Sermon – The Sunday of Orthodoxy 2019
The First Sunday of Great Lent
By V. Rev. Timothy Baclig
March 17, 2019
The First Sunday of Lent, the “Sunday of Orthodoxy”, is an annual reminder to all of us how Christ is at the center of our Orthodox worship. This Sunday we Orthodox Christians reaffirm and recommit ourselves in our confession of faith in Christ and His saving work. The hymns and prayers of this Sunday echo three related themes:
1. The expectation of the prophets and righteous people for the coming of Christ spoken of in the Old Testament. (as hear, in this morning’s epistle). It is also something heard in the prayers of St. Basil the Great who’s Liturgy we celebrate this morning. (p. P. 136…Thou didst send forth prophets; thou didst perform mighty works by the Saints who, in every generation, were well-pleasing unto Thee… And the fullness of time was come, Thou didst speak to us through Thy Son Himself… who being the… Express Image of Thy Person… (He who was) God before the ages, (who) appeared upon the earth and dwelt among men, taking on the form of a servant and becoming conformed to the fashion of our lowliness, that He might make us conformable to the image of His glory…
2. We hear the theme of Christ’s coming, that is, the real presence of Christ in history (the “incarnation”); His presence with us today in the church, and in our personal lives. …becoming a dweller in this world, and giving commandments of salvation. He released us from the delusions of idols, and brought us into a knowledge of Thee, the true God and Father,… While no man has seen God, we now know Him as someone who became Man. He said: He who has seen Me, has seen the Father (John 14:9). Christ, is therefore the visible image of the Father and we are images, or icons of Christ.
3. We hear the theme of joy shared by all of us in the Church in confessing, proclaiming, and glorifying Christ and His Lordship over all. In the Synodikon we declare that …This is the faith of the Apostles …the faith of the Fathers …the faith of the Orthodox …the faith that founded the universe!
The persons depicted in the images are cherished and important to our lives if they are a visible part of our own personal prayer life. The saints depicted in the holy icons are real people, like us, and share as members of our families if they are among our collection family photos and images. But not only as religious artifacts, but images that are with personal meaning; a deeper reality of the life of those depicted. Some of them handed down from our parents and grandparents who worshipped with them. Their faith becomes our faith insofar as it is lived and not just proclaimed as our own.
Second, the icons of Christ and all His Saints—the Virgin Mary, the Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, and Fathers—remind us that we all belong to one family of God. God worked patiently and lovingly through these men and women in history to open the gates of the His Kingdom for us. The story of the Bible and the story of the Church is the story of Almighty God working through His people with grace, forgiveness, truth, love, and salvation. It is a story of faith, a celebration of faith, a song of faith, a triumph of faith amidst trials and sufferings. And the story continues in every land, every parish, and every Christian family today! God continues working in our midst, gathering His people into His Kingdom. The past examples and heroes of the faith are one with us and we belong to each other. God unites us all in Christ by the grace of His Spirit.
Just as we express our Christian faith by means of bread, wine, water, and music, so also we express our faith through icons. Icons are symbols, not idols. Icons are venerated, not worshipped. When we venerate icons the honor is directed to Christ or to the saint depicted on the icon, not to the wood, paint, or colors of the icon. The power of icons is not mechanical or magical, but spiritual. It is a working of God’s grace in the act of a personal expression of faith and through the intercessory prayers of the saints who live in God’s glory. Icons teach us about Christ and His ministry, as well as about the saints and their record of faith. As sacred art, icons are windows to heaven: they help us to realize a “new and transfigured creation”, the triumph of Christ over Satan and the renewal of the fallen world. In the words of St. John of Damascus: The icon is a song of triumph, and a revelation, and an enduring witness to the victory of the saints.
These images are important to us because they not only serve as reminders of our heritage, just as family photographs provide us with the remembrance of our loved ones. Holy icons are one other means of expressing spiritual realities and truths beyond words spoken or written. Ironically, icons help us to focus upon the unseen reality of the Kingdom of God in a way that raises our hearts and minds to the presence of God and all who have been saved and are alive by virtue of the Resurrection.