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The Sunday of Orthodoxy

The Sunday of Orthodoxy

Sermon by His Eminence Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira and Great Britain Panorthodox Vespers at the London Serbian Church of St Sava, 28 February 1999

    Today we celebrate the spiritual and ecclesiastical victory of orthodoxy over the Iconoclasts who troubled, tormented the first Christian Empire, Byzantine Christendom, which had as its Capital the great City of Constantinople from its foundation in 330 AD until its Fall in 1453. Our Mother Church has dedicated the first Sunday of Great Lent, to Orthodoxy, to the Holy Icons, to those who spiritually, theologically and in practice protected, defended its teaching about the Holy Icons, the Holy Images, which were questioned by some Emperors and by other Christians of the Byzantine Empire in the eighth and ninth centuries. This great spiritual event affected the Body of the Church and the minds of the people not only in the Capital, but in the whole of eastern Christendom.

    As we enter Great Lent, the Church invites us to pray, to fight against the powers of evil, of darkness, to fast and exercise our spiritual potentialities and prepare our souls, minds and bodies in order to be ready to celebrate in spirit and in truth the great feast of the Passion and the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For the last 1156 years, the Orthodox Church continuously celebrates the events which took place in Constantinople on the 8-3-843 where the then Patriarch Methodios the Confessor, with the assistance of Empress Theodora, the wife of the Iconclast Emperor Theophilos, and her son Michael, convened a local Synod which brought back into force the decisions of the 7th Ecumenical Council of Nicaea of 787. At that Synod, it was decided that to honour the Holy Icons is not idololatry, but it is within the Praxis and Tradition of the Holy Orthodox Church.

    The Church distinguished between worship, which is given only to the Triune God, and the relative/comparative human, honorary reverence, that we offer to the Saints, the Mother of Jesus, our Lady Virgin Mary, the Holy Cross, the relics of the Martyrs and the objects used by Holy Men and Women in their earthly life, and all the Liturgical objects. The Church followed, in this respect, the teaching of St Basil the Great and that of St John of Damascus who was the main defender of the Holy Icons during the first iconoclastic period. They declared that the honour and veneration given to the icon is transmitted to the person depicted on the Icon. We honour the person who was sanctified by the Grace of God, by our Lord Jesus Christ, who humbled Himself, accepting human nature; who emptied Himself and became a Man in order to sanctify us, and cleanse us with Baptism and the gifts of the Holy Spirit sharing in the redemptive life; united with Him, we shall have a place in His Kingdom. The Fathers of the Church, the faithful, the Iconophiles as they are known in history, were right in their faith and conviction that they continued a very long and ancient sound Christian tradition; a tradition which was fully within the framework of the apostolic teaching. So, they fought a good and sacred fight against the Iconoclasts, who, in their heresies, in some way, denied the humanity, the incarnation of Christ, the Son of God, "Who for us and for our salvation became Man" in order to raise us to Heaven and make us sharers in and inheritors of the Kingdom of God. It seems that the enemies of the Holy Icons, had been influenced by the old heretics, like Arius and his successors who denied the divinity of Christ.

    Many people and students of the conflict about the Holy Icons, known as Iconomachia, - that is the struggle for the place of the Holy Images in the Church, - think up to this day that the Iconoclasts were influenced by Muslim and Jewish teaching, which, in accordance with the Commandments of Moses, does not permit the painting of Images of Holy persons. But they forget, or they don't understand, or rather they don't want to know, that Moses wrote more than 1500 years before Christ; that Moses wished to protect his people from Idols and Idololatry which was practised and prevailed in that part of the world, where they, the Jewish people came to live after their deliverance from the bondage of the Pharaohs. They were the only Nation, which believed in one God, they believed in the living God revealed to them in various ways from Abraham, their forefather, up to Moses, to whom God revealed himself and gave the Ten Commandments.

    Now, after the coming of Christ, we worship the Triune God, Who was revealed in the person of Christ, the Son of God, Who became Man. He willingly accepted human nature, human flesh, to save Man. So, when we paint the icon of the image of Christ, we paint a real person, we paint and proclaim His humanity. We don't paint something which doesn't exist. The same applies when we paint a holy person, man or woman; we paint real persons, who offered a witness in their lives and their spiritual struggles, to the message of the Gospel. They are living witnesses of their faith and followers of Him who left for us an abiding example to imitate.

Unfortunately, the Iconoclasts and their followers, up to this day, confuse these things. They insist on calling us Idololaters, forgetting, or refusing to recognise that when we paint Christ, we declare His humanity, we remind ourselves that Christ is one of us as St Paul says in the letter to the Hebrews: "ch. B, 13-18). The importance of the Holy Images is unique. It is not only an object for veneration and honour, it is also an open book, which is read so easily by the faithful in their spiritual exercise to approach and understand and know better the mystery of our salvation, which "has been known to us in these days". As we try to learn about our faith, we need always to see, to touch, to read, to hear, to worship and share in the life and the world of Christ, being a man, and His friends who dedicated themselves and in many ways offered sacrifice for His glory, for His sake, for His love.

    The role of Iconography in the orthodox Church is theological, apocalyptic, dogmatic, didactic and it is interwoven and in some way existentially connected with Salvation and its spiritual future. The Holy Icons manifest a celestial world which has an eschatological character. In a way expressing the Beauty and Holiness of the Divine. On the other hand, the Church, the ark treasuring and safeguarding the message of Christ in our planet, in the whole Creation, always protected and respected the activities of Man: the arts, music, science, education, painting, poetry, architecture and all these important sacred functions which distinguish Man from the rest of the living world. Not only do we respect them but we also use them for the Glory of the living God. He inspires us to do such wonderful things which help us to see and approach the unseen and the unapproachable. We are educated in the Mystery of Divinity and the world God created and entrusted to us. It seems that the Iconoclasts were, in some way people, who were against progress. They assumed, as some fanatical Christians and other religious groups, do, that artistic activities are against God. They stick to the letter of the Law of God and not to the spirit of the Word. The Iconophiles, supported progress and in that way not only did they support the tradition of the Church, but they opened a new window promoting the redemptive work of Christ.

    Christ being Himself the Logos, the Word of God who created the Cosmos, adorned the Creation with all that we see and do not see; with God's Grace, we enjoy then and share the beauty of the world with Him and all the other creatures. For this reason we must protect the Creation, everything created by Him, visible and invisible. In some way, Man is the priest who celebrates the Eucharist and prays always for the sanctification of the whole world. He also invites all Humanity to praise the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who in the last times was revealed through His Son, who created the world. In addition, Iconography is the art of praising our Lord, who sanctifies us all with His Humanity; it is a continuous unsleeping glory and hymn which glorifies His name, it teaches Man the mystery of our Salvation and it reminds us of His Providence and Mercy, sending down to earth His only and beloved Son to preach the good news, that is His love and concern for us all.

The struggle for the position and the importance of the Holy Icons in the Service of the Church it was a spiritual movement which tormented the Great Church of Constantinople and the whole Byzantine Empire for many years. It was a movement which was an existential event of Byzantine Christianity, and as such must be seen; for this reason it continues to be studied by theologians, historians, artists and students of Byzantine Civilisation. It remains a spiritual event of immense importance and influence.

    To this day, no conclusive answer has been given regarding its cause and the factors which have created it. But whatever its origin, the result of the victory of the Iconophiles and the triumph of the Holy Icons and their use in the life of the Church, was the creation of a unique art, which enriched humanity with work which we continue to admire and study. It is a real sacred art which endures and survives all changes and ephemeral fashions up to this day. This sacred art offers to many joy, peace, inspiration, education and uplifting to the world of God in such a way as to fulfil its spiritual diversity and help us to ascend to the Heavens. The feast of Orthodoxy is also a blessed commemoration of those who fought for the Holy Icons, who died for the Holy Icons, who wrote in the defence of the Holy Icons and those who painted the Holy Icons, of students of this unique art, and of all those millions and millions of faithful who see in the Holy Icons a blessing, a way to feel the presence of the Triune God and the lives of Our Lady, of the Holy Martyrs and of the Saints who have been worthy to serve the cause of the Gospel of our Salvation for the Glory of the Incarnate Son of God and His Rising in Glory from the Dead.

    In the Service of the feast of Orthodoxy, (the feast of the Victory of the Church, the feast of the Holy Images), we read among other hymns, the following: "The Church today rejoices, because of you loving Lord, who are the Bridegroom and its Creator. You have redeemed the Church from the deception of Idols, You have redeemed us with your blood. And now, we glorify and praise You in manifold ways". The hymnographer declares: "By nature beyond description in your divine being, you became flesh, 0 Master., in the last times, making possible your depiction: for by taking on flesh you took on all its distinctive properties. Therefore, we are able to depict your outward likeness and to be raised to your love by fitting veneration of it: we draw the grace of healing from it, following the divine traditions given by the Apostles".

    So, today we celebrate not a victory in human terms, we celebrate an event which played an important and unique role in our faith and the advancement of spirituality of Humanity for almost the last 2000 years. And its influence continues inexorably to the present day. The spirit of the Service of the Day of Orthodoxy is a spirit of celestial proclamation of hope and trust in God; it is joy for the renewal of the Church and its teaching after so many sacrifices and struggles: In that triumphant way the hymnographer writes: "As a most precious adornment did the Church of Christ receive the triumphant restoration of the holy and venerable icons of Christ the Saviour, of the Mother of God and of all the Saints. Rejoicing and glorified by their grace she can now drive away the horde of heretics and joyfully glorify the God who loves mankind, who for her sake voluntarily endured the passion".

    Concluding this short sermon on this Holy feast of Orthodoxy and having celebrated the traditional Holy Orthodox Vespers let us repeat with our Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council the following words:

"For those who sanctify their lips through speech, those who hear the word, for those who know and preach, for those who in the same way sanctify the eyes that see the venerable Icons, as their minds are also lifted up in order to know God, in the same way as with the sacred churches, and the consecrated vessels, and the other treasures. Memory eternal.

    The Prophets as they saw, the Apostles as they taught, the Church as she received, the Teachers as they decreed, the Oekoumene as she has agreed, grace as it shone, truth as it has been proven, the lie as it has been dismissed, wisdom as it has spoken frankly, Christ as He was rewarded; thus we think, thus we speak, thus we preach Christ our true God, and His Saints we honour in words, in writings, in thoughts, in offerings, in Churches, in Icons, on the one hand worshipping Him as God and Master, and revering Him, while, on the other hand, we honour and bestow due reverence on those the true servants of the same Master".

    To Christ, our Lord who became Man and brought to Humanity the good News and gave us the spirit of sanctification and salvation; to the Risen Christ who glorifies us all with His victory over the Powers of Darkness and Idolatry; To Christ who guided and enlightened our forefathers to make the Holy Icons for His Glory and our spiritual and intellectual education and knowledge of His Holy Name, to Him belongs all Glory and worship and honour now and for ever and unto the ages and ages. Amen.

ORTHODOX HERALD

OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF THYATEIRA AND GREAT BRITAIN, JANUARY – FEBRUARY 1999, No.: 124-125

Περισσότερα σε αυτή την κατηγορία: « The Ten Commandments, St John Chrysostom, »

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