At the invitation of His Eminence, Archbishop Michael of New York and New Jersey, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon and His Eminence, Metropolitan Joseph of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America visited the Orthodox Church in America’s Saints Peter and Paul Church, South River, NJ on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, February 25, 2018.
The three hierarchs concelebrated the Sunday morning Divine Liturgy, at which Metropolitan Tikhon delivered the homily, the complete text of which may be found below. In the evening, they also were present for the celebration of the Triumph of Orthodox Vespers, which brought together clergy and faithful from across the New York-New Jersey metropolitan region.
Among the clergy concelebrating at the Divine Liturgy were Archpriest David Garretson, Rector of Saints Peter and Paul Church; Archpriest Eric G. Tosi, OCA Secretary; Archpriest Sergius Kuharsky, retired Rector of Saints Peter and Paul Church; and Archdeacon Joseph Matusiak. Antiochian concelebrants included Priest Nicholas Belcher and Deacon John El Massih.
In 2017, Metropolitan Joseph welcomed Metropolitan Tikhon and Archbishop Michael at the Antiochian Archdiocese’s Saint Nicholas Cathedral, Brooklyn, NY, for the celebration of the Triumph of Orthodoxy Vespers, at which Metropolitan Tikhon preached. [See related story].
The Sunday of Orthodoxy Divine Liturgy
Homily Delivered by His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon
Saints Peter and Paul Church, South River, New Jersey
February 25, 2018
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Today is a glorious day of celebration here at Saints Peter and Paul Church in South River, serving together with your Diocesan Hierarch, His Eminence, Archbishop Michael, and our good friend, His Eminence, Metropolitan Joseph of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese. All the many clergy who have joined us this morning, and who will join us later this evening, together with the faithful of this parish and our surrounding parishes, have gathered on this day of the Resurrection to process with icons and proclaim the triumph of Orthodoxy: “This is the faith of the apostles! This is the faith of the fathers! This is the Orthodox faith! This is the faith that has established the universe!”
Our pan-Orthodox concelebrations today are a visible testimony that this Orthodox Faith that established the universe is the very same faith that established the Church here in North America. This is the faith of our own fathers, all the saints and holy and pious men and women who came before us to live the Christian life here in these lands. And it is the faith that each of us must strive to nurture in our own hearts, wherever we may find ourselves.
For all the glory of our rich Orthodox tradition, this morning the readings from the Holy Scriptures bring us back to the simplest foundation of our Christian life which is personal faith. It is personal faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, Who in today’s Gospel tells Philip and each one of us: “Follow Me.” When the Lord says to Philip “Follow Me,” it was as if He had said to him, “Leave behind your temporal and earthly life, and embrace Me, for I will open to you the door to the Heavenly Kingdom.” And so, Philip did just this: he followed Christ—and not only this, he went to share this good news with Nathanael, telling him that they had found the Messiah.
We also are following Christ and have entered this door to the Kingdom, in our participation this past week in the First Week of Great Lent. At Vespers on the first day of the Fast, we sang: “Let us set out with joy upon the season of the Fast, and prepare ourselves for spiritual combat. Let us purify our soul and cleanse our flesh; and as we fast from food, let us abstain also from every passion. Rejoicing in the virtues of the Spirit, may we persevere with love, and so be counted worthy to see the solemn Passion of Christ our God, and with great spiritual gladness to behold His holy Pascha.”
This is not just our life during Lent, but it is our life of faith—the same faith that we proclaim on this Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, the same faith that gives us a foretaste of the Resurrection even as we enter onto the second week of the Fast, even as we complete one of the most intense weeks of our liturgical and spiritual lives. The First Week of Lent is intense because our Christian faith and life are spiritually intense, and often difficult.
Today’s reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews makes it clear that authentic faith doesn’t come with comfort and rewards. Exactly the opposite is what we see in the lives of the saints : “They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.”
And yet the saints were determined to follow God and to do His will, to love Him, and to love their neighbors and their enemies, no matter what happened or what were the consequences. That is what personal faith looks like.
The Psalms are filled with this determined faith in the midst of trouble, even when it seems that God Himself is not there and not listening. Here, for example, is part of Psalm 77:
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted….
Thou dost hold my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I meditate and search my spirit: “Will the Lord spurn for ever, and never again be favorable?
Has His steadfast love for ever ceased? Are His promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His compassion?”
But then in the middle of this despair, hear what the psalmist says:
I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; yea, I will remember Thy wonders of old.
I will meditate on all Thy work, and muse on Thy mighty deeds.
In other words, even while he is in distress, he consciously and deliberately calls to mind what God has done in the past. This is what faith is. And listen carefully to the words he uses next:
Thy way, O God, is holy. Who is so great a God as our God?
Thou art the God Who doest wonders.
These are the very words we sing at the Vespers of Pascha: “Who is so great a God as our God? Thou art the God Who doest wonders.” It is very meaningful that those triumphant, victorious hymns come in the middle of a psalm of despair, when it seems that God is absent. That’s what faith is. That’s the rock on which our Triumph of Orthodoxy is built.
That was the faith of the saints. But not only the saints. Our Lord Jesus Christ, in His human nature, knew from within what it is like to feel weak, hopeless and abandoned, even by His Father. “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” Metropolitan Anthony Bloom said these words of the Lord from the Cross are perhaps the most important words in the Gospels.
And so today, as we participate in this joyous celebration, we are also mindful of the challenges that face us in our lives, of all of this darkness that surrounds us in our world. But we also look with hope to the Light of Christ, which shines upon us in so many ways. That Light of Christ, which illumines all during the evening services of Great Lent, that Light of Christ which leads us through the wilderness of Great Lent, that Light of Christ which will burst forth from the empty tomb on Pascha night.
The holy icons that the children will carry today provide us with the hope of that light, for they remind us that indeed what Christ possesses by Nature—His life, His love, His freedom, His beauty—all that He possess in Himself by nature, He offers to us by divine grace. And all of this is offered to us in the Holy Church, most clearly in our liturgical life. The Holy Church is our life and our salvation and the Holy Mysteries of the Church—in fact all the divine services, most importantly the Divine Liturgy—reflect the iconic dimension of man and of the Church.
At every service, the priest or the deacon censes all the icons, but they also cense the people in the very same way. At every Divine Liturgy, the priest and the people both offer the prayer: “Let us who mystically represent the cherubim….” Later, when the time comes for the consecration of the Holy Gifts, the priest exclaims: “Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all and for all.” In all these ways, the Liturgy is a living icon of the heavenly mystery of the Kingdom of God.
Therefore, let us rejoice in this present feast, knowing that these holy icons which surround us are an expression of the great gift that the Lord has granted to us: the gift of being able to attain eternal life and resurrection in Him. But let us not forget that we are still required to make an effort. And this is why we must now return to Great Lent, and continue, not with gloomy faces and empty stomachs, but with joy and expectation, in order to truly live what we have experienced in today’s celebration, and what we will experience in the amazing experience of Holy Week and Pascha.
Brothers and sisters, let us follow Christ and the saints in their faith, no matter what is going right or wrong in our lives. As the Epistle reading said: “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
May this be granted to all of us, through the prayers of the Most Holy Mother of God and of all the saints who surround us by their presence in the holy icons, and by the grace of our merciful God, Who is worshipped in Trinity, the Father without beginning, the Co-eternal Son and the Consubstantial Spirit, both now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Photo Credit: Subdeacon Roman Ostash