Here something I wrote elsewhere recently... rather than trying to reinvent the post I'll just repost it here...
Do the Orthodox follow the traditions of men?
Jesus rebukes Pharisees a number of times for placing the traditions of men over the will of God (Matt. 15:3; cf Mk. 7:8 ). Sts. Paul and Peter do as well (Col. 2:8; Tit. 1:14; 1 Pet. 1:18) Yet to take these verses in isolation, without considering them in the context of the rest of Scripture, would be a mistake. I would argue that these verses don't condemn all traditions of men, but only those that lead someone away from God.
However, before we can speak of traditions we need to speak of authority--that is, who can come up with these traditions? I think anyone can be part of a new tradition (or new take on an old tradition) starting, but only certain people have the authority to validate it. All in the Church are cells in the theanthropic body of Christ (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 4:12), "church of the living God, the pillar and ground of fruth" (I Tim. 3:15). Yet it is the apostles and prophets who are the foundation of the Church (Eph. 2:20). It is true that, ideally, we would all have one mind in Christ (1 Cor. 2:16; cf Phil. 2:5; 1 Pet. 4:1), but things are rarely ideal.
That's why there are specifically appointed leaders in the Church, who act in times when decisions must be made (Acts 15, 21). Even Paul, for all his boldness, went at first only to the leaders of the early Church when wishing to converse on things of faith (Gal. 1:18-19; 2:1-10). St. Paul even went so far to say that: "I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain." (Gal. 2:2) Thus even someone given the Gospel and revelations by God thought it necessary to check with the Church to make sure he was on the right course.
Jesus Christ spoke of this authority when he said, in the Gospel of John: "And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained." (Jn. 22:23) So to do we find mentions of this authority in the rest of the New Testament, such as when the author of Hebrews said: "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you." (Heb. 13:17)
It is with this authority that the Church can validate that a tradition is godly, though this is not always done explicitly. Often a tacit acceptance is enough. And if the tradition leads the flock astray, the Church deals with it, modifying or abolishing the tradition. Since the early days the Church kept to customs and ordinances (1 Cor. 11:2; 1 Cor. 11:16), and Paul even seems to link faithfulness to traditions with salvation: "Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work." (2 Thes. 2:14-17)
St. John Chrysostom, commenting on this passages, says that: "it is clear that they did not deliver all things by epistle, but many things also unwritten, and in like manner both the one and the other are worthy of credit. Therefore let us think the tradition of the Church also worthy of credit." (Homily 4 on Second Thessalonians)
As St. Vincent of Lerins and others have observed, tradition also serves the role of helping people avoid inaccurate interpretations of Scripture. However, tradition does not provide an infallible protection in this role, but rather is part of a system of checks and balances that works, over the course of time and through many different people and mechanisms, to sift the sands of thought and practice so that only the real and helpful and truthful remain.
In this way, tradition is a living out of Scripture, and Scripture is a manifestation of tradition. Tradition is the passing on of, and a manifestation of, that which is Godly. And we do not merely follow tradition, but rather we are a part of tradition ourselves, being the most recent link in a chain that stretches back nearly twenty centuries. Tradition is not dead, but living--it lives in us each moment, moving through time. Nor is tradition rigid or confining--unless the will of God requires rigidity or boundaries to be set.
With that in mind, even the most recent practice or modification in Orthodoxy, if it is not against the will of God, may be a new piece of fruit on the living tree called Tradition. Tradition is not simply the past or ancient fruit, then, but the fruit from all ages which has been beneficial for salvation, produced from the tree that God planted on earth, his Church. Now if any tradition separates you from God, you shouldn't follow it... yet if God is guiding the body of Christ, then you can trust that it will guide the Church into customs and practices which help people attain salvation.