Saturday, July 30, 2016

New and old

In our Christian life we have to strike a balance between following the tradition and creating it. Those who only follow tradition stifle the Spirit in them, pruning the buds and never harvesting the fruit. Those who only create tradition, uproot the tree altogether. But to follow tradition as well as create it is to be the ‘tree that is planted by water streams, yielding its fruit in season, its leaves never fading’ (Psalm 1:3). This is what Christ expects of us, what indeed happens to us as we follow Him. We are transformed into the steward ‘who brings out from his storeroom things both new and old’ (Matthew 13:32).

A Christian brother wrote, ‘Many years ago I was at a symposium on “Youth and the Church,” and a sociology professor had been asked to speak. He said that the church could play an important role in helping youth to adjust to the demands and values and mores of society. I asked him what if society’s values were wrong, and the youth were revolting against them. He got very emphatic, and said “Youth must adjust!” I almost expected him to throw up his right arm in a Nazi salute.’

I hope the professor's emphatic response was just a careless enthusiasm for his own ideas (such it often is), and that he did not intend to circumscribe so closely the idealism of youth. This is, unfortunately, how some in the Church feel, that youth (indeed anyone) must ‘adjust to the demands and values and mores of society.’ By this, of course, they mean the status quo of churchly life. These same people are adamant that one must consult one’s ‘spiritual father’ in everything, before making a single move in one’s life. For them, an act, even a thought, done without
‘authorization’ is at best foolish and at worst brazen pride. The independent spirit, to them, is pure sin. But I don’t think so.

Christ does not turn us into robots. He did not come to destroy tradition, but He frees us from its stranglehold. He calls us to follow Him, but that call always includes our free will and implies the right use of it—something that requires independence. If His call and our following does anything, it transforms us into creatures capable of, and desirous of, living for ever with Him. It charges us with an independence of spirit that even angels do not share.

Only the independent spirit can undo its will and enter into the life of the Holy Triad, where three wills are one will from eternity, without confusion, without disorder, but in total freedom. Often what shows as a submissive will is a mercenary subservience, brazen pride concealed under an outward humility in order to reign in splendor.

The Holy Tradition is the life of the Holy Triad as lived by the Church throughout the ages, and every cell in the Body of Christ is both nourished by it and nourishes it, every father is a son, every son a father, and like its outward sign, an Orthodox temple, the walls once white and empty fill up with ikons, generation after generation. To follow tradition as well as create it is to be the ‘tree that is planted by water streams, yielding its fruit in season, its leaves never fading’ (Psalm 1:3), and we can ‘know the tree by its fruit’ (Matthew 7:16).

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