To: Clergy and People
From: The Bishop
12th February, 2018
Ash Wednesday 2018
Ash Wednesday is the First Day of Lent, this year it is on Wednesday 14th February. It is an important part of our Christian tradition and heritage, which has helped to mold, shape, nurture and keep us in a deep and abiding relationship with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It reminds us that we are creatures, that we have limits and how important it is for us to acknowledge this, for if we don’t we’ll find ourselves far removed from God and the ways of God. May we be ever conscious of what Christian Traditions like Lent help to instill in us, keep us on the right track and to make healthy and right choices.
See you in Church on Ash Wednesday for the imposition of Ashes on your foreheads: Remember O Man that: “Thus Thou Art And Unto Dust Shall Thou Return.” I implore you to observe a Holy Lent, participate in the activities, services and programmes in your parish.
It was Georges Florovsky, in his book Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View who said that he would not isolate himself to his own age.
His comment is quite insightful, because isolating ourselves to our own age is what many Christians are doing today. We are unaware, ill-informed and unschooled with regards to our spiritual heritage. We have excise, detach and cut ourselves off from our spiritual heritage and foundation.
Therefore many Christians are not advancing, furthering, or benefitting from what the Church has been, what the Church has said, or done. We are not building on the solid foundation that has been laid, we are treating with scant regard the years of prayer, study, revelation, reflection, devotion, faithfulness, and sacrifice exercised by our spiritual fathers and the energies expended and meticulous care with which they maintained and defended Holy Tradition, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We are behaving and acting as though the Church did not exist until we came into existence as thought history begins and ends with us. So for some the Ancient Church, the Church of the past is irrelevant and insignificant. For many it is as though the Church ended in Acts 28 and did not reappear until the sixteenth century, or not until the twentieth century.
The point I am making here is that many of us have cut ourselves off from what the Church has called Holy Tradition. This has weakened and has radically distorted our concept of the Church. My brothers and sisters in Christ, it is Holy Tradition that keeps us connected with the past. Without it we cannot be like the early Church, without Holy Tradition we cannot have a solid foundation, we cannot be thoroughly rooted and grounded in our faith. Holy Tradition provides a credible and solid foundation for us today as we seek to relate the gospel to our present reality and as we seek to give guidance to people and respond to issues. It keeps us in tuned with the mind of the Holy Spirit, which never contradicts itself.
Many of us see tradition in a negative way as the Reverend Dorraine S. Snogren has said in an article entitled Holy Tradition the road that leads home:
“I recognize, however, that for many, Tradition has a lot of negative associations. It speaks of man-made rules and regulations; of things antiquated, irrelevant, and formalized; of quaint ideas suited best for a museum. It speaks of a restrictive adherence to the past that handicaps our freedom to pursue the fresh breeze of God’s Spirit. But possibly most damaging is the assumption that Tradition speaks of things that Jesus forthrightly condemned. People erroneously equate Jesus’ condemnation of the “tradition of the elders” with the Church’s Holy Tradition. They fail to see that those human precepts were substitutes for the Gospel, while the Church’s traditions are the very framework that opens the Gospel up to us.”
“We commonly think of tradition as something handed down to us from the past. Christian Tradition is that, but much, much more. Holy Tradition has to do with the Faith which our Lord imparted to the Apostles and which, since Apostolic times, has been handed down from generation to generation in the Church. It is that understanding and those practices, which have been tested by a long time and were permanently lasting.”
Tradition, has to do with a body of material, a common understanding, an accepted way of interpreting and dealing with the Faith.
Since the days of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ there began developing a body of truth, a particular understanding of the divine activity and Church leaders from the time of the Apostles were given to preserving and building on that sacred “tradition.” So the Apostle Paul could say “stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (II Thess. 2:15). “I commend you,” Paul says to the Corinthian believers, “because you . . . maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you” (I Cor. 11:2).
1 Corinthians 11.23:
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread. We know that St. Paul was not present when our Lord instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion. It was only the twelve who were present – Yet he speaks of handing on what he had received from the Lord. Holy Tradition.
As Saint Vincent of Lérins has said with regards to the early Church in the matters of faith: “We must hold what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.”
Or as St. Athanasius has said:
“Let us look at that very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the very beginning, which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers preserved. Upon this the Church is founded.”
The Church Fathers were passionate for the truth, and in defending the Faith they appealed to the tradition or mind of the Church, to that Faith which had been once delivered and faithfully kept.
So we have Saint Irenaeus (ca. 130–215) writing of Polycarp:
“But Polycarp also was not only instructed by Apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by Apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried (on earth) a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the Apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true.”
Some Christians find it difficult to relate Tradition to Scripture. This leads them to put Scripture above the Church. Which suggests that the Church was made for the Scriptures/Bible, the truth is Scripture/the Bible was made for the Church. It is important to note that the Bible and Tradition are not two different expressions of the Christian faith. Holy Scripture originates from, has its origin in Tradition. Tradition is the source of Holy Scripture. The Bible is given to us in Tradition. Holy Scripture is a written expression of Holy Tradition.
The message in Holy Scripture was not given to men in writing. God’s Word was first presented orally and only later written down. Holy Scripture forms part of Holy Tradition. The Bible is part of Christian Tradition.
(Luke 1:1-3) “Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first,* to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,”
Tradition was never regarded as adding anything to Scripture; it was the means of ascertaining and expressing the true meaning of Scripture. Tradition, therefore, is the true interpreter of Scripture. Tradition is Scripture rightly understood. So St. Paul could say:
1 Corinthians 15.3:
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.
Paul was zealous for the traditions of his ancestors this passion for tradition was brought over into his new life in Christ. Paul understood the importance of tradition in one’s life.
Many of us have failed to acknowledge this and so have cut ourselves off from what the Church has called Holy Tradition. This has weakened and has radically distorted our concept of the Church. My brothers and sisters in Christ, it is Holy Tradition that keeps us connected with the past. Without it we cannot be like the early Church, without Holy Tradition we cannot have a solid foundation, we cannot be thoroughly rooted and grounded in our faith. Holy Tradition provides a credible and solid foundation for us today as we seek to relate the gospel to our present reality and as we seek to give guidance to people and respond to issues. It keeps us in tuned with the mind of the Holy Spirit, which never contradicts itself.
The importance of tradition is not limited to the church or to our spiritual lives, for it applies to every aspect of our existence. As it is said a people who do not know their past, their history, their heritage, their tradition is a people most to be pitied.
In whatever sphere of human endeavour, tradition is imperative – whether in the field of medical science, law, psychology, matters of the state, government, political science, sports, languages, technology, economics, literature, education, music, culture or human and social development. In every discipline it is necessary for us to be aware of what the founding fathers said and did. If we are to undertake or pursue any programme, plan of development or activity in one of the areas mentioned above it is necessary for us to be aware of the history, tradition, and heritage of these particular fields of human endeavour. Otherwise we will be building houses not on solid ground but upon the sand.
In our society some years ago we understood how important it was for us to live in community. In the village we supported, cared for and looked out for each other. The whole village or community nurtured and molded a child or the children who lived there. This is part and parcel of our tradition, heritage and history as a people. However, in contemporary society, which focuses on modernity, innovation and trendiness we have isolated, removed and cut ourselves off from our tradition, heritage and history. Many are not aware of our past, tradition, heritage nor history. We have thrown away the baby with the bath water. Therefore, indiscipline festers and abounds. If we look at the age of those who are involved in most of the crime and violence in our society they are young men.
The good news is that there is still a large sector of our nation who are aware and knowledgeable of our traditions, heritage and history. There are those who are working assiduously to transform, alleviate and prevent the current trends. The good news is that like St. Paul who was once a persecutor of the Christian Church, there is the hope of redemption, forgiveness and new life. The good news is that there are several young men and women who are making their rightful contribution to this nation and beyond, yes there are those who make us proud. The good news is that there are those who like St. Paul are passionately researching, preserving, maintaining and defending our tradition, heritage and history.
There are those who are ensuring that as a nation and as a people we are in tuned with our past and are building upon a credible and solid foundation.
The point I am making here is that many of us have cut ourselves off from what the Church has called Holy Tradition. This has weakened and has radically distorted our concept of the Church. So worship is no longer about loyalty to God and God’s Church rather it is about what is in it for me. It is about entertainment and self. In general terms because we do not have regard for tradition it is no longer loyalty to country, no longer loyalty to community, no longer loyalty to school or family rather it is loyalty to self, loyalty to me, that’s all that matters. So loyalty to political party comes before loyalty to country, and ill-discipline and deviant behaviour sows.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, it is Holy Tradition that keeps us connected with the past. Without it we cannot be like the early Church, without Holy Tradition we cannot have a solid foundation, we cannot be thoroughly rooted and grounded in our faith. Holy Tradition provides a credible and solid foundation for us today as we seek to relate the gospel to our present reality and as we seek to give guidance to people and respond to issues. It keeps us in tuned with the mind of the Holy Spirit, which never contradicts itself.
It is traditional Christian disciplines and practices like Ash-Wednesday and Lent that keeps us rooted and grounded in Holiness of life and Godly-passion. They help us to make right choices, to acknowledge our sins and short comings, to seek pardon and forgiveness and to lift up others when they are down. Thus enabling us to live together in community in harmony, fellowship, tolerance, respect for the other, love and peace.
Let us work together to preserve traditional Christian disciplines like Ash-Wednesday and Lent. See in Church on Ash-Wednesday!
Prepared by C. Leopold Friday
10th February, 2018