By Subdeacon Peter Samore
Each year, Orthodox Christians around Southern California break from their routine of worshiping in the Divine Liturgy at their regular churches to witness something special on the first Sunday of Great Lent. The canonical Orthodox Christian Bishops of the West Coast began the tradition of celebrating the Divine Liturgy together on this day in 2008 at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Los Angeles, California. In 2012, the tradition returned to its roots, as our hierarchs gathered here once again to celebrate the “Sunday of Orthodoxy”—the restoration of the holy icons to the Church once and for all in the ninth century.
His Eminence, Metropolitan GERASIMOS (Greek Orthodox Christian Metropolis of San Francisco) warmly welcomed approximately 800 clergy, monastics and faithful on March 4. He rejoined his brothers: His Eminence, Archbishop JOSEPH (Antiochian Orthodox Christian Diocese of Los Angeles and the West); His Grace, Bishop MAXIM (Serbian Orthodox Christian Diocese of Western America); and His Grace, Bishop BENJAMIN (Orthodox Church in America, Diocese of the West).
Joining them this year was a brother from the east: His Grace, Bishop MICHAEL (Orthodox Church in America, Diocese of New York and New Jersey), who served as the retreat master for our clergy and faithful on the eve of the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy. Vladyka MAXIM graciously opened the doors of St. Stephen Serbian Orthodox Cathedral on Saturday, March 3 for this special gathering, where Vladyka MICHAEL gave a stirring presentation on ministering to and caring for the youth and their parents. That evening, all of the Southern California clergy served Great Vespers together to officially begin the liturgical celebration of the Sunday of Orthodoxy.
Dhespota GERASIMOS invited Vladyka MICHAEL to offer the homily in the Divine Liturgy. He reminded the faithful that the Sunday of Orthodoxy is our return not only to the correct veneration of our Lord Jesus Christ, His Ever-virgin Mother and His Saints through the holy icons, but to the true teaching of the one Church. Icons play an integral role in that orthodoxy, which draws us to salvation and eternal life in the Heavenly Kingdom. Vladyka MICHAEL also said that, on this Sunday and in every Liturgy, we cast aside all external factors that divide us and return to the chalice for the Body and Blood of Christ which unites us.
The hierarchs, clergy and members of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate then processed inside the cathedral, bearing the icons which they and the Orthodox Church hold so dearly. At each of the four stops, the priests offered petitions for the well-being of the entire Church and, in between, the choir sang the Apolytikion of the Sunday of Orthodoxy: “Thy pure image do we venerate, O Christ our God.” At the final stop on the solea in front of the Royal Doors, all five hierarchs recited, in unison, the Synodicon (“The Affirmation of Faith”), which reads in part:
“Thus we declare, thus we assert, thus we preach Christ our true God, and honor His Saints in words, in writings, in thoughts, in sacrifices, in churches, in Holy Icons; on the one hand worshiping and reverencing Christ as God and Lord; and on the other hand honoring as true servants of the same Lord of all, and accordingly offering them veneration.”
Following the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, Dhespota GERASIMOS, on behalf of the brother bishops, congratulated Sayidna JOSEPH on his recent elevation to the dignity of Archbishop for his years of dedicated service to the Orthodox Church. Dhespota led the singing of “Ton Dhespotin” (“Many Years”) to Sayidna and the triple shouting of “Axios!” (“He is worthy!”) Sayidna JOSEPH then thanked Dhespota GERASIMOS for his heartfelt kindness, and the two senior brothers then distributed antidoron to the faithful.
As the West Coast celebration of the Sunday of Orthodoxy reaches its five-year anniversary, we can reflect on the words of our hierarchs as they each took turns hosting this day at their Los Angeles-area cathedrals:
2008-His Eminence, Metropolitan GERASIMOS: “God has entrusted unto us our brothers and sisters as ‘living icons’ who are to be carried with reverence.”
2009-His Eminence, Archbishop JOSEPH: “We have many languages and many customs, but we have one true God and one true worship.”
2010-His Grace, Bishop MAXIM: “The Eucharist is the celebration that makes the earthly Church what it is, namely, an Icon of the Kingdom.”
2011-His Grace, Bishop BENJAMIN: “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.”
And we pray that Almighty God will gather us together next year and every year on this day for the glorious celebration and worship at the Sunday of Orthodoxy.