Commemorated on March 24th
The first Sunday of the Holy and Great Lent Sunday of Orthodoxy
The first Sunday of the Holy and Great Lent is dedicated to our Holy Orthodoxy. After six days of strict fasting of the First Week of Lent of intensive and warm prayer, of cleansing of soul and body, the faithful are in a joyful and celebrating atmosphere.
"A day full of joy and delight has appeared today" chants the sacred muse of hymnography, "for the brightness of the very true dogmas shine, and the Church of Christ lightens in splendour now, decorated with the restoration of the holy Icons and engravings, and a God-awarded harmony of the faithful is brought about".
A joyful day. Full of delight. A day on which the Church of Christ sparkles and shines decorated with the holy icons, enriched with the sacred Relics of Saints, honoured and glorified with the precious blood of the Martyrs. A day on which, in a solemn and festive way She declares that we are Her genuine children, that we hold intact the treasure of faith unadulterated from errors and heresies. That we continue the tradition of piety and the life in God. As the prophets saw. As the Apostles taught. As the Church received. As the Teachers dogmatised. As the world agreeably accepted. As the Grace shone. As the Truth was proven. As the lie has disappeared. As the Wisdom boldly appeared. As Christ rewarded.
Sunday of Orthodoxy! A day dedicated to the all-pure and all-holy Bride of Christ. Our Orthodox Church always was and is conscious of Her qualities as the Bride of the Bridegroom Christ. So She never flirted with falsehood. She never embraced error and heresy. She denied the fascinations of the ruler of this world, the prince of darkness of this age, the deceiver. She has always been "in body and soul and mind" absolutely faithful and devoted to Her Heavenly Bridegroom "the most beautiful in form of all men". She held and always holds the reproach of Christ and carries it around the world. To the world She is always poor; and weak, humble and despised by the arrogant minds and the conceited rationalists; persecuted and overrun by the powerful of the earth for twenty centuries now. Her robe is very deep red with the blood of Her children. Her feet are badly wounded all over and suffering from the continuous and incessant ascending of the narrow and sorrowful road. She does not hold in Her hands a scepter of worldly authority; She had left it to those who loved the present age. Her flesh is dry from Her ascesis. Her face betrays that She endures with dignity the heat wave of the day. In Her eyes is reflected Her cleanliness, Her purity, Her worship for the One, Her unique love; Him, Whom, the Holy Martyr Ignatius the Theoforos named so by saying "my Love is crucified!".
The blessed Photios Kontoglou was talking and writing about "The Pained Romiossyni". On the, pretext from this, Bishop Kallistos of Dioklia once spoke about "The Pained Orthodoxy". I think this is a very suitable term and perhaps under these attributes we ourselves must face Orthodoxy and must present Her to those outside Her. Pained or Suffering Orthodoxy. The humble Orthodoxy. The modest Orthodoxy. The Orthodoxy for which "the world was not worthy". The Orthodoxythat does not have to show "ecclesiastical" States and papal despotism and swords and wars supposedly in the name of Christ. The Orthodoxy that does not have to show worldly power and glory, not monetary riches, nor bank's (sometimes blasphemously named in the name of the Holy Spirit!). The Orthodoxy which considers as Her glory the lack of glory from men; for Her riches the poverty in material and earthly things; for Her honour the humiliation from the world which lacks the Spirit; for Her wisdom the foolishness of preaching the word of the Cross. Suffering Orthodoxy of the persecutions and the martyrdom! Suffering Orthodoxy of the hesychastic Monasticism and ascesis. Suffering Orthodoxy which hides in the mountains and caves and in the holes of the earth; in the catacombs, ancient and recent; in the deserts of the earth and the wilderness of the cities. Suffering Orthodoxy of the still yesterday operating Soviet concentration prisons and "mental hospitals". Suffering Orthodoxy of blood and tears. Orthodoxy which is not a club of sinless people, but the last hope and refuge of the sinful; A place and way of repentance and of possibility of return to the primal beauty and ancient splendour of the image of God. Orthodoxy where the prostitutes and the publicans and the sinful go ahead of many "pious" in the Kingdom, changing by sincere repentance to faithful and genuine friends of Christ. Suffering Orthodox of spiritual vigilance (nepsis) and speechless sighs of the heart. Suffering Orthodoxy which lives the agony or the Garden of Gethsemane and the furnace of the Cross. It is characteristic that at Her Centre, our most venerable Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople, on Good Friday the Apokathelosis (taking down from the Cross) of the Crucified is not performed. Suffering Orthodoxy which, while being on Her cross, teaches Her children to climb up, together, with the Lord, to their Golgotha to crucify their passions and the old man who is still remaining in themselves, expecting the redemption of the Resurrection in the Kingdom
"...come, therefore, and let us accompany Him, with minds purified from the pleasures of this life, and let us be crucified and die with Him that we may live with Him" (Idiomelon of the Praises, Good Monday). Suffering Orthodoxy which carries apostolically the marks of the Lord Jesus and descends daily to the chambers of hades and She is like Him "dead full of life".
But exactly all of these create for Her the presuppositions to participate both to the Light and the joy of the Resurrection chanting:
"Yesterday I was buried with You, O Christ; today on Your Resurrection I am rising with You: I was crucified with You yesterday. You glorify me with You, O Saviour, in Your Kingdom" (Troparion 3rd Ode Easter Canon).
This is Orthodoxy, the Suffering, but whose "hope and immortality is complete" in Christ, this our Orthodoxy which is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ we commemorate and celebrate on the first Sunday of Lent, commemorating and celebrating the restoration of the holy icons and the justification of rendering, honour, respect and reverence to the sacred relics of the Saints, according to the irrevocable and God inspired teaching of the Holy Seventh Ecumenical Synod and the teaching of all the Spirit bearing and deified Holy Fathers.
The Orthodox icon is the expression, in the form of paintings, of the Orthodox Faith and Life. It is the divine script in the form of figures and colours. It is a loud proclamation of the inspiration and energies of the All Holy Spirit in the life of the Church. It is the initiator, to all those who see it and venerate it with faith and devotion, into the mystery of piety. It is the bearer of the Divine Grace as so many miracle working and perfumed exuding icons confirm.
On the other hand, the sacred relics of Saints, whether they are preserved as whole bodies or as parts of the body or even as fragments of the bones, by their incorruption they provide the most powerful proof of the fact that God is participable, through His Uncreated Energies. And man, by living in faith the great mystery of piety, by struggling according to the model of Jesus Christ, by cultivating the gospel's virtues, by being nourished by the Sacraments and sanctified by his participation in the whole life of the Body of the Church "together with all the Saints", has communion with God not only spiritually, but also bodily. The whole man, body and soul, becomes participant of divine nature.
So the venerable icons and the sacred relics of the Saints together with the "sign" of the Son of God, the Precious and Life giving Cross, being at the foremost on Sunday of Orthodoxy consist a loud invitation for every faithful to live, "following the Holy Fathers", the holy life of the Gospel and to conduct his/her life according to God, combining the correctness of the dogma (Orthodoxy) with correctness of life (Orthopraxy) so that he/she would be enabled to ascend to the likeness of God , as far as possible, like Theotokos and all the Saints, and to find himself/herself in the joy of the divine Bridal chamber "where there is the clear sound of those who feast and unceasingly cry, O, Lord glory to You" (Idiomela Praises Good Tuesday).