WHEN “TRADITIONS OF OUR FATHERS” GO WRONG
(Sunday, October 22)
“…And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.” Gal 1:14-19)
And here is another, quite *un-traditional* for Orthodox Christianity, I would say, moment in the New Testament: St. Paul stresses the dis-continuity of his vocation with the “traditions of his fathers.” God separated St. Paul from them and from many in his own “nation,” as He had separated him from his “mother’s womb,” calling him not through any of the people Saul had known or studied under, nor even through those who were Apostles before him. Apparently, nobody, no “flesh and blood,” was equipped at that point to help Paul be formed anew, to un-learn what he had known thus far, that he might “preach Him among the Gentiles.” He was too firmly rooted in the “traditions” that had strayed from God’s grace and purpose at the time, even though they were based on (human interpretations of) the Scriptures, so it was only God’s grace and new purpose for Paul that could liberate him from their baggage.
Can the “traditions of our fathers” stray from God’s grace and purpose? Yes. Because our “fathers” can stray from Our Father, as fallible human beings can. Fallible human beings can stray from God’s concerns and purposes by other concerns and purposes, like those of our “nation” or other contemporary idols. This is the case in my own, beloved Russian Orthodox Church today, when some of its “fathers” distort Scripture in order to justify nationalist ideologies that promote waging war and acts of terror in their name. Let us be attentive, and re-connect with Our Father in heaven, that we may be liberated from their baggage, and move forward by God’s grace and ever-new purpose for us in this world and beyond.