Today we celebrate our Christian Faith in an important way. We gather in our churches bringing the Sacred Icons in solemn procession to mark the restoration of the Icons in 843 under the Empress Theodora, as was the Seventh Ecumenical Council of 787 called by Empress Irene, both times to combat the Iconoclasts who wanted the Icons removed. So we can state categorically that without these women, we might not have Icons in our churches.
But we must ask why this is so significant? Why do we keep this festival, especially when we have begun the Great Lent? In the Vespers for this Sunday, we read, “For if we cling to the icon of him whom we worship, we shall not go astray.” The Church, in her wisdom, realized that having this visual image of our own Flesh, through the perfection of Christ, we will not be led astray by anyone’s words. Not only Christ, but His Mother, the Theotokos, and all the saints are depicted on our walls reminding us of St. Paul’s “Cloud of witnesses”, that pray for us in the kingdom of Heaven. For we must never think we simply remembering a past event, this is not just a remembrance of a distant time and place far removed from us, but rather it is the manifestation of our own Faith in our time and for our Salvation.
For Icons are not simply works of art, no matter how impressed we might be with their Aesthetic beauty. They are both windows into the heavenly realms and depictions of our Theology without words. The Vespers also say to us, “We have moved forward from unbelief to true faith, and have been enlightened by the light of knowledge.” This light of knowledge is that which reveals to us our Orthodox Faith and guides us into all truth. At a time when the world seeks its own truth and tries to reduce truth to relative terms, we hold forth our Truth as an eternal witness to all Mankind.
At a time when other religions seek to overtake the entire world with their perversion of truth, we gather and proclaim that we will not give up our Faith, our Truth for any sons of men, no matter how violent they become. Not long after the Iconoclast period, many Christians in the regions of Palestine and the Middle East faced persecution, and again today we see this persecution returning. So our proclamation today is even more significant and important as we proclaim that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, Incarnate for our Salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, and all the other points we proclaim in the Creed as taught from the Council of Nicaea onward.
Let us not error and think we are here to criticize our fellow Christians, who may not share in our fullness of faith, but share a common understanding of who Christ is and recognize Him as the One Who saves us. Christ, Himself said that those who are not against us are for us. [Mk. 9.40] Believe me, there are enough people trying so subvert the Truth of Christ who are not Christian for us to be concerned with, we need to be praying for the unity of our Brethren. As His Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew’s words were conveyed to us by Archbishop Demetrios at the last Episcopal Assembly, “move beyond words to actions…putting our theology into practice…moving beyond what is mine and yours, to what is ours.”
This is an excellent phrase that describes perfectly the call of this Sunday of Orthodoxy. We must all move beyond what is mine and yours, we must move beyond words only and embrace action, so that in Christ we will all have what is ours.