This is not a judgment on Holy Tradition, just an observation.

It is inevitable that when discussing tradition, you have to distinguish between what is actually tradition and what people believe is tradition, and even the degrees of tradition. There’s Holy Tradition, and then there’s ecclesiastical tradition, and a lot of times outside observers mistakenly project Rome’s dogmas and definitions onto Orthodoxy.

But it’s important to note that not everyone defines tradition the same way. Tradition in Roman Catholicism is dogmatically defined by the magisterium, while Orthodoxy and the Oriental Orthodox define tradition as “that which has lived on in the life of the church.”

In short, Rome says, “This is tradition because we say it is; we may not have always said it this way, or this strongly, or in this developed a sense, but we maintain it’s tradition of apostolic origin. We just haven’t quite said it this way before, because we didn’t fully understand it in the same sense as we do now.” The eastern churches say, “This is tradition because it is what we have always believed, since the apostles. There’s no need or mechanism (outside an ecumenical council) to define it further.”

(I realize I’m using caricatures, and assuming a doctrinal unity that isn’t always there in either instance. Many Catholics also make the mistake of assuming that they are essentially doctrinally the same as the Orthodox.)

Both give props to an apostolic tradition, but approach it from different directions, or at least one of them takes it two steps further.

And that’s an important distinction to make.

(I think if both are going to make their claims of apostolic tradition, they need to be able to prove them.)

But then there’s ecclesiastical tradition, the non-dogmatic stuff that can still divide.

The Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox could, for the most part, reunite; most of their theologians agree that their disagreement at Ephesus was largely semantic. The problem, however, is the 1,500 years of different ecclesiastical tradition that followed, leading to a few instances where saints the Oriential Orthodox venerate were anathematized by the Orthodox; and as one (secular) commentator put it, people in the east have long, long memories.

These are all terms that need to be defined when having a Protestant-Orthodox discussion.

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