Sunday of Orthodoxy
Throughout Great Lent there are special commemorations observed for each Sunday during the fast. This first Sunday of Lent is known as the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. On this day we celebrate the victory of the proclamation and preservation of Orthodoxy over the iconoclasts and over all heresies. Throughout the history of the Church, she has been challenged and buffeted by those that would introduce false and misleading teachings into the purity of the revealed Truths of God. And throughout her history, our Holy Mother Church has resisted these imposters and has boldly proclaimed and reiterated the Truth of the Orthodox Faith as revealed to mankind by God, as defined and defended by the holy saints of the Church. On this day it is appropriate for us to examine why it is important to understand and to uphold our Orthodox Faith.
The first thing we need to establish, if we are to discuss the importance of Orthodoxy, is the fundamental concept of Truth itself. Do we believe that there is any absolute, unchanging, eternal Truth? We have to ask this most basic question and we have to penetrate to the heart of its implications. We live in an age in which relativism reigns with an iron fist. You believe your truth and I’ll believe my truth and let’s just leave it at that. This ‘benevolent indifference’ is the supreme good and ultimate truth of modern thinking. The greatest heresy and offense in today’s world is to declare that something is right and therefore imply that something else is wrong. The modern world does not believe in absolute truth, and therefore believes it is a far greater good to compromise upon the lowest common denominator things that we can agree upon that do not offend or challenge differing points of view. This is what is known as Ecumenism.
Now, no-one would argue that the desire for unity and peace are good and noble and worthy pursuits. There is so much that separates mankind – causing suspicion, hatred, and wars. These outcomes are horrible and are the cause of much suffering and sorrow in this world.
But there is something very important missing here… and it takes us back to our fundamental question: is there any absolute, unchanging, eternal Truth? As Orthodox Christians the emphatic answer to this must be a resounding ‘Yes!’ For we do believe that there is Truth and that that Truth is a Person… our Lord Jesus Christ. And that that Person has revealed Himself to mankind throughout history and ultimately was incarnate, becoming a man, teaching, suffering and dying for us, rising again on the third day, ascending to heaven, and providing for us His Holy Church in which He bestows His Grace through the sacraments. This revelation has been and continues to be defined and defended for us by the Fathers of the Church.
This revelation of Truth remains True whether we believe it or not. If it is True, if it is absolute and eternal, then even if there are no human beings in the universe to discern it and believe in it, it would still remain True. This is so because this Truth is not a concept, this Truth is the Living God, the Trinity: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Now, if we acknowledge that there is this Truth and we believe that this Truth has been revealed to us through His Church, then there are consequences to that. If we acknowledge this to be true, then we must be careful of compromises for the sake of accommodating toward a ‘lowest common denominator’ – for such compromises will, by simple consequence, lead us away from the fullness of that Truth. This is why the fathers of the Church defended the Truth of Orthodoxy. This is why they were not willing to compromise what they held in the highest esteem to be the revealed Truth of God. This is why the martyrs were willing to be tortured and killed rather than to betray that precious Truth handed down to them.
God forbid that this would generate a pompous sense of personal triumphalism and pharisaical arrogance within an Orthodox Christian. Orthodoxy is not true because it is our religion - Orthodoxy must be our religion because it is true! The Orthodox faith does not belong to us - we must belong to the Orthodox faith! We must never lord the truth over any one… the truth must be the Lord over us!
If we believe, along with the Saints and Martyrs of our Church, that the Orthodox faith is true, then we must adhere to it with fidelity and humility – as unworthy heirs to so great an inheritance. Our attitude toward others should not be to build walls that make us isolated and unreachable. But neither should it be to punch holes that tear down and compromise the edifice of Truth. We are to simply keep the doors open and the welcome mat out and ready. We can usually find some common ground with others that can build the beginnings of sharing the fullness of Orthodoxy. Our primary focus and greatest witness is to preserve and live the Orthodox life and faith as handed down to us by our Fathers, not daring to squander such a treasure.
In Orthodox cathedrals on this day we hear the anathemas proclaimed – clearly stating those heresies and errors which are contrary to Orthodoxy and condemning those errors. These anathemas are motivated not by the pharisaical condemnation of others, but by humbly grasping onto the life raft of Orthodox Truth and faithfully discerning Truth from falsity.
And so, on this day we celebrate the Triumph of Orthodoxy. This is the triumph of Truth as revealed to mankind by God Himself and the recognition and celebration of this Ark, the Church, which has faithfully sailed through the waters and storms of falsehood throughout time. May we join the Church triumphant in celebrating the Truth of Orthodoxy and may we have that right sense of humble gratitude and careful guardianship for the precious inheritance given to us by the Church. Let us be grateful and zealous students of the truths of our faith. And may this close adherence to the Truth never make us cold and arrogant, but may it instead bear its proper fruit of love, kindness, goodness, and patience – radiating genuine warmth and attraction to the Church and the fullness and measure of Truth, the Lord Jesus Christ our God.