Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Very Rev. Fr. John Behr
on the Triumph of Orthodoxy

At the heart of our faith stands this mystery of Christ – let us never change it for anything else! Even before the first Sunday of Lent became the Sunday of Orthodoxy, commemorating the restoration of the icons, it still pointed in the same direction. From many centuries earlier, the first Sunday of Lent was given over to remembering the prophets; that is why we heard so much about them in the hymnography last night and again this morning in the Gospel and the Epistle during the liturgy. This commemoration of the prophets is really another aspect of the same mystery: the icons confirm what the prophets foretold.

But we are now also taken a step further. In the Liturgy we heard, in the Gospel, that when Christ called Philip, Philip went to tell Nathanial that: “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth” (John 1:45). Or, as we sang last night, the prophets spoke of the one who from all eternity was born from the immaterial and bodiless womb of the Father, yet was made flesh by being born from the Virgin, and so was seen by us on earth. The message of the apostles – that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ spoken of by the prophets – this is what the icons confirm: he has come visibly in the flesh.

Then in the Epistle we heard of the sufferings endured by the prophets as they looked to the things that God had planned for us. Or again as we sang last night: “the prophets refused to worship the creation instead of the Creator; they renounced the whole world for the Gospel’s sake, and in their suffering they were conformed to thy Passion which they had foretold.” The prophets, by concentrating all their hearts and strength on the promise of God, the Gospel, refusing to compromise with the world, and enduring all the suffering that this entails, in this way they themselves were conformed to Christ’s passion, in this way THEY became images of Christ.

And let us make no mistake about this, this is what WE are also called to: not simply to be proud of our orthodoxy – that we have icons – but to become icons ourselves. We are to be sharers in Christ’s passion, to be crucified with him, and so be conformed to the image of the Son of God. Thus, the Epistle finished by exhorting us: Being surrounded by this cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders us, let us throw off the sin that so easily entangles us, so that we can run with perseverance the race that is set out before us. We are, the Apostle says, to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, so that he now sits at the right hand of the Father (Heb 12:1-2).

What amazingly powerful words! The orthodoxy that we celebrate today is fulfilled not simply by having the right answers to particular questions, nor by preserving traditions for the sake of their antiquity, or particular practices because we think that they will make us better Christians. No, the goal is to have our attention captivated by, our gaze fixed upon, our ears opened to, and our hearts enthralled with our Lord Jesus Christ. He is for us the beginning and the end of all things: he is the one who began our faith and the one who will bring it to fulfillment.

- from the St. Vladimir's Seminary website. Read the entire sermon here.