By Subdeacon Peter Samore
For the fourth straight year, and with great joy and anticipation, four Orthodox Christian hierarchs of the West Coast gathered to concelebrate the restoration of the holy icons on the first Sunday of Great Lent, known also as the Sunday of Orthodoxy. They have now taken the annual celebration to all four of their Los Angeles-area cathedrals, enabling their clergy and laity to meet one another and partake of the same chalice of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though these cathedrals and their sister parishes are neighbors to one another, the Sunday of Orthodoxy gives their people a chance to go beyond their backyards and normal routines to see the fullness of the Faith in each other’s faces.
His Grace, Bishop BENJAMIN and Holy Virgin Mary Cathedral (Orthodox Church in America) welcomed almost two dozen clergy and hundreds of faithful for the renewal of the tradition in 2011. He rejoined his brothers—His Eminence, Metropolitan GERASIMOS (Greek Orthodox Christian Metropolis of San Francisco); His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH (Antiochian Diocese of Los Angeles and the West); and His Grace, Bishop MAXIM (Serbian Orthodox Christian Diocese of Western America)—in a unified celebration that took us beyond our different cultures, languages and local practices. The heavenly choir consisted of singers and chanters from parishes across southern California.
Vladyka BENJAMIN offered the homily, and, even though the gathering has heard several insights into the meaning of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, he presented a fresh perspective that manifests the depth of the Orthodox Faith. This day marks not just a restoration of the icons in the Church dating back to the eighth and ninth centuries, but humanity’s restoration to the perfection in which God had originally created it.
“When Orthodox Christians were challenged by the iconoclasts to remove the sacred images from their churches, they understood this to be an assault on our understanding of Christ’s saving work,” Vladyka said. “They understood the rejection of icons to be a rejection of God’s adoption of what we are, a refusal to believe that God loves us so much that He came to take upon Himself Adam’s flesh, to die Adam’s death, to go where Adam was in Sheol and to fill the darkness of death with the radiance of His divine life. Our Orthodox fathers saw the hatred of the holy icons to be a rejection of Christ’s saving passion, His restoration of His image within the creatures He has loved from before the ages.”
Following Holy Communion, all the bishops, clergy and faithful processed around the exterior of the church, bearing their icons of Jesus Christ, His Mother and His Saints. It reminds us that our Savior and His holy people are present with us on every step of our Lenten Journey, guiding us and strengthening us, like Vladyka BENJAMIN put it, as we cleanse “our inner self so that the inner beauty with which we were created can be seen, so that Christ can walk about in the creation He loves through us.” At each stop, the deacons and priests offered petitions for the continued well-being of the Orthodox Faith, and each bishop sprinkled the faithful with holy water.
After the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy concluded, Sayidna JOSEPH reflected on this glorious day. “We celebrate the Sunday of Orthodoxy every year with no mention of any specific saint of the day because this Sunday is unique,” His Grace said. “We celebrate this “doxological” day with icons to reaffirm all Orthodox doctrines and dogmas. Therefore, we send the message that the Orthodox doctrines are the same over the centuries and forever, because they contain the truth of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. As the Synodicon says: ‘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!’”
When everyone returned inside the church, Dhespota GERASIMOS thanked Vladyka BENJAMIN and the entire Holy Virgin Mary community for their hospitality and kindness. His Eminence reminded the faithful that “the Triumph of Orthodoxy is not in the procession, but in the restoration of icons and humanity to God. The Holy Spirit unified us today, so this must become the reality every day of our lives. The icon—the image of God—must shine within us 24-7.”
The community then hosted everyone to a Lenten luncheon in the cathedral hall and throughout the grounds. They had another chance to dine and dwell in unity with each other, following the first banquet around the chalice of our Lord. After a glorious morning, everyone went to their homes with a renewed sense of purpose for the remainder of Great Lent, as well as anticipation for the next Sunday of Orthodoxy celebration in 2012.