HOMILY FOR THE SUNDAY OF THE TRIUMPH OF ORTHODOXY
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Tomorrow we begin the Second Week of the Holy Forty-Day Fast. The week just past has produced much good fruit for our souls; the discipline in food, the attendance at the soul-profiting services, the haunting melodies, the dark colors, the prostrations and bows, the tiredness. All of this combines to evoke an atmosphere conducive to reflection, deep soul-searching, and most of all, repentance. This is the beauty of our faith. This is the glory of the Church. It’s richness is utterly inexhaustible. St Ignatius (Brianchaninov) wrote,
“Orthodoxy is the true knowledge of God and reverence of God. Orthodoxy is the worship of God in Spirit and in Truth. Orthodoxy is the glorification of the true God, the knowledge of Him, and worship of Him. Orthodoxy is the glorification of God by man...given to him through the grace of the Holy Spirit; (and) the Spirit is the glory of the Christian” (cf. Jn 7:39).
The word “Orthodoxy” is a compound Greek word coming from “orthos” meaning straight or correct; and “doxa” meaning glory. When combined the word literally means two things at once: correct faith & correct worship. Now, some might complain to us and say: “What utter arrogance! Who do you think you are??” But the fact is that Orthodoxy isn’t anything about us. It isn’t about anything that we have done. Orthodoxy is about what God has done! “Our Orthodox Faith” is just another way of saying “What God has revealed for the salvation of mankind.” What, do we think that politicians are going to save us? Do we think that the space program is going to save humanity by whisking us off to remote planets in remote galaxies? No. This world passes away. This world will be destroyed. The holy apostle Peter says that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:10). The Lord Himself says that “heaven and earth will pass away” (Matthew 24:35). And about politics, political persons, political ideologies, David says, “Trust not in princes, nor in the children of men, in whom there is no salvation. His breath shall go forth, and he shall return to his earth; in that day all his thoughts shall perish. Blessed is he whose helper is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God: who made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all things in them” Psalm 145: 3-6).
The world has nothing to offer to us. Why? Because it is fallen, it is corrupt, its thinking is twisted, its reasoning is skewed. Only God can be trusted to know what is best for us. Only God’s way is the right way, as He Himself says through the prophet Isaiah: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55: 8-9). Orthodoxy is only true if it is filled with the Holy Spirit. There is no Orthodox teaching unless it is Spirit-breathed like the Scriptures which are part of it. Orthodox is true because the Spirit revealed it to mankind; it was not their creation! St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov) continues:
“Where there is no Spirit, there is no Orthodoxy. There is no Orthodoxy in human teachings and philosophies; false reason reigns in them—the fruit of the fall. Orthodoxy is the teaching of the Holy Spirit given by God to man for his salvation. Where there is no Orthodoxy, there is no salvation. ‘Whosoever will be saved, before all things, it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Those who shall not preserve this Faith whole and undefiled shall, without doubt, perish for eternity’ (from the Creed of St. Athanasius). The teaching of the Holy Spirit is a precious treasure! It was taught in the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church. The teaching of the Holy Spirit is a precious treasure! In it is the guarantee of our salvation. Our blessed allocation in eternity is precious; nothing can take its place, and it is comparable to nothing. The teaching of the Holy Spirit is just as precious, just as high above all other values, and a guarantee of our blessedness.”
In order to preserve this guarantee for us, the holy Church recounts for us on this day the teachings of those holy people who preserved our holy faith, often at great cost to themselves. There is a special service held today, called the “Rite of Orthodoxy” which is usually performed in cathedrals and monasteries. In it, the righteous truth-bearers of the past are remembered and praised with the three-fold chanting of “Eternal Memory!” Also remembered on this day are the heretics who sought to corrupt, defile, or otherwise weaken the power of the revealed word of God. These the Church denounces with a three-fold singing of “Anathema!” Anathema literally means to be separated-out or cut-off. It is a declaration that poisonous teaching cannot be tolerated in the Church. St Paul was the first to use the word in Galatians 1:9 where he said: “If anyone preaches any other gospel unto you than what ye have received, let him be anathema!” Such people as insist on perpetuating soul-corrupting and blasphemous heresies are declared to be outside of the Church, under a “curse” of separation, until they repent. This “anathema” is meant to be medicinal or curative, rather than punitive. But believe me, there is nothing more bone-chilling than to hear that fearsome pronouncement of “Anathema!” in the service of the Rite of Orthodoxy.
The Sunday of Orthodoxy is not focused on the negative, however. It is focused on the positive – what great gifts of Truth God has bestowed upon us unworthy ones, namely, our Orthodox Christian Faith! Soon we will have a procession around the temple. In this procession we will remember how the holy icons were once again restored to adorn God’s holy churches. It is a joyous procession for a joyous day. Let’s hear some final words that may be familiar to many of us who have attended the pan-Orthodox Vespers services in the past. It comes from the Synodikon of Orthodoxy:
“As the Prophets beheld, as the Apostles taught, as the Church received, as the Teachers dogmatized, as the Universe agreed, as Grace illumined, as the Truth revealed, as falsehood passed away, as Wisdom presented, as Christ awarded, thus we declare, thus we assert, thus we proclaim Christ our true God and honor His saints, in words, in writings, in thoughts, in sacrifices, in churches, in holy icons. On the one hand, worshiping and reverencing Christ as God and Lord. And on the other hand, honoring and venerating His Saints as true servants of the same Lord.
This is the Faith of the Apostles.
This is the Faith of the Fathers.
This is the Faith of the Orthodox.
This is the Faith which has established the Universe.” Amen.