Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Our Apostolic Tradition

The Orthodox Church has a rich treasure that has been kept through generations by our faithful fathers and mothers who have struggled to the point of bloodshed in keeping the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. Our Coptic Orthodox Church especially has had a long history of Christian persecutions and does not to this day cease to bring forth martyrs who witness daily to the Holy Faith. It is easy to forget their struggle amidst our relativistic societies in which we live in, where it doesn’t matter what the Truth is, but rather what your opinion is on the Truth.  It is no longer one concrete truth but one among many. We may easily get caught up in this delusion and may even start adapting other ideas or theologies about God and the world believing that everything is the same but manifested in a different form. However, the Apostles who have preached the Gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth did not hold this belief and saw things very differently. This treasure that the Church has is called the Apostolic Tradition, the holy Tradition preserved within the Church through Apostolic Succession.

The Lord Christ after His resurrection has commanded Peter His disciple to feed and tend His sheep. This is the role of the Apostles and their appointed successors, the bishops of the churches. The Tradition that is preserved in the Church is not a mere imitation of the past. It cannot be inappropriately understood as following a ritualistic meaningless ancient tradition that is no longer useful in our modern world. It is a faith that is delivered and received, a living faith because the Church is a living organism. It is the faith of so many generations that Christ taught His disciples the Apostles that was passed down to their disciples in successive generations through the guidance of the Holy Spirit who never leaves the Church to function on its own but through His presence who comes to bear witness to the Son just as the Son came to make known the Father.

Appointing successors who will diligently and faithfully keep the faith and deliver it to the Church is neither an innovation nor a later development in the Church. To get a clearer image we can look at how the Apostles functioned in the early Church. That great commission of Christ to His Apostles and that command of feeding the flock we see St. Paul preserving the teachings of Christ passed down to the Apostles tells Timothy the first bishop of Ephesus “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. “(2 Timothy 2:2). Also when Philip preaches to the Samaritans and the Apostles hear that they have received the word of God. They did not just rejoice in this and continue on in their preaching, rather they sent Peter and John who came and laid hands on them in order for them to receive the Holy Spirit. It was that important that they were sent in order for the Samaritans to participate in this Apostolic Succession that ensures that the Apostolic Tradition is kept and lived. Some may ask how did the Apostles look at the office of bishop, was it that significant? We can look at the example of how Peter and the Apostles found it necessary to replace Judas, to have another successor take his place and office. Because Judas shared in the ministry of the apostles, they found it necessary to find another successor, “‘For it is written in the book of Psalms, “Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it”; and “Let another take his position of overseer.” (Acts 1:20). Through our analysis of Apostolic Succession as found in these Scriptural examples, we can conclude that the Apostles found it necessary to appoint successors that will hold fast to the faith and make sure that their disciples do the same and teach that precious faith.


  1. Although I am a Roman Catholic priest I am still very much united with the Eastern Church and most especially with the Orthodox Church. What we have in common is more important than anything that should ever divide us. Let's pray that one day we can be truly united.

  2. Praying for unity Fr. Mark. I always learn from your spirit of unity and love.