Sunday of orthodoxy
28 February 1988
In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.
We keep today a feast which we call ‘the Triumph of Orthodoxy’; and we keep it wholeheartedly, with joy, and with gratitude, because it is not our triumph that we speak about – we rejoice in the Triumph of God over all human limitations, the triumph of God that has allowed His Truth to be perceived by living men and proclaimed by them.
And with what gratitude we must turn both to God Who has revealed Himself, and to the Saints of God who have understood, and spoken and convey(ed) to us what w e can perceive and understand, at times so dimly, so imperfectly.
God’s victory, the victory of life over death, the victory of light over darkness and twilight – this is the Triumph of Orthodoxy.
The feast was established on one particular occasion: at the Seventh Ecumenical Council when the doctrine of veneration of icons was proclaimed. What is this doctrine? Why do we venerate icons?
The Old Testament forbade to represent God in any manner, because in those days He was the Unsearchable, mysterious, transcendental God, the Holy of holies, the Holy One of Israel. To represent Him, to attempt it would have meant to try to invent an image of a God Whom one could not even imagine.
But in the New Testament God has appeared to us, He has become a man; remaining the same unsearchable, mysterious, unattainable God in His Divine essence, He has still revealed Himself as a man. God has now a human face for us – Jesus, the Son of God become the son of man; He has got a name – Jesus, which means ‘God saves’, and He is called also Emmanuel – ‘God in our midst’.
And this is why we can represent Him; but an icon, again, is not an attempt at portraying Christ, God in the days of His flesh; because, as we are told by Saint Paul, we no longer know God in the flesh, even Christ we know only in the spirit. His bodily reality is glorious as His Resurrection. And so, an icon expresses an experience of the Church, the total Church, expressed by one man or woman to whom God has granted to express what others knew, as theologians express what others know in their hearts. An icon is a vision of what God incarnate is, not a portrait. In that it is so different from the image which we find in Turin, which whether it is true or not, represent a corpse. It is not a corpse of Christ which an icon represents, but the risen Christ. And in this we proclaim the totality of the Gospel; we proclaim that God has become man, without change, without confusion, remaining what He was, and becoming what we are. We proclaim the greatness of man who is so deep, so vast and potentially so holy that the fullness of God could abide in the flesh. We proclaim that all things created are called one day to become the glorious vesture of God, when God shall be all in all. We proclaim that in His flesh He has become one of us, without participating to sin but taking upon Himself the consequences of human sin, including death and suffering. And we proclaim the victory of love, and the victory of God in the resurrection of Christ.
This is why, this day, singled out as the Day of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, is c e n t e r e d on our veneration of the icon. An icon speaks of the risen Christ, and speaks also of a l l that Christ Jesus was, is, and shall be forever.
Let us then rejoice; rejoice in the God Who reveals Himself so i n f i n i t e l y close and familiar to us, that we can say ‘Thou’ to Him, saying thereby that He is the closest to us of all beings. Let us rejoice that the earth in her Saints has been able to receive the message and to proclaim it! And let us be grateful that this revelation, given and received, is conveyed to us in so many ways: in the prayers of the Saints, in the icons of the Church, in the deep thoughts of Orthodox theology, and in every thing which is a mystery of love abroad in human hearts. Thanks be to God, glory be to God -Amen!