Habemus Altare

Unlike the Roman Catholic church which maintains that interpretive authority is the prerogative of the church’s Magisterium, Orthodoxy holds that interpretive authority belongs to the church in its historical entirety. This is the “conscience” of the church or “Holy Tradition” which includes, first and foremost, the Scriptures, then the seven ecumenical councils, the writings of the Fathers, the canons of the church, the liturgy, iconography, etc. Whereas the Roman Catholic Church tends to view Scripture and Tradition as separate sources of revelation (two source theory), Orthodoxy sees Tradition as an organic whole (one source theory) which includes Scripture. Tradition, then, functions as the hermeneutical lens through which we understand the Bible. It is a safeguard against the kind of free-for-all interpretation that permeates many mainline churches today. When approaching Scripture, it is better to trust the collective wisdom of the ages than the myopic vision of contemporary individuals or groups.

One cannot help but to hear, in all of this, echoes of historical Anglican theology which organically unites “Scripture, Tradition, and Reason” over against the tendentious voices of modern Biblical revisionism. And let us not forget the Oxford Movement which appealed to the Vincentian canon (from Vincent of Lerins, c. 434) as a criterion for interpreting Scripture in matters of essential faith and practice: Faced with numerous conflicting interpretations, we hold fast to that which has been “believed everywhere, always, by all” (often summed up in the formula, “universality, antiquity, consent”).

But the greatest seduction of Orthodoxy for some Anglicans is its worship. In the liturgy, according to Orthodox theology, we are raised with Christ to the heavenly sanctuary where, along with the saints and angels, we enter into the Holy of Holies to participate in the mystery of redemption and worship in the presence of God (see Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:2; Heb. 12:22). This is the destiny of the church and the genius of the Orthodox liturgy. Though the Byzantine liturgy developed over several centuries, it is intentionally based on the heavenly worship described in the book of Revelation and on Isaiah’s celestial vision (see Isaiah, chapter 6). Even the architectural design of the church and the use of icons are intended to be a microcosm of heaven, in which the worshipper stands in the presence of saints and angels (see Heb. 12:1, 22-24).