Orthodox America

  Holy Fathers

Last month I explained that Christ's Church had Holy Fathers from the very beginning; the first Holy Fathers were disciples of the Apostles themselves, and for this reason we should listen to what they have to say. Each subsequent generation was adorned with more Fathers. Ail of them taught only that which had been. carefully handed down to them from the previous generation. Why are these Holy Fathers so important? Because they teach us important things about Christ and salvation.

You see, our Saviour never asked His Apostles to write anything. He Himself delivered His teaching by word and example. And so, when the Apostles began to preach, they did so at first by word of mouth; it was not until at least eight years after our Lord's Ascension that some of them began to write the narratives and instructions that came to be known as Gospels and Epistles. And it was not until 300 years later that the actual canon of Scripture was established in one book--The Bible--as we know it today. Any history book will show you this, by the way; it's just a point of history. 

But even if, in the first century, there had been one single book called "The New Testament," you and I might have been among those that could not read! (In fact, this was the case with most Christians at that time.) And even if we could read, we might have had only certain parts of Scripture--perhaps the Psalms and a letter from St. Paul You can see how we certainly wouldn't have been able to hold "Bible Study" classes !

So, how could we have come to saving knowledge of Christ? We could only have learned the Truth through the preaching of the Apostles and their successors. We would have been taught by means of the spoken word, not the written word. We would have heard the word of God and made it ours by actually living it. This is what St. Paul meant when he instructed Christians to "Stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by our word or our epistle" (II Thess. 2:15). And this is why one of the Holy Fathers, St. Basil the Great (+379) wrote: "Of the doctrines and injunctions kept by the Church, some we have from written instruction (i.e. the Scriptures), but some we have received from Apostolic Tradition, by succession in private."

Christ never intended His Church to be founded upon a book, No, His Church rests upon our faith in Him. But of course we know that the Bible testifies of Him. And so do the Holy Fathers who not only helped to preserve the Scriptures by copying them and handing them on, but also wrote many letters and sermons of their own, commenting on the Word of God and explaining it, as well as teaching us things that had not been written by the Apostles but only passed on by word of mouth.

Next time I would like to explain how the Holy Fathers help us to understand the Bible.

Sincerely in Christ, Fr. Alexey Young