“Removed from the stream of Sacred Tradition, the Scriptures cannot be rightly understood through any scientific research”

For the Staretz [St Silouan] the life of the Church meant life in the Holy Spirit, and Sacred Tradition the unceasing action of the Holy Spirit in her. Sacred Tradition, as the eternal and immutable dwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Church, lies at the very root of her being, and so encompasses her life that even the very Scriptures come to be but one of its forms. Thus, were the Church to be deprived of Tradition she would cease to be what she is, for the ministry of the New Testament is the ministry of the Spirit ‘written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stones, but in the fleshly tables of the heart’.

Suppose that for some reason the Church were to be bereft of all her books, of the Old and New Testaments, the works of the holy Fathers, of all service books—what would happen? Sacred Tradition would restore the Scriptures, not word for word, perhaps—the verbal form might be different—but in essence the new Scriptures would be the expression of that same ‘faith which was once delivered unto the saints’. They would be the expression of the one and only Holy Spirit continuously active in the Church, her foundation and her very substance.

The Scriptures are not more profound, not more important than Holy Tradition but, as said above, they are one of its forms—the most precious form, both because they are preserved and convenient to make use of. But removed from the stream of Sacred Tradition, the Scriptures cannot be rightly understood through any scientific research.

If the Apostle Paul had the ‘mind of Christ’, how much more does this apply to the whole body of the Church of which St Paul is one member! And if the writings of St Paul and the other Apostles are Holy Scripture, then new Scriptures of the Church, written supposedly after the loss of the old books, would in their turn become Holy Scripture, for according to the Lord’s promise God, the Holy Trinity, will be in the Church even unto the end of the world.

Men go wrong when they set aside Sacred Tradition and go, as they think, to its source—to the Holy Scriptures. The Church has her origins, not in the Scriptures but in Sacred Tradition. The Church did not possess the New Testament during the first decades of her history. She lived then by Tradition only—the Tradition St. Paul calls upon the faithful to hold.

Elder Sophrony of Essex

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8 Responses to “Removed from the stream of Sacred Tradition, the Scriptures cannot be rightly understood through any scientific research”

  1. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Archimandrite Sophrony, Saint Silouan, the Athonite, pp. 87-88.


  2. I would have to agree.

    “the Scriptures cannot be rightly understood through any scientific research”

    How many people have we seen trying to grasp their own idea from God through scientific research? And failed? Loads. Protestants, agnostics, atheists, etc.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      An ongoing problem remains for us (or at least me): how do we properly relate historical-critical readings of the Scriptures (which anyone, regardless of religious conviction, can do) with appropriate churchly readings of the Scriptures? I don’t know the answer, but I am confident that limiting ourselves to the former dooms faith and makes Christianity into a philosophy.


      • tgbelt says:

        I’m comfortable with that too. I don’t think we can just collapse the Church’s reading into historical-critical concerns (which really means just doing away with HC concerns). I mean, look at the historical-critical concerns at play in how even the Fathers are read today and the ongoing debates over what they really meant to say? The Orthodox don’t seem to treat the Philokalia or other non-canonical texts especially different. Historical-critical method works, even if the Creeds are an ultimate reference point, but even there what’s meant by the Creeds has to be argued/established by historical-critical method. Very interesting. But I also agree we can’t irrelativize (to coin a term) community and Creeds into absolute contingency in favor of the idea that each and every believer has the privilege (even duty!) to define Christianity for him/herself.


      • That’s why the creeds are necessary to establish the “in-bounds” orthodoxy of how we read scripture.

        Historical-critical theories can serve to explain better a situation in scriptures but it can never be the “be all end all”. It’s what the humanities (history, religion, philosophy, Biblical studies, etc.) are. There’s never “one theory” and that’s it.


  3. tgbelt says:

    Maybe I meant to say we can’t just collapse historical-critical concerns into the Church’s reading. I hope the point is clear.


    • tgbelt,
      Don’t forget how many scholars who follow the historical-critical methods never agree with each other. Michael Licona, Raymond Brown, N.T. Wright, John Dominic Crossan, Richard Baukham, Paula Frederiksen, Bart Ehrman, James Dunn, and Larry Hurtado et. al.


  4. Pingback: Elder Sophrony: Sacred Tradition is the Eternal and Immutable Dwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Church «Enlarging the Heart Enlarging the Heart

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