To the glory of God Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory Forever!
Today we commemorate the restoration of the Icons that took place at the 7th Ecumenical Council in 787. Prior to this Council Icons had been declared Idols and therefore were not allowed to be used or created. Many of the images from those early days had been destroyed, although some were saved by hiding them in various places. Today, on this first Sunday of the Great Lent, we remember that day and reaffirm our belief is what is Orthodox. At the close of the Liturgy we will recite the Synodal Affirmation of Faith, which is found in the bulletin. Tonight we will gather with Orthodox Christians from all over Worcester County to celebrate this feast day.
As Orthodox we know that we do not worship the wood and the paint of the Icon for if we did that would indeed be an Idol and would have no place in our worship. Saint Basil the Great said, “The honor shown to the image passes to its prototype.” By honoring the image portrayed in the Icon we show honor to the prototype or who it is in the image. We Orthodox surround ourselves with Icons. At St. Mary’s Albanian Orthodox Church in Worcester there is not one flat surface in the church that does not have an Icon on it. Our temple here is adorned with Icons that assist us in our worship, and by venerating the paint and wood we are indeed venerating the very face of God.
Imagine a point in time in history when Icons were illegal. Imagine a point in time in history when all of the Icons you see here in our Church would have been confiscated or in some way desecrated. That point was prior to the 7th Ecumenical Council. But the controversy goes much deeper than that. The controversy surrounded the very nature of Christ. Was Christ truly human and truly divine? Was He human and divine from the very beginning or did this combination happen at another point in time in history?
History tells us that the Emperor Leo the 3rd declared that Icons were graven images and therefore should be outlawed. The government was telling the church how it was to worship! It was not until the Empress Irene in 780 came along that Icons were restored. Then it started up again between 815 and 843 until Empress Theodora ended this nonsense for good. I find it amazing that it took to women to smack some sense into people!
But what about veneration of other Icons or images? What about the veneration of the image that is found in humanity? We are so quick to defend the images displayed here made of wood and paint but we are not so quick to defend the Icons made of flesh and blood. You see each created person, each human man and woman is a living Icon created in the image and likeness of the creator. Every human being, Christian or not, is that living Icon, the image of the prototype and when we venerate them we honor the very creator.
We live in a society that does not place a very high value on human life at any point along the spectrum of that life. We have more laws governing the treatment of animals then we do the treatment of people. Poverty, hunger, torture, war, unemployment, abortion, euthanasia, discrimination all of these show dishonor to the image and therefore show dishonor to God.
Our Orthodox Church, from the very beginning of its history, is pro-life. We may disagree when life begins, be it at conception or attachment, but we hold that all life is sacred from its very beginning to it natural end. This is not a theology that we came upon lightly; we came upon this theology due to the fact that the very image of the creator is contained in its creation from the start.
Although our church has been, and please God, always will be, some people in our church feel that it is okay to honor politicians who hold contrary positions to that of the Church. Some of our Orthodoxy organizations give seats of honor to these, so called, Orthodox politicians who have the highest rating by the pro-choice advocates in our country. It is not easy to get the 100% rating from NARAL but we have Orthodox Congressmen and Women who have obtained that very rating and they are proud of it! The sad part is some in the church remain silent when these, so called, Orthodox Christians vote the way they so. Priests will commune them, knowing they are in a state of grave sin, bishops will have their photos taken with their arms around them and Organizations like the IOCC will honor them all because it will bring in money! We have sold our faith for 30 pieces of silver and we show dishonor to the very image of God!
Friends we live in desperate times. We live in times where people only care about what they want, and want it on their terms. Oh they will call themselves Orthodox but it has to be on terms that they decide. We live in a society where life is worth nothing, where pepper spraying someone in Wal Mart for a pair of sneakers seems to be the sport of the day. Where we care more for the latest gadget then we do for fasting and praying. Where our job has become our religion and Sunday has become just another day of the week to do whatever we want to do. We fill our bodies with man manipulated food and we are killing ourselves, and by all of these things we are showing dishonor to the creator, we are showing dishonor to God. We might as well take all of these Icons in this church outside and smash them on the ground!
Friends it is time for to wake up. It is time for us to take the blinders off. Recently I spoke about some changes the Government was trying to force down our throats. One of the best things to come out of this was how it united not only Christians but all people of faith to fight for what is right. For a short period of time, over this one issue, we were united and we were able to push back, not far enough, but we were able to push back. Our bishops, very reluctantly, joined in on this fight. They had to be publically embarrassed in order for them to take a stand for what is right. I find this completely incomprehensible that the bishops of our church would stay silent while the church was coming under attack.
I have spoken a lot about one of our former priests here at St. Michael Fr. Vasilachi. Many of you sitting here today knew him and knew what he went through in Romania. Fr. Vasilachi, and many more like him, were thrown into prison for speaking up for those who had no voice. He spoke against the government of his day because of what was being done to the people and for that he spent 18 years in prison and was forced to leave his home. He watched his brother die in prison for speaking the truth about what was going on. The new Saint Andrei Şaguna, who our Ladies Society here at St. Michael is named after, was a revolutionary and stood up against the government of his day, he is now honored in Romania as a saint and as one of her greatest heroes, and there are thousands more that we will never know. They stood up for what is right and we must do the same thing!
I say all of this to remind us that when we remain silent, when we give in on a position of our faith even a little, when we say it is okay when Orthodox politicians disgrace the faith with their votes, when we say it will never happen to us, we do all of those who gave their life for the faith a disservice, we dishonor their memory and dishonor all that they fought for. It is time for all of us to wake up!
Great Lent is a time for us to take stock of our lives. I will be honest and say that when I see the destruction this past week it makes me stop and think about the things that are important. I know these things are not due to God’s wrath, but it does make me stop and think about what we are doing and where we are headed. Is this some kind of a sign? Is this a reminder from God?
When you come forward at the end of Liturgy today and venerate these Icons, when you venerate you’re Icons at home, think about how you show veneration to the Icons of flesh and blood. Do you show more veneration to these man made Icons then you do for the God made ones? Something needs to change!
We venerate Your most pure image, O Good One, and ask forgiveness of our transgressions, O Christ God. Of Your own will You were pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh to deliver Your creatures from bondage to the enemy. Therefore with thanksgiving we cry aloud to You: You have filled all with joy, O our Savior, by coming to save the world. (Troparion of the Sunday of Orthodoxy)
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!