Resorting constantly to “that which was from the beginning” requires some justification in an age when people like to regard the novelty of a thing as a standard of its value. … Why this high esteem for “what was handed down” and this unique rank that is accorded to the “beginning”? Or in a more personal vein, addressing the writer of these lines: Why does he not speak, rather, of his own experience, instead of bringing up his holy Fathers all the time? (17)

Father Gabriel (Bunge) begins the first chapter of Earthen Vessels: The Practice of Personal Prayer According to the Patristic Tradition, aptly entitled “No one after drinking old wine desires new,” by addressing the theological nature of tradition. In contrast to human traditions which can and perhaps should be discarded, for the writers of Sacred Scripture, “that which was from the beginning,” (1 Jn 1:1), the “traditions which you were taught” and which we are to “hold,” (2 Thess 2:15) this connection with “the beginning,” is of fundamental importance.

This fellowship (koinonia) of believers among themselves and with God is what Scripture calls “Church” and “Body of Christ. …

Whoever wants to have “fellowship with God”, therefore, can never disregard those before him who were made worthy of this fellowship! … Hence only that Church is genuinely “Christ’s Church” which stands in an unbroken, living fellowship with the apostles, upon whom the Lord, indeed, founded his Church. (20)

Just as “the good thing committed to thy trust” (2 Tim 1:14) has been set down in the writings of the apostles, so it has also been passed on in an analogous way in unwritten forms and, according to Saint Basil the Great, “with regard to piety, both have the same force.” Hence,

Both forms of apostolic tradition possess what one could call the “grace of origin”, since it was in them that the deposit entrusted to us at the beginning took shape. (21)

This same attitude is found in Basil’s disciple Evagrius who emphasises “the pattern of sound words” which we have heard from the Fathers. We are receivers and need to be guided by them in order to avoid the danger of introducing novelties that would lead us astray and make us “a stranger to our Saviour’s way,” thereby estranging us from the Lord Himself. However, this does not mean that we are to imitate everything the Fathers did as to do so would only make us the laughing stock of the demons. Indeed, the Fathers could themselves “distinguish very well between a ‘personal charism’ and ‘tradition’.” (23)

Thus the preservation of tradition is first of all the preservation of fellowship.

Whoever wants to have fellowship with the Father can attain this only by “way” of the Son. One reaches the Son, though, only by way of “those who walked before us along the way” and thereby became themselves a living part of the “Way”. (24)

By adhering to such a living fellowship, we enter into a mystery beyond space and time. This is something that we cannot do of our own effort. Rather

Guarding “the good thing committed to our trust” is always the fruit of “the Holy Spirit who dwells in us” [2 Tim 1:14] and there “bear[s] witness” [Jn 15:26] to the Son. He it is, also, who does not only “guide [us] into all the truth [Jn 16:13] but also for ages to come causes the testimony of the Master himself to be recognized in the testimony of the disciples. (27)

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