Homily of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon at the Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers
Saints Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church, Washington, DC
March 24, 2013
Glory to Jesus Christ!
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ: We gather this evening to celebrate the Sunday of Orthodoxy and to pray together at this beautiful and peaceful Vespers service. In America, this day has been a day of common celebration and unity for all Orthodox Christians and it is an occasion of great joy and thanksgiving. We are grateful for the kindness of His Eminence, Metropolitan Philip, who has blessed us to be together in this beautiful church, dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul, and we thank their clergy and faithful for their hospitality. We are thankful for the brotherhood of the Orthodox clergy of Washington who are an example of the truth of the Psalmist when he cries “how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.”
Above all, we are grateful to our merciful God for the gift of one another and for the freedom to witness to the Orthodox Faith, which has been proclaimed in North America for more than two hundred years. When the Russian Orthodox missionary monks arrived in Alaska from Valaam Monastery in Karelia in 1794, the seeds of Orthodox witness were planted on this continent. These seeds have grown over the decades of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Descendants of the Alaskan native peoples are today faithful Orthodox Christians. The immigrant communities of Orthodox people from the Middle East, the Balkans and Eastern Europe are now Americans. The numerous converts to Orthodoxy are a major presence in our Churches, with many serving as bishops, priests and deacons. We see Orthodox dioceses and parishes, monasteries and theological schools, organizations and agencies for education and charity, media ministries, prison ministries and campus ministries, as well as the publication of books and journals for the edification of Orthodox Christians and for outreach to all Americans.
By God’s grace, all of these accomplishments have been achieved through the various Orthodox Churches in North America and by the dedication and initiative of Orthodox Christian men and women of vision. These accomplishments have been nourished by the Orthodox Churches in this land first through the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops and now through the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops. We are grateful for what has been accomplished and are also mindful of the task still before us, with all its challenges and obstacles.
A major challenge to our mission in America is our tendency to proclaim the Orthodox Faith primarily through explanations of the traditions and practices of the Orthodox Church through the ages. There is a sense in which this is legitimate and even necessary. Those who participate in the Orthodox Church and confess the Orthodox Faith are members of a community of faith, a community in which we adhere to traditions and practices expressing the content and affirming the vision of Orthodoxy.
Nevertheless, there is sometimes a temptation to enclose ourselves within the boundaries of ethnicity and culture. In the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts there is a moment when the celebrant turns to the worshippers holding aloft a lighted candle and proclaiming “the Light of Christ illumines all.” This proclamation is both a gift and a challenge. The light of Christ is given to us as Orthodox Christians to lead us in the pilgrimage and witness of our life. The light of Christ is given to all – meaning that our mandate and mission as Orthodox Christians is to share the light of Christ with all in our society.
Our proclamation of the Orthodox Faith must give priority to the proclamation of the Good News of Christ. What we are given in the treasury of the Orthodox Faith is not intended to be an end in itself, but rather as a witness to Jesus Christ and the Gospel. This is true about the holy icons, which are not ends in themselves but windows into the Kingdom of God. This is true about Orthodox theology, which is not an end in itself but rather a guide to communion with God. Our faith, our icons, our theology, all the gifts we have been given as a great treasury, are means for us to acquire a new and iconic way of seeing and of living.
Christianity is about movement and vision (“come and see” as we heard in today’s Gospel), movement and vision that are not limited to the physical realm or in the confines of the mind, but rather take our hearts, which have been overshadowed by the grace of the Holy Spirit, on that journey that introduces us into the heavenly kingdom. We make this journey in the place that we have been planted and in the community we are a part of, but our goal should be to persevere and support one another on our common journey towards the heavenly kingdom.
Tonight, one of the invited speakers was Father Alexander Atty, who most recently served as Dean of St. Tikhon’s Seminary and before that was a talented and faithful parish priest in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese. Father Alexander is carrying the cross of serious illness, an illness which prevented him from being with us at this Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers. Let us embrace Father Alexander in our prayers, in prayers which unite him and all of us with the God who is love.
As we continue the journey of Great Lent, let us offer thanksgiving to God for the faithful witnesses who have brought the light of Christ to America: St. Herman of Alaska; St. Innocent, missionary priest and hierarch; St. Tikhon, Archbishop of America and Patriarch and Confessor of Moscow; St John of San Fransisco; St Raphael, missionary priest and bishop; the faithful clergy and laity whose labors in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have brought us to the twenty-first century, a century which opens before us new possibilities and challenges us to new achievements as a faithful and united Orthodox Church in this land.
May the Mother of God, whose Holy Annunciation we celebrate tomorrow, cover us and protect us by her prayers and may the light of Christ illumines us all as we walk in oneness of mind and in unity of faith towards the feast of Holy Pascha and the joy of the Resurrection.