On the Sunday that ends the first week of lent, we celebrate the feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. We reaffirm the fundamental truths of Orthodoxy and take strength in our belonging to our faith. The Triumph of Orthodoxy also encourages and motivates us to continue our Lenten journey to become the image and likeness of God.
The feast was instituted 843 in tribute to the final defeat of the heresy of iconoclasm. Its adherents were opposed to the veneration of the icons, but the implications of their false teachings went much further. Effectively, they denied that Jesus Christ ever became flesh or lived among people, or that our salvation and eternal life were a reality. Iconoclasm turned the preachers of Christ into deceivers, and believers in Him into the deceived.
True Orthodox believers fought heresy with all their strength. Many endured persecution and torture, shed blood and languished in exile. It took centuries for the right belief to prevail. The Triumph of Orthodoxy reaffirmed the true humanity of Jesus Christ and our calling to participate in His holiness.
Yet we do not commemorate the Sunday of Orthodoxy only as a historical event. It is a feast that matters extensively for our present and future. Heresies are not a thing of the past; every generation knows them and must confront them in one way or another. People of all times have been keen to subordinate the faith to their worldly routines, desires and ambitions. There is always a temptation to fill our faith with human content. Therefore, the real triumph of Orthodoxy happens in our hearts. It requires us to turn into ourselves, examine who we are and what we believe.
We live in a world that values individual achievement and instant gratification, and we like to seek immediate satisfaction of our every want and desire. We believe that only in this way we can remain true to ourselves. We also attribute the same ambition to others. As a result, other people and, by extension, the Lord Himself become to us only images of our worldly selves. That way, comfort and happiness in the here and now take precedence in our lives. Worse still, we begin to think that their pursuit amounts to our fulfilment of the will of God.
The festive liturgy of the Sunday of Orthodoxy ends with the procession of the icons. It brings us to our senses, reminding us that we are the images of God, and not God the image of ourselves. We are His living icons. We have a duty not to become a caricature or a blasphemy of Him. We must live so that others will see in us a depiction of the Lord and the shining of His Holy Spirit.
In becoming the living icons of God, we can take our cue from the scores of the saints before us. Their radiant glory, bravery in overcoming persecution, righteousness, love and service of others are also evidence of the Church's triumph throughout the world. They are our “a great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1) and our teachers and models in following the example of our Savior Himself.
By Alexander Piskounov