This past week, dear brethren, we have embarked upon the spiritual endeavor of the Great Lent, and now today – on the first Sunday of Lent – we celebrate a special event: the Triumph of Orthodoxy.
What does the triumph of Orthodoxy mean? On a historical plane this celebration was initiated during the reign of the Greek Empress Theodora in 842 A.D. to commemorate the overcoming of the heresy of iconoclasm and the restoration of icon worship. But even earlier there was the following historical moment: in 303 A.D. the Roman Emperor Diocletian began a most cruel and terrifying persecution of Christians. He issued an edict to destroy all the Bibles in the world and to kill all Christians. The persecution of Christians was so merciless that a year later the iniquitous persecutors decided that they had already accomplished their objective and had erased Christianity from the face of the earth. Diocletian even erected an obelisk with the following inscription: “The name of Christian has been destroyed forever!”
At that time Christians were drowning in blood, burning in bonfires, tortured, suffering, dying, – and Diocletian’s boast had all the appearance of reality. But who came after Diocletian? Emperor Constantine the Great, who called himself a Christian and who established Christianity as the official state religion. He removed pagan symbols from the standards of the Roman army and the soldiers’ shields, and ordered them to be replaced with the symbol of Christianity – the Lord’s Cross. What a miraculous transformation took place in that year of 312 A.D. – just nine years after Diocletian erected his famous obelisk of stupidity!
But these are just historical events. And what does the triumph of Orthodoxy mean in our days, when the persecution of true Christians – true Orthodox Christians – proceeds in a manner no less cruel and merciless than in Diocletian’s times, albeit not always so openly, but more often in cunning ways? We should ponder this more attentively.
First of all, when we are asked: what is our religion? – we promptly reply that we are Orthodox Christians. But what do we exactly mean by that? We must always remember that Orthodoxy is not simply a religion on paper, a box to be checked or a name to be written on a dotted line, – but it is a way of life. When we come to be baptized, we are asked very important questions: first – do we reject Satan? and second – do we unite ourselves with Christ? The answer to both these questions must be affirmative, otherwise the priest cannot continue with the sacrament of baptism. Therefore, we must always especially remember that we – Orthodox Christians – have become united with Christ. This means that we must live fully in accordance with the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour.
And we must always remember that Orthodoxy differs greatly from all other religions. Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists and others – all seem to be Christians, and yet they have fallen away from the truth of Christ’s Church, while Buddhists, Moslems, Hindus, etc. do not recognize the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, at all. But we should not judge them, for they will be judged by Christ Himself.
In His Gospel the Lord said to His apostles: go forth and preach My Gospel to all, and baptize people in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; and whoever accepts My baptism shall be saved, while those who reject it shall perish.
And so all of us here have embraced the sacrament of baptism, dear brethren, and it means that we have accepted all the commandments of our Saviour: it means that we will love one another and our enemies, we will keep all the fasts, we will remain in constant prayer to the Lord, and thus we will fulfill the law of Christ. And that is what the Triumph of Orthodoxy means. For almost two thousand years Orthodoxy triumphs in that people become baptized and unite with Christ, live by Christ’s commandments, instill the Orthodox faith into their lives and – most importantly – make Orthodoxy their way of life.
Let us be among such people, dear brethren! Let us live with Christ, in accordance with His commandments; let us make use of this precious time of the Great Lent to purify ourselves in order to unite with Christ, and in this way we, too, will take part in the Triumph of Orthodoxy, we, too, will add our small share to this triumph. And then not only over the Church of Christ, but even over ourselves the gates of hell will never be able to prevail. Amen.
HOMILY FOR THE SUNDAY OF THE TRIUMPH OF ORTHODOXY
Today’s Gospel reading, dear brethren, tells us of how Philip, who was one of Christ’s disciples, brought his friend Nathaniel to Christ. Along the way Nathaniel expressed his doubts to Philip as to whether Christ was truly the Messiah, but after meeting Christ and talking with Him, all of Nathaniel’s doubts evaporated. The Lord touched upon the deepest strings of Nathaniel’s heart, touched upon his innermost thoughts and desires, thus showing His divine omniscience; and so Nathaniel proclaimed Christ to be the Son of God and became one of His twelve closest disciples.
But why do we hear this Gospel reading about Christ’s conversation with Nathaniel on this particular Sunday, the first Sunday of Great Lent, which celebrates the Triumph of Orthodoxy? It is because the Lord’s words to Nathaniel clearly describe the character of a true Orthodox Christian and, by extension, the character of the true Orthodox Church.
Here is truly an Israelite, – said the Lord of Nathaniel, – in whom there is no guile; i.e. here is a man who thinks, reasons, believes, hopes, talks, and acts rightly and directly, – since Nathaniel came to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God straightaway, and afterwards his faith never wavered. Such must a true Christian be, dear brethren, and such must be – and is – the Orthodox Church, i.e. a Church in which there is no guile, no vain human invention, which is genuine in its teaching, its sacraments, its divine services, in all of its establishment. Truly such is our Orthodox Church, which has remained unchanged from the times of the apostles and which has been attested to by a multitude of saints and miracles.
The blood of many martyrs has been shed for the purity of our faith and our Church; there have been many heroic struggles with the enemies of truth – pagans, Moslems, false Christians. Great has been the suffering of venerable fathers and hierarchs, and other defenders of the faith. It is this which constitutes today’s commemoration of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, – that from the holy Apostles to our days, and despite all the efforts of the servants of hell and despite the magnificent deceit of contemporary false Orthodoxy, the Orthodox faith has been preserved in all its truth and purity. The genuineness of our faith is further confirmed by the fact that so many different kinds of people lived by it and achieved salvation through it: noble kings, and wise philosophers, and great scientists, aristocrats and commoners, the rich and the poor, men, women, and children. The Orthodox faith brings people to a state of moral perfection and holiness, and only a perfect faith, with all its divine powers, can bring others to perfection.
Yes, dear brethren, only the Orthodox faith purifies and sanctifies the human nature which is defiled by sin; renews this imperfect nature by means of the sacraments of baptism, penitence, and communion; fills with love those who are quarreling; fills with hope those who are in despair; comforts those who are depressed; makes kind those who are crafty; reforms those who are corrupt; makes the greedy – abstemious; makes the cruel – charitable; adulterers makes chaste; egoists makes selfless; misers makes generous; madmen makes wise, and even the demonic makes godlike. Such are the miracles which the Orthodox faith works in men!
But why does it not produce such a spiritual transformation in us, dear brethren? Because we lack faith, because we are frivolous at heart, because we have distanced ourselves from the Church, we do not live the life of the Church, we do not live in accordance with its spirit, for us Orthodoxy is just a formality.
In order for us to be true Orthodox Christians, we must first of all have constant live contact with the Orthodox Church, we must take part in its prayers and sacraments, we must live in the spirit of our faith, follow its rules and commandments, and – most importantly – through genuine and profound repentance we must become as Christian as were all the saints, we must follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, so that the Lord would say about us, as He once said about Nathaniel: here are truly Christians in whom there is no guile. Amen.