By John Athanasatos
There are many significant dates in history that we commemorate annually as a day of victory and triumph. In about a week we will be celebrating Greek Independence Day, in May VE Day, the day which Germany surrendered to the allies, ending the conflict in Europe and of course in August(VJ Day)when Japan surrendered which ended World War 2. This past Sunday we celebrate the Triumph of Orthodoxy. This is indeed a watershed event in the history of the Orthodox Church. On this day we commemorate the Restoration of the Holy Icons and the official end of the Iconoclast Controversy. The Iconoclast Controversy plagued the Orthodox Church for over 100 years in the 8th and 9th Centuries. The controversy involved the veneration of icons. Those who believed it was a form of idolatry and a violation of the 2nd Commandment (Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image) were known as the Iconoclasts, “icon fighters.” Those in favor of the veneration of icons were known as the Iconodules, “friends of icons.” Although the 7th Ecumenical Council held at Nicaea in 787 condemned Iconoclasm as a heresy, the controversy was halted only temporarily. However, in 843 when Emperor Theodosius, an Iconoclast died, his wife Theodora who supported the veneration of icons, collaborated with Patriarch Methodius and convened a council in Constantinople to restore all the holy icons and officially end Iconoclasm. It happened to be on that day, March 11, 843 was the 1st Sunday of Great Lent. There was a procession with all the clergy and lay people and the holy icons were restored in the churches. It became a tradition to this day to commemorate this astonishing event annually on the 1st Sunday of Great Lent. On this day it is custom to hear a portion of the Synodikon which are the articles of that council held in Constantinople.
We hear: As the Prophets beheld; as the Apostles taught; as the Church received; as the Teachers dogmatized; as the Universe has agreed; as Grace has shone forth; as Truth has been proven; as falsehood has been disproven; as Wisdom has been presented; as Christ has rewarded. This is what we believe; this is what we declare; this is what we preach, Christ our true God, and we His Saints in words, in thought, in sacrifices, in Churches and in Icons.
We proclaim: 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!
We remember: Therefore, with brotherly and filial love, we praise these preachers of piety, for the glory and honor of their own pious struggle for the Faith and we say: Eternal be the memory of the defenders of Orthodoxy; pious Sovereigns, holy Patriarchs, Hierarchs, Teachers, Martyrs and Confessors.
Then we chant: What god is great as our God? You are God, Who alone works wonders.
If ever anyone asks us what is Orthodoxy or what we believe, perhaps the two best texts we have to reply with are the Constantinopolitan-Nicene Creed and the Synodikon.
On this special day we should proudly raise our icons with faith and hope, knowing that we behold the true faith. Icons are very important because they connect us to the person or event they portray. We do not worship icons, worship is to God alone. Instead we venerate icons, as well as the Theotokos and all the saints. Icons are two-dimensional and serve as a window into heaven. It was Christ’s Incarnation which makes the veneration of icons possible. Christ, the Divine Logos took on flesh, a material substance in order to live among us and for us to see Him face to face. In fact, the first icon was the “icon made without hands.” This was a towel or sheet that had the image of Christ’s face. We celebrate this icon on August 16. So by way of a material substance (flesh) Christ communicated with us, likewise through the material substances of the icon, wood and paint, we can communicate with Him. The Iconoclasts had it wrong that icons were a violation of the Second Commandment. Christ told us: do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. (Mt 5:17) Christ fulfills the Mosaic Law in His Incarnation and it is by His Incarnation that we are given the right to venerate icons. He gave us the first icon, the image of His face.
As we complete one full week of Great Lent and begin the second, let the Triumph of Orthodoxy recharge our spiritual energy to continue in the journey of Lent. The Orthodox Faith has always prevailed in tumultuous times and will continue to do so until the ages of ages to come.
This is the Faith which has established the Universe!
A Blessed Lent to all!