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Sermon given on the First Sunday of Lent 2018
Last Sunday, Forgiveness Sunday, was the Last Sunday of Cheese Week or Maslenitsa. Today is the first actual Sunday of the Great Fast. Today our Holy Orthodox Church celebrates the Triumph of Orthodoxy, the triumph of true faith and true worship. That means that today we thank God and celebrate that saving and holy faith which trampled down all heresies and exalted the truth for all ages. It is a celebration of that Church against which the gates of hell have never prevailed, and against which they will never prevail, as Christ promised to Peter (Matthew 16:18.) That Church may have been beaten, it may have been bruised, it may have been bloodied, but for two-thousand years this same Church, this same faith, has stood as an historical and visible witness to the saving power of Christ.
Heretics assailed the Church even from her apostolic beginnings. St. Paul said that heresies would have to come, in order to reveal who the real truth-tellers were. He wrote: “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Corinthians 11:19). Gnostics, Judaizers, Nicolaitians, and others, attempted to bring division and confusion into the Church even from the very beginning.  Then later there were Pelagians, Sabellians, Manachaeists, Nestorians, Arians, Monophysites, on and on, until the wicked iconoclasts, the spiritual descendants of that false prophet of the Hagarenes, attempted to strip the Church of the doctrine of the incarnation and the sanctification of matter. Heresies have come and heresies have gone, but none have defeated the Church.
Satan is never one to give up, though. He continues to work his wickedness to divide and confuse, even to this day. His methodology is no longer about theology. No. Today’s modern and “enlightened” people have no need of theology. If fact, they have no real need of God – or so they think! No, he works on the minds of people in the Church as well as those outside. He strives, and is often successful, in luring the undisciplined and non-theological minds of modern human beings into substituting godly-mindedness with worldly-thinking. What does that mean? It means to embrace as “true” everything that this fallen, sinful, corrupt and murderous world says is true. For instance: We don’t need to believe in God, but we must believe in science. This is a good example. Of course most people don’t know that in Hitler’s Germany, the top scientists believed in the racist and de-humanizing theories of Naziism. Or in the old Soviet Union, the government said there is no God. People who were considered too religious, too Orthodox, were deemed by the official psychiatric community to be mentally ill. They were locked-up in mental facilities, or shipped-off into exile to live in camps for the insane, or worse, they were killed. All must embrace the world-think, or you will be considered not only aberrational, but you will be considered anti-social, anti-modern, anti-American, “anti-normal.” The same goes for the Law of God, Judeo-Christian Morals (I prefer to call them “God-revealed morals!), or anything else that goes against the grain of modern-think. And oh, how easy it is just to “go with the flow,” to “not make waves” to avoid the embarrassment, the shame, the ridicule, the snarky comments, and yes, even hostility and persecution. How easy indeed. Venerable Seraphim of Platina said of these kind of pseudo-Orthodox Christians: “they just blend in with the anti-Christian world around them and cease to be examples of any kind of Christianity for those around them. The Christian must be different from the world, above all, from today's weird, abnormal world.”
The Triumph of Orthodoxy is about the triumph of the icon-hangers over the icon-smashers, true. But it’s about so much more. It’s about the triumph of truth against the lies; it’s about the triumph of light against the darkness. And no matter how much Satan tries to appear as an angel of light, he isn’t, and he never will be. The Sunday of Orthodoxy is about right over wrong, God’s righteousness over the world’s iniquity, the Queen of Sciences over false and corrupt science. Ultimately, the Triumph of Orthodoxy is about the triumph of Life over death, the calm haven over the Lake of Fire, and deification over damnation. It’s not about how great we are, it’s about how great the Faith is, how great the Church is, how great God’s grace is, and how great the truth is.
If there were no truth, there would no longer be any who worship the Father “in Spirit and in truth”  (John 4:24). This is our joy today. This is the cause of our celebration!
In Matins for the Feast we hear the following words:
“A feast of joy and gladness is revealed to us today. For the teachings of the true Faith shine forth in all their glory, and the Church of Christ is bright with splendour, adorned with the holy icons which now have been restored; and God has granted to the faithful unity of mind.” (Praises. Tone 4)
And to conclude, I will read from the Synodikon of Orthodoxy which will be read later today in Cathedrals, Monasteries, and some parishes:
“As the prophets beheld, as the Apostles have taught,... as the Church has received... as the teachers have dogmatized,... as the Universe has agreed,... as Grace has shown forth,... as Truth has revealed,... as falsehood has been dissolved,... as Wisdom has presented,... as Christ Awarded,... thus we declare,... thus we assert,... thus we preach Christ our true God, and honor His Saints, in words, in writings, in thoughts, in sacrifices, in churches, in Holy Icons...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.”