July 2011 Letter
Dear brethren, We are in the middle of the Apostles’ fast which will end on July 12th (5th of Abib), in commemoration of St. Peter and St. Paul.
Our Orthodox Church is an Apostolic Church, meaning that its faith is delivered to her from Christ Himself, according to His farewell commandment to the disciples:“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28: 19-20). The disciples and apostles placed this belief everywhere they preached, and each generation handed the next generation this faith till it has reached us today, as was expressed by the Apostle Paul to his disciple Timothy the Bishop to attend to and observe his life and education for the salvation of himself and his people: “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2: 1-2).
The importance of this apostolic oral delivery (what we call tradition) we know of two important facts:
1) That Christianity is different fundamentally from other religions: it is the life we live and practice and not a set of commandments, statutes, or external rituals.
2) That the oral tradition is the basis of Christian education and former of the Bible itself, moreover the Bible is part of the tradition that the church has handed over to us. For the first three gospels were not written till the sixties of the first century at a time when Christianity was spread in Judea, Samaria and the whole world, and new believers were learning Christianity from the oral delivery before a Holy Book was written. This is exactly what the Apostle Paul meant in his words to the Galatians about the Bible he preached, for he meant delivering the Christian faith and not the Bible printed in our hands which had not been written yet, “And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles” (Gal 2 : 2).
Tradition includes all the facts of the Christian faith, both recorded in the Scriptures of God or in the laws of the Apostles: delivered by the Lord to His disciples alive in their hearts and minds, and they delivered it to the new believers alive also in their hearts and minds as well, and this sequence extends to us today in the twenty first century as expressed in the liturgy “from generation to generation, and unto the ages of all ages.”
Thus says St. Irenaeus: “only the churches instituted by the Apostles can be relied upon to know the proper education of the faith and knowledge of the truth, because the uninterrupted sequence of bishops in these churches ensures that the teaching is right.”
Asking you to remember the church, priests, servants and all the services always in your prayers, and may the blessings of the Virgin Mary and our fathers the apostles and all the martyrs and saints, with all of us all.
Fr. Youssef Halim & Fr. Luke Istafanous
Belleville, July 1, 2011