Most Reverend Fathers,
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The first Sunday of Great Lent is dedicated to Orthodoxy, which is understood to mean the right teaching about God who is one in Essence and three in Persons, as well as the right worship due to God. Established by the Synod of Constantinople in 843, the Sunday of Orthodoxy proclaims the truth of the Christian Faith as opposed to heresy, which truth is also expressed through the honor that is fitting to icons.
The Synod of 843 reaffirms the teaching of our faith regarding the relationship between the icon and the person represented in it, as well as the difference between adoration, which rightly belongs only to God, and veneration, which is fitting and proper to the saints and the holy icons. “The honor shown to the icon passes over to its prototype, and the one who venerates an icon venerates the person pictured in it,” said the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council held in 787 in Nicaea. The teaching of our faith regarding the reality of the Incarnation of the Word, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, is also reaffirmed through the veneration of icons. St. John the Evangelist bears witness, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). And also the veneration of icons is a witness to the Savior’s Sacrifice and Resurrection: Sacrifice as redemption from sin and Resurrection as victory over death. For the image of the person whom we honor in the icon is the image of God restored in man. The veneration of the icon of the Savior leads to the veneration of the icons of the saints, those who have put grace to work in their lives and revealed to us, through their illumined and deified countenance, the transfigured world of the Kingdom of God. This revelation of the saints in icons is also a means of communion of the faithful with God and with His saints that are represented in icons.
The Sunday of Orthodoxy is a blessed opportunity for us to discover the icon and its significance. And when we venerate the Savior’s image in an icon, let us not forget that this image can also be found in the face of our suffering neighbor. Our Christian brothers and sisters are suffering in many places in the world. In Syria and in other places, Christians are being persecuted by non-Christians; in Ukraine our Orthodox brethren are divided and in danger of war. Thus the celebration of this year’s Sunday of Orthodoxy is marked by the challenge to bow our knees and pray before the holy icons for peace and good order, for reason and wisdom for those who govern the world. During Lent we learn to pray more and to combine our prayers with fasting and charity. Let us fast and let us fervently pray to God to bring us peace and good understanding. Let us pray that those who suffer will be set free, and that in their faces will shine the light and peace that come from God.
I address you all with greetings of peace and spiritual joys, of increased strength to worthily climb the steps of Holy Lent toward the light-giving Resurrection.