Elder Sophrony on Holy Tradition

Blessed Elder Sophrony Sakharov of Essex 1896-1993

Sacred Tradition, as the eternal and immutable dwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Church, lies at the very root of her being, and so encompasses her life that even the very Scriptures come to be but one of its forms. Thus, were the Church to be deprived of Tradition she would cease to be what she is, for the ministry of the Spirit of the New Testament is the ministry of the Spirit ‘written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God: not in tables of stones, but in the fleshly tables of the heart’. (cf. 1 Cor. 3:18-19).

Suppose that for some reason the Church were to be bereft of all her books, of the Old and new Testaments, the works of the holy Fathers, of all service books – what would happen? Sacred Tradition would restore the Scriptures, not word for word, perhaps – the verbal form might be different – but in essence the new Scriptures would be the expression of that same ‘faith which was once delivered unto the saints’ (Jude 3). They would be the expression of the one and only Holy Spirit continuously active in the Church, her foundation and her very substance.

The Scriptures are not more profound, not more important than Holy Tradition but, as said above, they are one of its forms — the most precious form, both because they are preserved and convenient to make use of. But removed from the stream of Sacred Tradition, the Scriptures cannot be rightly understood through any scientific research.

If the Apostle Paul had the ‘mind of Christ’, how much more does this apply to the whole body of the Church of which St. Paul is one member! And if the writings of St. Paul and the other Apostles are Holy Scripture, then new Scriptures of the Church, written supposedly after the loss of the old books, would in their turn become Holy Scripture for according to the Lord’s promise God, the Holy Trinity, will be in the Church even unto the end of the world.

Men are wrong when they set aside Sacred Tradition and go, as they think, to its source — to the Holy Scriptures. The Church has her origins, not in the Scriptures but in Sacred Tradition. The Church did not possess the New Testament during the first decades of her history. She lived then by Tradition only — the Tradition St. Paul calls upon the faithful to hold (cf. 2 Thess. 2:15).

It is a well-known fact that all heresiarchs have always based themselves on the Holy Scriptures, only their interpretations differing. The Apostle Peter spoke of this perversion of the meaning of the Scriptures when they are construed personally, by the individual reader (cf. 2 Pet. 3:16).

Individual members of the Church — not excluding her finest sons and teachers — do not achieve the whole fulness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and so their teachings and writings are marred by one or another imperfection — sometimes even error — whereas as a whole the Church’s schooling, possessed of the gifts and knowledge, remains true for all time. (St. Silouan the Athonite, Chap. 5: The Staretz’ Doctrinal Teaching)