By John Lickwar
We have completed the first week of the Great Fast! We began it one week ago by receiving the universal impetus gathered as the Church in worship to surrender our hearts to the direction given at the service of vespers, ‘to cleanse our soul as we cleanse our flesh,’ and ‘to abstain from passion as we abstain from food.’ We do this because we are not our own, we are servants of God. With the passing of these words to us from the start of Great Lent, and by the kiss of mutual forgiveness, we are adorned with the form of Christ incarnate whereby we can embark upon a humble and living triumph of Orthodoxy. The triumph of Orthodox iconography is linked to the living presence and call to holiness in Christ; before there were painted icons, there was and is our Lord Jesus Christ, whose image and likeness was and is revealed by his Mother, foretold by the prophets, and realized in all the saints, appearing first in flesh and blood. The triumph of Orthodoxy is a tangible triumph in their Oneness, Holiness, Catholicity, and Apostolic presence in this world! These behaviors of authentic Church life strengthen our spiritual health, and bring us together in wholeness by way of grace, truth, and joy. The very spirit of the triumph we speak, it’s tempered genuineness of which we are called to be a beacon, demand from us the (podvig) of the Baptist’s words preceding Christ’s coming, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
In speaking once with a woman outside the Orthodox faith, she made this discovery from attending our vesper service, “Nothing else in this world other than Orthodox Christian worship and life can give me the example, renew me, and inspire me to live my life in Christ, as Christ has lived his life in flesh and blood like mine!” How curious is the response of a person outside the Orthodox Church who considered her attending vespers a life changing experience and triumph of Orthodoxy; she encountered the Kingdom of God made present. Here she was receptive to seeing herself in a new light, that of Christ, his Mother, and his saints.
As we celebrate in our churches the Vespers of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, let us become the tangible triumph of good over evil, of truth over falsehood, of kindness over ill-will, of gladness over sorrow, and of gratitude over thanklessness; let us become radiant examples of Christ’s light. Let us shine the light of Orthodoxy’s triumph in faith by being brought down to humbly and joyously persevere with the Comforting Spirit in virtues toward each other, toward our neighbor and so be adorned with our entrance into the glorious Resurrection of Christ our Lord! St. John of Kronstadt has said as much:
“This is the character of our earthly life, a constant expectation of God’s call from this life to the other.”
“Man is a wonderful, grand, most wise, artistic production of the most perfect Artist, God; he was not originally defiled….”
“However, the most wise and almighty, and all-merciful Artist did not allow His and our enemy to entirely destroy His beautiful and grand creation, and made Himself a body like unto ours, and took a soul in the womb of His Most Pure Virgin-Mother; by His incarnation, His teaching, miracles, sufferings, death and resurrection, by His wonderful and most wise orderings, he again restores to the work of His hands its former and even greater beauty and glory; He again bestows upon it the highest bliss, making human nature godly and setting it with Himself on the throne of the Godhead. Glory be to Thee, most merciful, the most wise and almighty Artist!”
In the Rite of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, we acknowledge the victory of Christ triumphant in our lives, and as well as in those who departed this life before us, especially those martyred for the Faith! For those departed we sing Memory Eternal; and for those living we sing Many Years! We also remember in this celebration the condemnation of apostasy of Christians from Christ by willful choice. But even for those who stray from the Orthodox Faith, let us acquire the mind of St. John of Kronstadt and pray as he did for their return to the substance of Christ centered Orthodoxy in life that has established and sustains the universe:
“Strengthen in this belief and in this faith
my heart and the hearts of all Orthodox Christians.
Unite, in this faith, all great Christian communities
Who have tragically fallen away from
The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Depose the pride and resistance of their teachers;
Grant them to understand with their hearts
The Truth and Saving Grace of Your Church and
to be united with her without delay.
Draw into this faith all peoples who inhabit the earth;
in this faith unite us all in the spirit of
meekness, humility, gentleness, simplicity,
serenity, patience and compassion
-rejoicing in the happiness of others. Amen!