The Coptic Church Tradition

COPTIC CHURCH TRADITION

THE MEANING OF "TRADITION"

The word "tradition," in Greek, as it is mentioned in the New Testament, is "Paradosis," which does not mean "imitation," but "delivering a thing and receiving it, i.e., delivering a deposit of faith and receiving it along the generations (Jude 3).

COPTIC TRADITION IN THE APOSTOLIC AGE

In the apostolic age, tradition was the only source of Christian faith, doctrines and worship. The Early Church received from Christ and the apostles a new understanding of the Old Testament. Through tradition, Christians accepted the books of the New Testament as the inspired word of God, before they were canonized by the Church. Tradition was the source of the Apostles' teaching (I John 1: 1; John 19:35, Luke 1:2; Acts 1:21,22). The Apostle Paul considered what he received from the Church through tradition as if received from the Lord Himself (Gal. 1: 7; 1 Cor. 11: 23). By tradition, the church practised the active new life in Christ.

COPTIC TRADITION AND THE HOLY SCRIPTURES

The Holy Scriptures in fact are a part of the Church tradition. The tradition in its essence is declaring the word of God by various methods. For tradition concentrated on the apostolic teaching. The appearance of the books of the New Testament did not cancel the tradition, but these books command us to preserve the tradition (2 John 12; 3 John 13:14; 1 Cor. 11:34; Titus 1:5; 2 Thes. 3:16; John 21:25; 2 Cor. 11:23).

TRADITION IN THE APOSTOLIC AGE OF THE COPTIC CHURCH

In the apostolic age, tradition was the only source of Christian faith, doctrines and worship. Its role in the Church life of that period preserved the unity of understanding the Holy Scriptures throughout ages, so that no believer interprets them according to his own will. Origen states: "The true disciple of Jesus is He who enters the house, that is to say, the Church. He enters it thinking as the Church does, and living as she does; this is how he understands the word. The key of the Scriptures must be received from the tradition of the Church, as from the Lord Himself.

THE PRESERVATION OF CHURCH TRADITION

Church tradition in faith, worship, behavior and practical life was delivered to us through the decisions of the Ecumenical and local councils, the patristic writings and also through the practical life of laymen who played a vital role in delivering the spirit of the new life to us throughout generations.

CHURCH TRADITION AND THE PRESENT LIFE

Tradition does not mean "rigidity," but giving attention to the past as a basis for the present, and to the present as a basis for the future. Tradition is the mystery of church growth and vitality and not of rigidity. We have to understand tradition in its spiritual depth and theological basis and not in holdingfast its literality without understanding.

When the Church of Alexandria preached to Ethiopia, she offered her the living Church tradition, but did not oblige the Ethiopians to accept the Coptic traditions in their details. We have to distinguish between tradition as a general Church thought and the traditions which concern the local churches. For example, Ethiopia accepted the tradition of using liturgies in her worship but did not use the same texts in their literality. She accepted the spirit and the general frame of the liturgies. Ethiopia also accepted tradition of venerating icons but she used her own art and not the Coptic one. Thus the Coptic Church offered Ethiopia the essence of her tradition but not its details. Therefore if we preach to a foreign country, we have to present the Orthodox Church Tradition without obliging them to accept a certain local thought. This is what happens today as the Coptic Church preaches to Africa, and Kenya for example.

THE CHURCH TRADITION AND PERSONAL LIFE

Some believe that preserving the Church tradition means canceling the personality of every member of the Church in his relationship with God, his understanding the Holy Bible and in practicing worship. The Orthodox Church believes in the moderate way without any exaggeration, for she holds fast the church tradition that organizes the church life, clarifies the principal concepts of worship and reveals the spirit of the Holy Bible without canceling the personal relationship of every member of the church with his Savior. Besides the personal understanding of the Bible, and enjoying freedom, the Orthodox Church sanctifies the church thoughts as a community and at the same time appreciates the personal life of every member of the Church.