in time” in addition to the “ecumenism in space” that had come to dominate the ecumenical movement, for “the Church is not only defined in space, but also in time, with respect to our Fathers and the two millennia of Christian life in the communion of saints.” (165) While Protestantism has tended to downplay tradition, and Roman Catholicism has tended to place Tradition above Scripture and to emphasise “the fundamental and prime magisterium of the pope,”
In Orthodoxy, the Tradition is alive. It is a permanent miracle in which the Church does not pretend to possess the truth, but rather is possessed by it. The Church does not hold the truth but manifests it in fullness and in permanence, in a eucharistic relationship, an epiclesis, where it invokes the Holy Spirit so that He penetrates the gifts – the bread and the wine – the assembly, and, consequently, the very mouths of those in charge of keeping the Church and the entire people of God in the faith and in truth.
This dimension of the invocation – of the epiclesis – of the dependency of the entire Church upon the Holy Spirit, is a reality we forcefully maintain. The entire people of God are found permanently in the influential sphere of the Spirit. Thus, all dimensions of the Tradition converge in the one crucible of holiness, for the possession of the truth is inconceivable without personal and ecclesial holiness. The reality of the truth, known and preserved in the Church, must be defined as the responsibility of the entire people of God. (165-6)
While Orthodoxy does not offer a “recipe” for evaluating human traditions, Father Boris suggests certain principles that it offers us. These include the desire to be faithful to the Church, a sense of the mystery of the beyond which is aware that human concepts cannot exhaust the fullness of the apostolic faith, a process of spiritual growth leading to a maturation of the instinct for truth, a listening to the prophetic Spirit, and brotherly love, especially towards the week. This means that Orthodoxy is both profoundly the same and profoundly diverse.
It is the same in the sense that we recognize one another – without needing an external authority, a common magisterium that dictates teaching and doctrine – as identical in faith, worship, spirituality, and testimony. It is diverse in the sense that the tonalities of Orthodoxy, its language and preoccupations, may vary greatly from one place to another. (167)
However, faithfulness to the Tradition does not mean that it cannot be questioned. Indeed the Fathers sometimes had to oppose certain notions of Tradition in order to assert the mystery of the faith. Father Boris gives the examples of the use of non-traditional terminology in the struggle against Arianism, the defence of icons, and the development of hymnography and feasts. In the same way, contemporary Orthodoxy is in need of self-reflection and purification and topics for consideration include questions of married bishops, the iconostasis, the “secret” prayers during the Divine Liturgy, the frequency of the reception of Holy Communion, and the female diaconate. Such questions mean that
The Church concretely must ponder over the actualization of Tradition at the end of the second millennium of Christianity. For this, we must be listening to the Spirit, in whom Tradition and newness are allied, the permanence of the message of salvation and renewal of the ecclesial structures. Only in the Holy Spirit may the complete fidelity to the received Tradition and the most radical freedom of the children of God be realized and maintained without contradiction. (170)
Father Boris ends by quoting Saint Irenaeus who wrote:
This faith, which we have received from the Church, we preserve carefully, because through the action of the Spirit of God, like a deposit of great price enclosed in a good vessel, it rejuvenates ceaselessly, and causes the vessel containing it to renew its youth also. (170)