Our Traditions Are Scripture-Based

Our Traditions Are Scripture-Based


Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  John 12: 24  (From the Gospel of the Bridegroom Service on Holy Tuesday Evening) Second Sunday of Lent—St. Gregory Palamas 


Good morning Prayer Team!

What is a “Tradition” and where do our Traditions come from?

For instance, it is a “Tradition” that we fast for forty days before Pascha.  Why fasting?  Why forty days?

In Exodus 34: 27-29, we read:

And the Lord said to Moses, “Write these words; in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.”  And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water.  And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.  When Moses came down form Mount Sinai, with the two tables of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 

In His encounter with God, Moses prepared by fasting for forty days.

In Matthew 4:1-2, we read:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And He fasted forty days and forty nights.

Jesus was preparing for His ministry, and He fasted in order to do so.  Likewise, we are preparing for an encounter with the Lord, in the sacraments and services of Holy Week, so we also fast, and we fast for forty days.  Now, nowhere in the Bible do we read about Lent and Holy Week.  Those terms were created by the church centuries after the Resurrection to mark the time we commemorate the Passion of Christ, as well as the time we prepare for the week.  But the Tradition of fasting is itself based on scriptures, and universally accepted by the church.  That is what Tradition is—a practice rooted in Scripture, which is universally accepted and practiced by the Church.

Today’s verse of scripture is read on Holy Tuesday evening at the Bridegroom service.  And from this verse of scripture comes our Tradition of boiled wheat, or kolyva, which is used at memorial services.  In the Orthodox Church, it is the Tradition to offer a memorial service when someone passes away.  The service is done forty days after someone has passed, because the day one falls asleep in Christ is like their personal Resurrection.  And forty days after the Resurrection was the Ascension.  This is why the interval is forty days.  In order to do this service, the faithful boil wheat, which we call kolyva, and this is what is offered during the service.  This Tradition comes from the Gospel of John 12:24.

Entire books have been written on the Traditions of the Church and where they come from in scripture.  There is nothing dogmatic in our church that isn’t done without purpose, without scriptural “origin”, and without agreement by the entire church.  While the Bible doesn’t specifically say that we are to conduct memorial services on the 40th day after someone has passed away, the elements we use—the 40th day, the kolyva, and the prayers that reference “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” (John 11:25)—all of these are found in scripture.

There are people outside of the Orthodox world who claim to be “sola scriptura,” meaning that they only do things according to what is written exactly in the scriptures.  Some criticize our church for not being “sola scriptura” and having too many things based on Tradition and not scripture.  This is incorrect on two fronts—First, our Traditions are rooted in scripture.  And second, there is no church that is “sola scriptura”.  If a church has a gathering every Sunday at ten, and has ten pews on each side of the church, and a pulpit in the center, sings three hymns and then the pastor preaches for 30 minutes, none of these things are written in the Bible either.  What makes our church Orthodox is that we have our practices rooted in Scripture and they are universally practiced in something we call “Tradition.”

The grateful woman was ransomed from her sins through the saving Love of God and a fountain of tears.  Washed clean by her confession, she was not ashamed, but cried aloud: “All the works of the Lord, praise the Lord, and exalt Him forever.” (8th Ode of the Bridegroom Service on Holy Tuesday Evening, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas)

Keep up the Tradition of the “fast” today!


+Fr. Stavros


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About author

Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0