“Following the …

“Following the holy Fathers…” is a pledge the Orthodox Church has never failed to keep. She has never failed, whether by treatise or encyclical or Canon, in theology or spirituality, to proclaim her allegiance to them. They are an authority, not a resource. She accepts them as “new prophets,” not as philosophers. Their writings and sermons, art and music, canons and spirituality are not valued as personal speculations, but as inspired witness to the Faith inherited from the Apostles. The Church speaks of each generation of Fathers as having received their beliefs from their predecessors, and they back to the time when the she received them from the Savior. The Fathers preserved and defended what the Christian heritage, testifying to the history of sacred teachings as revealed by God and passed to every generation of Orthodox under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. On this account, the Church believes them. We might otherwise love and admire the Fathers merely for their piety. And if they had left us their personal Scriptural interpretations to study, we might fairly insist that our own exegesis of the Old and New Testament was as good, even more so because we have scientific methods of inquiry not available to them. If our Biblical insights agreed with theirs, it would be a happy coincidence, and perhaps increase our confidence in them. Thankful as we might be to them, we might, nevertheless, follow our own light. Of course, we might concede that since they lived closer to the time of the Apostles, their opinions are owed a certain deference; but beyond that advantage, their theological achievements were really no better than our own. But the Church does not characterize her veneration of the Fathers in this way. Their knowledge of the Faith comes from a higher Source than archeology, criticism and comparative literature. She does not think of them as speaking to one generation alone, but to all times, to all societies, to all men, until the Return of Christ. They did (do) not deliver relativised opinions to the nations, but what God has disclosed “once and for all.” Thus, what they taught and what they gave to the next generation of Orthodox is a reaffirmation of, not speculation concerning “the Faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). If this were not the case, if what they taught did not originate with the Apostles, there would be no “faith of our fathers.” In other words, their witness must have the same the authority among twenty-first century Orthodox as it had in the beginning, and shall have to the end. If not, then, “patristics,” although of historical interest, would place no obligation on us any more than it had on those who bequeathed to us; neither would we have the solemn duty to safeguard the gospel for our posterity, etc. In that case, Tradition would be a patchwork of doctrines mandatory upon no one. Then, the Councils, which endorsed their teachings, would be untrustworthy. Orthodox would have no assurance that what they believed was the saving Truth. We would have the Scriptures, of course, but its books would offer the same sort of exegetical dilemma for Orthodoxy as it always has for Protestantism from its inception.

–Father Michael Azkoul, “Order of Creation/Order of Redemption”

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