Americans, educated in the Western world, tend to think that the way to learn something is to study the subject, read books about it, take classes, attend training seminars, or listen to expert speakers. According to this way of thinking, to become an expert on a subject, one has to research it, earn advanced degrees, and teach it at a university. (Having seen the experts that are consulted for documentaries related to religion, spirituality, the Bible, and Christian history that appear on television, I realize how loosely the media use the word "expert.")
A person can't learn Holy Tradition only by reading a book, listening to others talk about it, or trying to decipher the symbolic meaning of painted icons. Spirituality can't be learned in such a way, but must be learned through experience. Holy Tradition isn't merely a collection of writings or list of doctrines. It is the Faith of the Apostles in the mind of the Church. Holy Tradition is a way of life, "life in the Spirit," lived in harmonious unison with the whole Church worldwide. To gain spiritual knowledge and attain our full potential we must live the life of Faith with all our heart, mind, soul, and body within the mystical community Christ Himself established.
Through Holy Tradition as expressed, in part, by these sources, we can learn about who we were created to be as human beings, who we are now, why we are the way we are, and who we can become, fulfilling our human potential:
The Holy Scripture, not personally interpreted by an individual, but understood within the context of the Church in the light of Holy Tradition. Holy Tradition contains not only the written Scripture itself but also the interpretation of the biblical text that has been passed down to us through the centuries alongside the written text .
The Holy Icons
As the Holy Scripture reveals the Truth to us in written form, the icons visually show us the Truth in divine images.
The readings and music of the Church contain within them the teachings of the Church. In fact, the beautiful music itself is secondary to the words themselves that are conveyed with beauty. So much can be learned while standing in an Orthodox Christian temple during prayer and listening to the rich texts read or sung weekly during Vespers, Matins, and the Divine Liturgy. Furthermore, the teachings of Holy Tradition are revealed in our physical acts of worship.
The Church Fathers
1. On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius the Great, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.
2. On the Human Condition by St. Basil the Great, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.
3. Hymns on Paradise with the Commentary on Genesis (Section II) by St. Ephrem the Syrian, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.
4. The Theological Poetry of St. Gregory of Nazianzus by St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.
5. The First Created Man by St. Symeon the New Theologian, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood.
(Here are a few texts that draw from the many sources within Holy Tradition and explain what Holy Tradition expresses concerning who we are and who we may become.)
About Holy Tradition: Some Contemporary Books
1. Partakers of Divine Nature by Archimandrite Christoforos Stavropoulos, Light and Life.
2. Orthodox Psychotherapy by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, available online.
3. The Orthodox Way by Bishop Kallistos Ware, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.
4. Orthodox Theology: An Introduction by Vladimir Lossky by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.
For the seeker, I offer this Orthodox Christian invitation: "If you want to know what we believe, come and see how we pray."
Copyright © 2006 by Dana S. Kees. (The image by Leonardo DaVinci is in the Public Domain.)