Sunday of Orthodoxy

Sunday of Orthodoxy


Today is the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. We celebrate the return of icons to the worship of Christ our God on earth. Today we commemorate the restoration in AD 843 of Icons. They went in procession to the Church of Theotokos ton Blakhernós, and restored the icons.

The scriptures we read were catechistic (Heb 11 and John 1:43-51). They are pointing those who will be baptised at the end of Great Lent to what the beginning of the journey was for the disciples, and reminding them of the prophets of old that looked forward to the Kingdom and the coming of the Messiah but never saw it themselves.

We celebrate the Incarnation of the Word of God Who took flesh for our sake. The indescribable deigned to become describable. As we will hear on Bright Monday: “No man has ever seen God; the only begotten Son Who Is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”

He Who is the very radiance of the glory of God, the very Icon of His Person has shown Himself. As we sing in Matins: “God is the Lord and has revealed Himself unto us!”

Because He took flesh and dwelt among us, it is proper to depict Him in icons. For He Who is the very Icon of God has taken flesh that He Himself created in His Image, and joined the two together without confusion.

We venerate icons by kissing them as we would kiss a revered friend. We venerate them by bowing, again as to a revered friend. We also venerate them by censing them with incense. When we cense icons we are recognizing that the person depicted was created in God’s Image and reflected His likeness.

But we also cense us — we humans. We are created in God’s Image; by censing ourselves we honour that Image of God in ourselves.

So as we honour the Image of God in ourselves by censing we must ask ourselves: “Do we honour God’s Image in us?” Is how we live a reflection of that Image of God in us? Do we seek God’s will in our lives? Do we honour His image in ourselves? our family members? Our co-workers? The people we meet everyday? Do we see God’s image in the Barista who makes our coffee drink? Do we see the Image of God in the homeless person whose path we cross? Do we see the Image of God in the person whose politics we despise? In the eyes of the refugee who asks for a safe place? Do we see God’s Image in the face of those people we don’t like?

For most of us, that likeness with God is broken and distorted. Are we working with God to restore that likeness? Are we treating His Image in others remembering that He said, that how we treat the least of these is how we treat Him?

These are questions that this Sunday requires us to look at. While we are celebrating the Triumph this evening we must pause and take stock at where we are.

The older themes of this Sunday can help us. Before the restoration of Icons, this Sunday was dedicated to the prophets. If you read or sing the hymns of this Sunday you will notice that it bounces between Icons and the Prophets. If we were to do Complines tonight we would hear the older canon of the Prophets. The prophets called Israel and Judah to repentance. They called the people to treat the poor, the orphan, the widow, the foreigner with respect. They called the people to treat their children as precious gifts from God. They called the people back from and criticized the false images of their material greed, their love of power over love of people. Often the people did not repent and had to pay the cost in exile. We are encouraged during Lent to read the prophet Isaiah. No matter what age we live in, the book of Isaiah has some sobering criticism of our society.
He sandwiches his prophecies of destruction with consolation, with the message: “It doesn’t have to be that way; you can repent.” By Chapter 40 it becomes clear that the people won’t repent, and he prepares them for exile and return. I commend to you all the reading of Isaiah.

This is what the Church asks us to chew on as we journey towards Pascha. God calls us in this period to work with Him to restore His likeness in us. The prayers are all a part of that. The services are all a part of that. Fasting is all a part of that. Alms are all a part of that. The Triodion is part of that. The prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian is part of that. These are the tools we have been given. These tools must be applied with love or they will be useless to us.

God calls us today to restore His Likeness in us, just as the icons were restored to the Churches.

Orthodox Christian Faith and Our Culture

I think there is a fear (and a legitimate one) that the Orthodox faith will be coopted by people for political purposes. The Orthodox faith tends to restrain and anchor liberals among us and kick conservatives in the pants. It is not something that can be tamed to fit in one political camp or the other. There are horrors that are justified by both extremes of our political spectrum.

We need to have an Orthodox conversation about the things that are done in our society. We should be a prophetic voice to our culture. Instead we are remixing various protestant criticisms of our culture. Thus we find ourselves in camps where we condemn one kind of sin and find justification for why another is not worth condemning. By re-running poorly thought out heterodox issues that were really designed to polarize our political landscape (yes, deliberately designed) we have lost our unique calling of mankind to be transformed and reflect the Image of God in Whom we are created. — Fr. Steven Clark

Orthodoxy and Phyletism (Ethnicity): Revisited

Orthodoxy and Phyletism (Ethnicity): Revisited

I grew up in the South. In the South that I grew up in, one of the most segregated times of the week was Sunday morning. People in many white churches would be (and were) aghast if someone from another race showed up on Sunday morning. It was made plain to them that someone from their race was not welcome. My own father (a Baptist minister) ended up having to leave his pastorate because he integrated the church kindergarten. It seemed that some of the deacons were afraid of a 4 year old black girl. My father and I were the rare white folks who would go across the lines. Fortunately people in the local black church were more welcoming. My uncle (also a Baptist minister) was forced to leave two different churches because he did not allow his daughters to go to the segregated white private schools that were set up to get around desegregation. What my baptist fathers taught me was that if someone were not welcome to a church because of his race, that Jesus was not welcome there either.

At the first Orthodox Church I walked into after graduating college I was asked why I was there; I was neither Greek nor Russian. It probably delayed me becoming Orthodox by many years. I was the wrong ethnicity.

Now I have been Orthodox for almost half my life now. I have noticed that this is not just a problem that inquirers face. It saddens me when even faithful Orthodox people are treated like Rats and discarded by clergy. These are people for whom Christ was Incarnate and gave Himself up; these are people who have been faithful through adversity, people who have endured much. Excluding them because of their ethnicity (or lack thereof) is no better than how I was treated when I walked into that Church.

A clergyman is responsible to God for all the souls he has been privilege to lead. He cannot divide between this ethnic or that ethnic or no ethnic. He must minister to all of them. He must minister without regard to race or ethnicity. If he excludes based on race or ethnicity, he excludes Christ who comes to them in the “least of these”

To exclude based on Race or ethnicity, or lack thereof is to wound. And after the racial or ethnic cleansing has occurred, the wound does not just go away because we pretend not to see; for by wounding, the wounder is also wounded. But it is not just for race and ethnicity that people are wounded. People who speak the truth, who sound the alarm, who hammer out “DANGER” are also wounded. This is nothing new. Killing the messenger is a time honoured solution to pretending it is the messenger’s fault and thus we don’t have to do anything. But the wounding wounds the wounder. Jeremiah had plenty of experience with this:

For from the least to the greatest of them, every one is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest every one deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly , saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not ashamed; they did not know how to blush. (Jeremiah 8:13-15)

People are excluded, wounded and left to wither; or worse, they are thrown under the bus. The indefensible is defended; the wounded are told they are not wounded. And we wonder why some are leaving the Church.

Guest Blog. Fr. Stephen Freeman: Mere Morality

Today I have invited Fr. Stephen Freeman to be my guest Blogger.
Mere Morality

What makes an action moral? I use the word to describe something done in an effort to conform to a rule, a law, or a principle. It is a matter of the will and a matter of effort. All societies require some form of moral behavior. If there were no such behavior, life would be unpredictable, unstable, and quite dangerous. Governments encourage some form of morality (it is the sole purpose of laws). Most religions also endorse a code or moral rule.

Having said all of that – I want to be clear that I do not suggest that people engage in immorality. However…

Morality is not the province of Christianity, nor is the Kingdom of God a matter of moral effort. I have written elsewhere that “Jesus did not die in order to make bad men good…He died in order to make dead men live.”

The work of the Holy Spirit in the human life involves the true transformation of the Person. We are not commanded to behave, but to become.

This same principle runs throughout the sacraments of the Church. And the pattern of the sacraments is the pattern of our salvation. Baptism is not a matter of behavior (mere obedience to a command). Baptism is a true union with Christ in His death and resurrection.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2Co 5:17)

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. (Gal 6:15)

The waters of Baptism become the death and resurrection of Christ.

The Eucharist is not a new behavior for bread and wine, but a new reality is revealed: they become the true Body and Blood of Christ. We do not eat and drink as a moral act, or a memorial. We eat the true Body and drink the true Blood in order to live.

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. (Joh 6:53-55)

There is within our culture a constant pull towards a moral model. The demand that others conform to an external rule, and the drive to force the same on ourselves, is a distraction that draws us away from the truth of our lives. We fail in our repeated moral attempts and secretly upbraid ourselves. With others we become consumed by anger. And both are driven by the pool of shame that failure generates.

But the nature of our life-problem is not failure to behave correctly. Were there to be someone who always acted in a proper moral manner – they would still be as sick as everyone around them. The sinlessness of Christ does not describe His unfailing conformity to the Jewish Law. It is rather His utter integrity with the Father – He is one with the Father and nothing ever severs that relationship.

Moral performance does not secure our union with God.

Christ on the mount of Transfiguration is what the truly “moral” man looks like. Our goal is not conformity to a standard, but life from the dead.

We are able to make “moral” judgments. Societies legislate morality (for this is the sole concern of the law). The good order of a culture is largely measured by its general conformity to its moral code. But this conformity is not the goal of the Christian faith. We have something far greater in mind.

I have noted a tendency among some to treat the Church’s concern for the environment as a moral goal (which is entirely appropriate). But some have confused this moral goal as somehow of a piece with the true goal of the transfiguration of creation. If every scintilla of pollution ceased at this very moment and the climate stabilized for the remainder of our planet’s existence, nothing relevant to the Kingdom of God would have been established. For our goal is not a moral planet (expressed in our stewardship). The proclamation of the gospel is that God has a goal and a purpose in all creation that transcends every moral effort of humanity. The created will be united with the uncreated.  This will not be a measure of its environment but the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

Some are troubled (I’ve noticed) when such statements are made, fearing that they lessen the moral demands for stewardship of the environment. That may be, though it is not my intent (and thus not the intent of properly stated theology). But the gift of God is inexorable – not depending on human action. That Christ makes bread to be His body is not therefore a moral demand for better baking (though we should present the finest work of human hands at His altar).

The transformation of creation is the promise of a good God in the face of all human failure and of a creation “made subject to futility.” None of us can predict what the outcome of human habitation of our planet will be. We may yet be so silenced that any comment from the Church on the topic will be unheard. The seas may turn into wormwood and the planet breathe poison as in the earliest days of its formation. I think it completely likely that the planet will reflect the bankruptcy of mankind in every way.

But the transformation will come. That is a gospel promise.

We shall be changed. Everything shall be changed. And that’s the moral of this story.

Fr. Stephen Freeman’s blog can be found at

Republished with permission of author

Cultural Wars

There are some in the Orthodox Church who seem to want to make Orthodoxy a player in the current cultural wars. The voices come at us from multiple sides. Some want us to throw away the clear historical teachings against abortion. Some want us to give our blessing to homosexuality. Some want us to battle against both of these and throw ourselves in with a group of people who have as their stated agenda to bring OT law as a sort of sheria in our land, while ignoring the problems of poverty, hunger, sickness, and soul killing greed.

We cannot change the Faith to adapt to our culture. Reacting against our culture runs the risk of getting us away from our Faith’s agenda, which is the Kingdom of God. (And there are many who would wish to co-op the Kingdom of God to one side or another of our cultural wars). We cannot say that homosexuality, nor abortion, nor greed, nor indifference to the afflicted are ok. To adopt the strategies of this world to address them will distort the Faith. We must go with what we received from the beginning and cooperate with God towards our own Theosis. Perhaps we have quoted St. Seraphim too often to hear what he is saying to us: “Acquire a spirit of peace, and thousands around you will be saved.”

Woe to the Christian Church when it will have been victorious in this world, for then it is not the Church which has been victorious but the world. – Søren Kierkegaard