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TRADITION, HOLY – That which is handed down, transmitted. Tradition is the life of the Church in the Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit leads the Church “into all truth” (John 16:13) and enables her to preserve the truth taught by Christ to His Apostles. The Holy Scriptures are the core of Holy Tradition, as interpreted through the writings of the Fathers, the Ecumenical Councils, and the worship of the Church. Together, these traditions manifest the faith of the ancient undivided Church, inspired by the Holy Spirit to preserve the fullness of the gospel. (John 21:25; Acts 15:1-29; 2 Thess. 2:15.)

Holy Tradition is the deposit of faith given by Jesus Christ to the Apostles and passed on in the Church from one generation to the next without addition, alteration or subtraction. Holy Tradition is transmitted to the Christian from Christ’s Apostles both by word of mouth and in writing (II Thess. 2:15, 3:6). Vladimir Lossky has famously described the Tradition as “the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church.”  It is dynamic in application, yet unchanging in its doctrine. It is growing in expression, yet ever the same in essence.

Unlike many conceptions of tradition in popular understanding, the Orthodox Church does not regard Holy Tradition as something which grows and expands over time, forming a collection of practices and doctrines which accrue, gradually becoming something more developed and eventually unrecognizable to the first Christians. Rather, Holy Tradition is that same faith which Christ taught to the Apostles and which they gave to their disciples, preserved in the whole Orthodox Church and especially in its leadership through Apostolic succession (Jude 1:3).

The central position in Holy Tradition is occupied by the Holy Scriptures, the written witness to God’s revelation in the Church. As such, the Scriptures are always interpreted from within the Tradition which was the context for their writing and canonization, a process which lasted until the 4th century (367 AD is the year in which we see the first list of the 27 books we now know as the New Testament).