Tradition? After many centuries of writing and printing, and now of computers, laptops and i-pads, we find it all but impossible to understand that Tradition was, originally and only, oral.
forty days teaching
“After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” [Acts 1:3] What did He teach? In the early (earliest!) Church there was a well-known tradition of oral Tradition, which in the 4th century came to be called the “disciplina arcani”, which mainstream theologians believe contained liturgical details and certain other teachings.
basil the great
“Of the dogmata and kerygmata, which are kept in the Church, we have some from the written teaching (εκ της εγγραφου διδασκαλιας), and some we derive from the Apostolic tradition, which had been handed down en mistirio (εν μυστηριω). And both have the same strength (την αυτην ισχυν) in the matters of piety. […] They come from the silent and mystical tradition, from the unpublic and ineffable teaching.” [St. Basil “ de Spiritu Sancto” 66]

A couple of years ago I was invited give a paper on “The Secret Tradition in the Coptic Orthodox Rite” at a seminar in Sydney. It considered the (now virtually defunct) oral tradition of ritual instruction (including “The Forty Days” of formal ritual training for the new Coptic Priest). I concluded: “The Coptic Orthodox Church provides, albeit in tragically diminishing form, a rare opportunity to see a living manifestation of some of the secret traditions of earliest Christianity. Within the Church itself there is, very sadly, not the slightest interest in the history and development of its liturgy and the subject is of such obscurity that few outside scholars have shown the interest – or the diligence – necessary to pursue the subject. The full , complex, complicated ritual tradition of the Coptic Liturgy – the secret tradition – is slowly fading into obscurity as fewer and fewer teachers remain who can properly teach it, and fewer and fewer young Priests appear who have any interest in learning it.” The real Coptic oral Tradition now probably continues only in the oldest and most conservative (“fundamentalist”?) Monasteries. I will be forever grateful that I was trained by the former Abbot of such a Monastery.

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