Sunday of Orthodoxy

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: By God’s grace, we have ended a week of intensified prayer and ascetical repentance. Now, today, the Holy Church wishes to comfort us, and has given us a great spiritual celebration in this first Sunday of Lent – the Triumph of Holy Orthodoxy. His Holiness Patriarch Methodius first performed this celebration in the year 842 in Constantinople in the presence of the Blessed Empress Theodora in memory of the overthrow of the heresy of iconoclasm.

Many times throughout the history of the Church, the evil one has exerted all of his strength to overthrow and destroy the Church of Christ, in order to hinder the salvation of men; and he continues to exert his feeble will in our lives, especially during seasons of intensified repentance. We have all experienced persecution of some sort as we have tried, with God’s help, to make a good effort during the first week of the Lenten struggle. As soon as we make an effort to do something good, the holy Fathers say we will be under fire from all sides. It is the same with the Church of Christ; it never ceases to be under fire from all sides, however today we celebrate the triumph over this struggle! There were those who claimed that the holy icons were no different from idols, and that they should be removed from among the people. These were so-called heretics who tried to pervert the true teaching of Christ concerning faith and piety in order to make this teaching ineffective for men. At this time, Bishops came together, and through the Holy Spirit, they gave voice to the pure and undistorted Truth. They cut off heretics from the Church and anathematized them. And why did they do this? They did this to preserve the truth of the Church, and by doing so, they preserved the way of repentance for the people of God, for all of us.

You see, dear brothers and sisters, because the teaching against the icons is a teaching against the heart of the Orthodox faith, it would affect each and every one of our spiritual lives personally. For, if we cannot honor the pure image of the saint, then we cannot honor the true high calling of our goal here on earth. And our goal here on earth is to be enlightened by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and to experience communion with God, through repentance. Icons of the saints are reminders of all those who followed Christ, who are faithful and devoted to Him, who burned with love for Him. Veneration of the holy icons is veneration of the glory of God, and the glory of God is to be made manifest in each one of us. This is what we are attempting to accomplish, by God’s grace, during the Lenten season – that is, to make manifest the glory of God in each one of us by prayer, fasting, almsgiving and ascetic labor. Saint Theophan the Recluse tells us, that as leaders of the churches, we pastors should encourage the faithful during this Lenten time, for there are many temptations, and just as those who run in the stadium need the vocal support of their fellow contestants, so fasters need the encouragement of their teachers.

And, so dear brothers and sisters, this is a good time to remind all of us to use this time especially to abstain from every evil, as our godly fathers have explained. As we continue on the rest of our Lenten journey, let us strive to abstain from despondency, idleness, jealousy, and self-indulgence, because really brethren, who will give us back this time, if we lose it? As Saint Dorotheos tells us: “Really, even if we look for these days again, we will not be able to find them.” Dear brothers and sisters, this Lenten time is so very short, and our repentance so great. We all have experienced the torment that comes along with being a slave to our passions. Yes, we get what we want, or what we think that we want, but at the end of the day, when we face God in our conscience in the nighttime, perhaps during our prayers, or as we lay in our bed, we feel the pain that accompanies pleasing ourselves. And, so now, we have this time of the Lenten experience, which some of the Fathers call a “storm-free harbor”. And we know exactly what that means. We are given this time to become free again – free from being slaves to our passions, so that we may find true peace, and fulfill, by our efforts and by God’s grace our true potential, which is to become bright and clear Icons of God. So, in our reverence of the icons, let us be reminded that we acknowledge the reality of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ; we affirm the essential goodness of God’s Creation; and we show our respect for the heroes of the faith who show us what is possible for us to attain in our own journey of faith, if we are willing to share with them in the Orthodox way of life - struggling to overcome our passions with virtues, little by little, just as water dripping daily on a rock makes an indentation after many years.

And, let us remember dear brothers and sisters that though our outward man is perishing, the inward man is hopefully being renewed day by day. And if it is being renewed, it is being made beautiful according to its original beauty, in the image and likeness of God. And as we celebrate this Sunday of Orthodoxy and the restoration of the icons, let those who are depicted in the icons remind us how many intercessors we have always praying for us before God, and how many allies fighting for us in our daily battles. For those depicted in the icons have courageously fought the enemies throughout their lives and overcome them.

May this holy feast of our Church, the Sunday of Orthodoxy, instruct us and inspire us all in our Orthodox Christian Faith, and raise us to honor the incarnate Son and Word of God, His saints, His people, and one another, who are all living icons of the glory of God. Amen.

-- Fr. Dimitri Perez