Here is the second excerpt from the upcoming book Following the Holy Fathers: Essays on the Patristic Tradition by Protopresbyter Theodoros Zisis translated and edited by Fr John Palmer (my husband). God willing, it will be published in the near future.
The Significance of the Fathers
Before proceeding any further, we must make it clear that the Fathers of the Church – those wise, holy teachers of the Orthodox faith – are not the product of some by-gone age; they are not a thing of the past. This is a claim of some importance since many contemporary Orthodox theologians (under the influence of the views of non-Orthodox scholars) believe and teach that what makes an ecclesiastical writer a ‘Father of the Church’ is the mark of antiquity; he must have lived in some ancient time. In this manner the indivisible history of the Church is divided up according to quality and spiritual depth; as if the Church is not Christ Himself, extended unto the ages of ages; as if the Holy Spirit has ceased to direct the Church during particular periods (such as our own) and to produce saints, teachers and theologians. On the contrary, the Church ever continues on its path in the world unbroken and not diminished in quality; it continues in its work of sanctification through Christ, its holy head, and through the All-Holy Spirit, who remains eternally and continually in it, who, according to the hymn from the feast of Pentecost, “…makes prophecies flow, perfects priests, taught the unlettered wisdom, revealed fishermen to be theologians, welds together the whole institution of the Church.” Saints and Fathers arise even in our own day. Are not Saint Kosmas the Aetolian, Saint Nektarios, Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite (and so many other contemporary saints along with them) to be considered ‘Fathers’?
On what, however, is this claim that the Church Fathers are so significant and important for us today based? Firstly, they are equal to the Holy Scriptures in weight and authority. Though we in the Orthodox Church honour the Holy Scriptures as is fitting, we do not consider them to be the exclusive source of the Church’s teaching and practice. The Holy Scriptures are undoubtedly God-inspired texts but they were written within the context of the Church’s life and experience: it is the Church which passed final judgement on the books of the Bible, determining which amongst them were to make up the Canon (i.e., the body of both the New and Old Testaments). The Church created the Holy Scriptures, not the Scriptures, the Church. The teaching of Christ and the Apostles is found in the New Testament in written form and it is in this that they are unique. The whole of their teaching is not contained in the texts of the New Testament, however; these contain only a portion. Since the work of Christ and the Apostles has never ceased, nor has it even been interrupted, what falls outside of this [written] portion is preserved by the Church in her Tradition. By means of the uninterrupted apostolic succession realized through the mystery of the priesthood, the Saints and the Church Fathers were empowered by the Holy Spirit to continue the work of the Apostles and to preserve and safeguard the tradition of the Church. It is for this reason that the Orthodox accept the Holy Scriptures and the Tradition of the Fathers together, thus denying the one-sidedness of Protestantism which recognizes the Holy Scriptures alone (sola Scriptura): “The preaching of the Apostles and the teachings of the Fathers,” as the Church sings. The robe of Orthodox Theology is spun from these two strands.
The Fathers are also useful, indeed necessary, for our times since they are the best interpreters of Holy Scripture. The texts of the Scriptures are not normal, man-made texts and therefore standard philological apparatuses will not suffice in helping their would-be interpreters to understand them. Just as the chorus of heretics misunderstood and misinterpreted the Scriptures, having such confidence in their intellectual and philological prowess, so too will one who approaches these texts relying on this knowledge alone. You might come to some understanding of external aspects of the texts through philology – albeit with great difficulty – but you will not be able to penetrate their spirit. The Fathers of the Church were themselves masterful philologists, even greater than many ‘giants’ of the philological world. They understood the Holy Scriptures, however, because they lived within the same spiritual climate as those who wrote them; they lived within the Holy Spirit-filled atmosphere of the Church. The Fathers are able to interpret the Scriptures correctly, to draw near to their spirit, not only because ‘like better understands like’ as the old adage says, but because they are illumined and directed by the same Holy Spirit who illumined and directed the authors of the holy texts.
Modern hermeneutics (in particularly academic or ‘university’ hermeneutics) had ignored the Fathers of the Church, having been blinded by the big names of non-Orthodox scholarship (Bultmann, Cullmann, etc.), and thus often misunderstood and distorted the theology of the New Testament, twisting it in unorthodox directions. There are no better, more sound, interpreters of the Holy Scriptures than the Fathers. Who can rival Saint John Chrysostom as interpreter of Saint Paul, for instance? Chrysostom penetrated so deeply into the inner meaning of Saint Paul’s writings that he is considered to be the mouthpiece of Paul, just as Paul is in turn considered to be the mouthpiece of Christ. Such is the spiritual closeness shared between the two. If Paul had spoken the Attic Greek dialect of Chrysostom, observes Saint Isidore of Pellesium, he would have interpreted his own writings exactly as Saint John Chrysostom has interpreted them. It is through knowledge of the Fathers alone, therefore, that we become capable of unlocking the treasures of the Holy Scriptures and making their wealth and saving teachings our own.
The Fathers are also the ones who shaped the Church’s dogmatic teaching in their writings by means of their participation at the Ecumenical Councils and are thus its most authoritative interpreters. What is more, they are responsible for the shaping of our truly sublime Orthodox worship with its wealth of services and hymns. Orthodox worship is the worshiping expression of the truths of the faith; it is here that the Holy Fathers succeeded in uniting the immaterial and the sensible, the created and the uncreated, the heavens and the earth, time and eternity. The influence these services have exercised – and continue to exercise on Christians and non-Christians alike is well documented. Many, like our Russians brothers, have been attracted to Christianity as a result of the impression left on them by the splendour of Orthodox worship.
Also, to this very day the Fathers remain prototypes and patterns of the Christian life; they not only taught [the Faith] but also applied Christian teaching in practice. Words are easy: it is putting them into practice which is difficult. One proves the truth of what he teaches only by living it. Many great philosophers, scientists and teachers (both of the past and present) have failed to leave their mark on humanity because of the obvious variance between their words and actions. Many of these – outside of the Church at that – prove unable even to change themselves; how, then, will they transform others? While they remain mired in their passions and vices, the Fathers of the Church prove themselves great teachers and spiritual directors, having fulfilled the words of Christ, “…whosoever shall do and teach them [the commandments], the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heavens.”
The greatest contribution of the Fathers to contemporary man, however, is their preservation of man’s true character. They present us with authentic humanity; man as he ought to be. Who could possibly doubt that today’s man has done harm to the human image; that he has ceased to truly, authentically, be human? Every day our newspapers and other means of information bring us face to face with our sorry condition in all its dramatic dimensions; they provide us with some harsh facts: that we lack love and sympathy, they also tell us of suicides and the dead ends of loneliness and of stress (and all this in an era which boasts of its technological achievements and scientific progress). The value of the human person has been reduced to nothing and it has become exceedingly difficult for a person to guard within himself those characteristics which make him genuinely human. The Fathers of the Church teach that to be human does not mean simply possessing external human characteristics, that is to say the form and appearance of a human, nor does being human require one to possess wisdom. A true man, rather, is he who has acquired virtue; he who has cultivated himself inwardly, spiritually. “This, after all, is when a man becomes human, when he practices virtue.”
 Translated from his book Epomenoi tois Theios Patrasi (Thessaloniki, 1997). 22-26.
 In addition, the bounds of ‘antiquity’ are determined by scholars with criteria differing according to their historical and confessional biases.
 From the idiomels at Vespers for the Feast of Pentecost. (ed.)
 From the Kontakion for the Sunday of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council. (ed.)
 For example see Saint John Chrysostom who was so skilled with language that when his former teacher, the great pagan sophist and rhetorician Libanios, was lying on his deathbed and was asked who should take his place he is quoted as having said: “It would have been John, had not the Christians taken him from us.” See Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, VIII, . (ed.)
 Concerning the relationship between Saint Paul and Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Isidore of Pellesium writes: “I think that if the Divine Paul had wished to expound his own writings, he would not have spoken otherwise than this famous master [i.e., Chrysostom]; so remarkable is his expression for its contents, its beauty of form, and propriety of expression.” Quoted in Moore, Herbert. ‘Introduction’ in The Dialogue of Palladius concerning the Life of St. John Chrysostom. trans. Herbert Moore (New York: Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, 1921). (ed.)
 In Nestor’s Primary Chronicle, we read that Saint Vladimir sent out emissaries to evaluate the religions of the surrounding nations. Upon their return, the emissaries gave the following report: “When we journeyed among the Bulgarians, we beheld how they worship in their temple, called a mosque, while they stand ungirt. The Bulgarian bows, sits down, looks hither and thither like one possessed, and there is no happiness among them, but instead only sorrow and a dreadful stench. Their religion is not good. Then we went among the Germans, and saw them performing many ceremonies in their temples; but we beheld no glory there. Then we went on to Greece, and the Greeks led us to the edifices where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot forget that beauty.” See Nestor, ‘Vladimir Christianizes Russia’ in Medieval Russia’s Epics, Chronicles and Tales. Serge A. Zenkovsky (ed.). (New York: The Penguin Group, 1974). 65-70. (ed.)
 Matthew 5:19. (ed.)
 Saint John Chrysostom. Homilies on Genesis. 23. . (ed.)