16 Mar

“…the liturgical traditions of the Church, all its cycles and services, exist, first of all, in order to help us recover the vision and the taste of that new life which we so easily lose and betray, so that we may repent and return to it. … It is through her liturgical life that the Church reveals to us something of that which ‘the ear has not heard, the eye has not seen, and what has not yet entered the heart of man, but which God has prepared for those who love Him.'”   ~ Alexander Schmemann

I have always loved the opening of Fiddler on the Roof.  In it, Tevye speaks about tradition.  Tradition that keeps people in the proper place in the family.  Tradition that defines roles.  Tradition that preserves the community.  Tradition!  It is tradition that will find itself challenged and potentially shattered in the musical.  The end of the opening song, Tradition, finds Tevye stating, “Tradition. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as a fiddler on the roof!”

Schmemann reminds us that our liturgical traditions are just as important as Tevye’s traditions in Fiddler.  Our liturgical traditions help us to look back, way back, to the life and prayer of the early Church, a life and prayer that connects us throughout the ages.  Immersed in the world of today, we are often tempted to ignore or drop the traditions of old.  Doing so imperils us because we end up being like a boat on the sea without a rudder.

The rudder of our boat is tradition.  Our traditions steer us and keep us on course.  Our rudder corrects our course when we are blown astray by the winds or drift astray by the currents.  However, if we reach down, rip the rudder off, and throw it into the sea, we will never get to our destination.  We will end up adrift forever.

I’m aware that I’m writing in rather dire terms; yet, it is so.  We have to remember that we are living in a world tainted by sin and that the world can never give us the direction that we need.  The world wants us to adopt its traditions and be led by them.  They will get us nowhere when it comes to the Kingdom of God.  At the same time, the traditions of the world will make us believe that we are making progress, so perfect are its illusions and distractions.

We do not have the rich traditions of the Church for no reason.  They have existed for this long — two thousand years and counting! — because they offer solace and comfort as well as challenge and direction.  They remain true to their mission to get us to the Kingdom of God.  They cannot lead us astray because they are rooted in the Lord.

The choice belongs to each and every one of us:  accept the traditions that are rooted in the world or accept the traditions that are rooted in the Lord.  Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  I wish it were.

FAITH ACTION:  Make sure to include the rich Lenten traditions — fasting, almsgiving, praying the Stations of the Cross, scriptural reading, et cetera — into your Lenten journey.