The Image We Project

Clergy gathered for the Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers
Clergy gathered for the Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers

Saturday night, the Churches of the Worcester Council of Orthodox Churches gathered at St. George Cathedral in Worcester to commemorate the great feast day that we celebrate today.  Like countless others before us, we gathered to remember the great victory of the Church over the devices of the Evil one when the Icons were restored.  Countless numbers of people gave their lives in defense of something that most of us take for granted, thousands gave their lives to protect the images of Christ, the Theotokos, the Apostles, and the Saints, and it is a shame that more people could not stop their busy lives to remember a very large part of our Church.

It may be difficult for us to believe, but there was a time when it was illegal for Churches to display images on the walls and on the Icons screens in their churches.  It was illegal for individuals to possess an Icon on their person or in their home, and for some the penalty was death.  Icons play a vital role in our Orthodox worship, much like statues play in the Church of the West, we do not worship the image, but what the image represents, and it is unfortunate that we do not venerate these images more.

But we cannot talk about the restoration of the images made of wood and plaster and paint without speaking of the restoration of the images made of flesh and blood.

We all know the story, we read it this past week in the daily readings that are proscribed by the Church, our first parents were cast out of the garden.  Last Sunday, we remember this expulsion from the garden and how our first parents were exiled from paradise and how their image was stained, not because of a piece of fruit or because of a serpent, these are just excuses, but because they willingly turned their back on God.  They made a choice to follow their own will and not that of God and for that they were cast out.

After that life was not easy for humanity.  Read the Old Testament to find out just how hard life became and still is for humanity because of the desire to follow our own will and not that God.  The image of humanity that was created in the very image and likeness of God was tarnished, blackened if you will, by sin because of a single choice and a single action, pride.

But we know that the story does not end there, we know as resurrection people that it did not end with the expulsion from the garden and this commemoration today is not just about the restoration of the images we call icons, but it is a reminder of what is to come.

Our entire journey here on earth is for one purpose, and that is to restore our broken relationship with God.  Sure, it has become fashionable today to talk about I’m okay you’re okay and that it is only sin if someone gets hurt, but that is heresy and always has been.  We are not okay, we are broken and in need of healing, the healing that comes to us through the Church and from God.

Orthodoxy has a certain world view, we have a certain way we look at things and that is supposed to guide us in how we think and make decisions.  Several weeks ago we heard in the Scriptures about the man who came to Jesus and asked Him what he had to do to enter Eternal Life, and Jesus response was love God and love neighbor.  In other words, love of the creator and the creation.  This is the Orthodox world view, and it must influence every decision and every thought that we have.

For most people,  love of God is the easy part it is the love of neighbor that is difficult.  How do we love someone who continuously hurts us and scorns us and casts us aside?  How do we love someone who continuously uses us for their own benefit, and then when they have used us up, they cast us aside?  It is not easy, but we do not have a choice in the matter we MUST love them whether they return that love or not.  When we carry a grudge, they only person we are hurting is us, and our relationship with God, and we tarnish the image of God that we were created to be the image of.  God is love, so we have to be that love.

How do we see others?  How do we see our fellow human beings?  Do we see them as Icons of Christ, as human beings created in the image and likeness of God or do we see them as things?  Do we use labels when describing people, like; homeless, deadbeat, lazy, liberal, conservative, criminal, illegal immigrant, addict, terrorist, or do we see them as human beings that were created by an all loving God?  Do we see them as their label or do we see them as Icons?  Our Orthodox world view does not allow us to see our fellow human beings as anything but that, our fellow human beings.

I am a huge fan of the PBS series Downton Abbey.  Many of you watch the program but for those of you who don’t it takes place at the turn of the 20th century in England in an extremely large manor house with the family living above the stairs and the servants living below the stairs.  Live below the stairs was not all that bad, but the lesser servants were supposed to be invisible to the family, for the most part their names were not even known to them.  If they were working in a room and a family member came in they were to scurry out without saying a word.  Imagine a human being being invisible to another.  If you think about it it is not all that hard to imagine.

When we have an opportunity to help those in need, when we have an opportunity to help those who have reached out their hands to us, and we slam the door or slap their hand away, that person is invisible to us.  We see them as things and not as Icons of Christ.

Jesus Christ came to this earth not to save governments or nation states, Jesus Christ came to restore the image of humanity.  There are very few times that Jesus directly addressed what the government of the day was doing, and he told those who were listing to render unto Caesar.  He did not tell the government to treat the people better nor did he eat with them.

Jesus left us with a way of life, and that way of life is built upon love, love of God and love of our fellow human beings.  These days that we spend in Great Lent lead us to the ultimate act of Love, Jesus giving His life for us on the Cross.  Did he have to do it?  Could there have been another way?  Sure, but Jesus chose to come to earth in the form of man, not the form of the ruler of man, but of a lowly peasant who did not even have a place to lay his head at his birth, and he was killed as a common criminal, and He did all of that for one reason, the restoration of the image of God.

So yes, today we commemorate the actions of the fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Council the restored the use of Icons, but we also need to think about how we treat, and how we think about the image of those around us.

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