The Sunday of Orthodoxy, the Church’s triumph of the restoration of the holy icons, is by no means a new innovation, as our hierarchs repeated throughout the day. We celebrate the end of the heresy that was the destruction of visions into the Heavenly Kingdom, and the pious men and women who elevated and venerated them again in the eighth and ninth centuries and onward. In southern California, however, the Sunday of Orthodoxy has taken on an enhanced celebration in recent years: the gathering of the faithful from the various jurisdictions and their fathers-in-Christ, the bishops, who lead them in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, who said, “The honor paid to the Icon passes on to the prototype.”
His Grace, Bishop MAXIM of the Serbian Orthodox Christian Diocese of Western America hosted this year’s highly-anticipated event on February 21 at his home parish, St. Stephen Serbian Orthodox Christian Cathedral in Alhambra, California. Joining him were His Eminence, Metropolitan GERASIMOS of the Greek Orthodox Christian Metropolis of San Francisco; His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Diocese of Los Angeles and the West; His Grace, Bishop BENJAMIN of the Orthodox Church in America’s Diocese of the West; along with the southern California cathedral deans including the host, V. Rev. Nikola Ceko, and several priests, deacons, subdeacons and altar servers.
Vladyka MAXIM, in his homily, posed the question to the hundreds in attendance: “Does the image of our world and the Church overshadow the true image of the Kingdom?” He reminded us that these images cannot, because the real Icon is not of this world and is “eschatological both in origin and in content.” Vladyka stressed that any other image does not refer to the Person of Christ, and thus leads to corruption and death. As he continued, Vladyka MAXIM said that the real Icon leads us to the Church, where we will find the “Eucharistic Synaxis” – the gathering of the clergy and faithful to meet God through our Communion with Him and each other. “The Eucharist is the celebration that makes the earthly Church what it is, namely, an Icon of the Kingdom,” His Grace said, encouraging us to look beyond “image pollution” that blurs our vision, promote the true Icon of the Kingdom, and affirm and embrace with love the living icons – ordinary people – that walk next to us as St. Paul instructs: “Honor one another above yourself” (Romans 12:10).
Following the Divine Liturgy with the Procession of the Holy Icons, the hierarchs, clergy and laity gathered for lunch in the cathedral hall. Each of the hierarchs had the opportunity to offer words of wisdom. Dhespota GERASIMOS says he looks forward to this day every year, where we call upon the Holy Spirit to bless and guide our steps in such a grand event that he calls “unique” to the American scene. “We are away from our ancestry, but this country gives us a special connection with each other to show the unity of the Faith,” Dhespota said. “We ask the Holy Spirit to lighten us and give us a life full of the Faith so that we can bring salvation to society.”
His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH was also thankful that local Orthodox Christians can get together on the Sunday of Orthodoxy – now for the third straight year – and elaborated on the theme of Orthodox Christian unity. “We are the same body of Christ, expressed in many languages and traditions, but we are the same in sacraments and substance,” Sayidna said. “On this day, we can discover ourselves and discover our unity in the body of Christ. We want God to enable us so that we can be purified to do His will.”
Vladyka BENJAMIN addressed the “living icons” by reminding them about their journey through Great Lent. “In this season, find great joy in the Lord Jesus,” he said. “Don’t just go through your spiritual rubbish bin to learn how bad you are. We must remember that God loves us – He died for us so that we can live in His Kingdom. Look for the deep spiritual joy and express it to the world that desperately needs it.”
The clergy and faithful were then treated to a presentation from the classic patristic work “On the Holy Icons” by St. Theodore the Studite, accompanied by a slide show of icons from all over the world. Mr. Charles Ajalat, at the invitation of Vladyka MAXIM, gave a presentation on FOCUS
North America and its charitable work for the poor of this continent. Miss Elly Pettygrove and students from Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF
) chapters from the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles discussed their work to keep college students in tune with the Faith during years that are often tumultuous. She quoted from St. John Chrysostom’s On Living Simply: “To be a disciple of Christ is not a guarantee of always remaining on the path. Rather, it is a commitment – a promise – to stay as near the path as the will allows, and to struggle back onto the path after straying.”
The four bishops then met with the college students assembled that day to discuss their struggles with identity at this time in their lives. Dhespota GERASIMOS empathized with this, and promised that the hierarchs would provide them all the materials and sustenance they need to stay close to the Church. Vladyka MAXIM said that includes community with each other and communion with God to getting past all the individual struggles, so that we can focus only on obtaining the Kingdom of Heaven. Sayidna JOSEPH added that patience and obedience to the Church and what is right are also essential, and that success does not come from within, but from God. Vladyka BENJAMIN reminded the college students to rebel against the belief that “life is easy” because that mentality reflects the death of American society, and to go “be Christ” to someone in need. The hierarchs agreed that these virtues and acts are what keep disappointment and depression at bay.
With these inspiring words and a day filled with the unity of the Orthodox Christian faith of people from all backgrounds and walks of life, 2010’s celebration of the Sunday of Orthodoxy came to a close, leaving the hierarchs, clergy and laity with a sense of high anticipation to get together again next year.
By Subdeacon Peter Samore