With the New Year comes promises of personal renewal, the New Year’s Resolutions we may or may not keep much past January 15th. We cast off the old in praise of the new, promising ourselves to look forward rather than back. We leave the past behind and imagine new, improved versions of ourselves. In popular culture for at least the last hundred years, “Baby New Year” has been one of the main visual images for the new year. We “ring in the new year” and celebrate newness and novelty untethered from the past.
From our modern standpoint, nothing could be further from the energy of newness than staid and stagnant tradition. Tradition is often described as the unchanging past. Tradition is stubborn—imagine Tevye of Fiddler of the Roof singing “Tradition!” in response to every change, personal or political, occurring around him. Tradition argues for the past over the future, for stability over change.
This vision of both novelty and tradition is profoundly at odds with the way the Armenian and other Orthodox Churches have conceived of tradition, and with it, the very fabric of time. Today, on New Year’s Day 2019, in lieu of our usual longer introduction to the treasure-troves of the Zohrab Information Center, we will have a short meditation on renewal and tradition, pointing you to a few places to read further about the beautiful Orthodox conception of tradition. As we ring in the new year, we can perhaps also renew our thinking about one of the greatest sources we have: Tradition.
|The Vindication of Tradition||Adapted from a lecture given by Jaroslav Pelikan, an eminent scholar of Christian history and the Christian tradition, this small book introduces and defends a positive notion of tradition.|
|Liturgy and Tradition: Theological Reflections of Alexander Schmemann||A collection of writings by the noted Orthodox Christian theologian (and professor at St. Vladimir’s Seminary), on Orthodox Christian tradition as it relates to the liturgy. At St. Nersess.|
|After Virtue||A classic study in “virtue ethics” by the noted scholar Alasdair MacIntyre. In the text, MacIntyre develops a useful social-scientific definition of tradition. At St. Nersess.|
In an earlier post, we defined tradition as “those doctrines and practices of the Body of Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit, in praise and service of God the Father.” Tradition, we continued, “in Armenian Avantutyun, is a central concept in all the ancient Christian churches, especially the Orthodox Churches. The corporate body of Jesus Christ rightly guided by the Holy Spirit, gathered together to praise God is the Church.” If tradition is being rightly guided by the Holy Spirit, then the Church is fundamentally held together by tradition. The first thing to notice about this definition of tradition is that it is active and dynamic. It guides the Church and holds it together. Tradition is not static or inert, but rather is constantly active and constantly renewing the Church.
Such a conception of tradition as active and renewing is also closer to an Armenian and Orthodox conception of renewal. As we are in the season not only of the new year, but of Christmas, we can look to the Nativity, to the Incarnation—God become human, coming into the world—as the ultimate renewal. We call Christ the “new Adam” who renews all of Creation. This is not newness simply for the sake of newness, not a second creation starting from scratch, but a reinvigoration and renewal of all that God had already made. Jesus comes into the world as it is, He meets us as we are, to renew and remake us in His image. Cyril of Alexandria makes the point beautifully: Jesus Christ saved us “as God who has come in the likeness of those who were in danger, so that in him first of all the human race might be refashioned to what it was in the beginning. In him all things became new.”
Renewal then, is not newness for the sake of novelty. Likewise, tradition is not simply the past for its own sake. Taken together, this means that tradition is constantly renewed through the Holy Trinity as an active and present force in our lives. We are renewed when we become “refashioned” to what we were “in the beginning.” Holy Tradition, the treasure trove of the Church, helps guide us in the constant renewal of becoming better icons of our Lord and Savior.
Happy New Year!
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