Homily by Fr. Simon Ckuj on the Orthodoxy Sunday

February 17, 2024

Today’s feast ultimately reminds us that we are called to be living icons. We were created in the image and likeness of God, our struggles during the Great Fast are our attempt to cooperate with the grace of God that we may be able to restore that likeness which is distorted by sin.

Homily by Fr. Simon Ckuj on the Orthodoxy Sunday

“As a precious adornment the Church of Christ has received the venerable and holy icons of the Saviour Christ, of God’s Mother and of all the saints. Celebrating now their triumphant restoration, she is made bright with grace and splendour, and drives away all heretics. With great rejoicing she gives glory to God who loves mankind, and who for her sake has endured His voluntary Passion.”
(Vespers for the First Sunday of the Fast)

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, today, the First Sunday of the Great and Holy Fast, the Church calls us to reflect upon the importance of Holy Icons in our worship and prayer. Since 843 we have celebrated the victory of “orthodoxy” that is literally “correct or true opinion” or “true worship” after the Seventh Ecumenical Council in Nicea in 787 AD decreed that Holy Icons serve to preserve the doctrinal teachings of the Church; they considered icons to be man’s way of expressing the divine through art and beauty. The Council decided on a doctrine by which icons should be venerated but not worshipped.

The decree of the Council for restoring icons to churches added an important clause which still stands at the foundation of the rationale for using and venerating icons in the Church to this very day: “We define that the holy icons, whether in colour, mosaic, or some other material, should be exhibited in the holy churches of God, on the sacred vessels and liturgical vestments, on the walls, furnishings, and in houses and along the roads, namely the icons of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, that of our Lady the Theotokos, those of the venerable angels and those of all saintly people. Whenever these representations are contemplated, they will cause those who look at them to commemorate and love their prototype. We define also that they should be kissed and that they are an object of veneration and honour, but not of real worship, which is reserved for Him Who is the subject of our faith and is proper for the divine nature. The veneration accorded to an icon is in effect transmitted to the prototype; he who venerates the icon, venerated in it the reality for which it stands”.

Today’s celebration allows us to reflect on the great significance which icons possess for the Church. They are not optional devotional extras, they are not “works of art” or simply decorations, but an integral part of faith and devotion. Holy Icons are a necessary consequence of our Christian faith in the incarnation of the Word of God, Jesus Christ. They have a sacramental character, making present to the believer the person or event depicted on them. Icons are venerated by burning lamps and candles in front of them, by the use of incense and by kissing. They are an earthly window that allows us to gaze into the Divine so that we too can become an image of the Divine and thus find the fulfilment that we have been promised.

The original message of the Church on this first Sunday of the Great Fast can still be seen in the choice readings from Holy Scripture. We are called to be followers of Christ. Just as Philip, Nathaniel and all the early disciples of Christ “obtained what had been promised as part of God’s better plan, a plan which included us” (Hebrews 11:39–40), so everything that has been perfected throughout the ages has been perfected through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are part of the Divine Plan which unites us to all the holy and righteous ones who have preceded us. In being the fulfillment of the promises of Jesus Christ.

Our struggles during the Great Fast are undertaken with the passions of this world that will never give us the fulfilment of our hearts desire. Yet fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets can come from a place like Nazareth, which Philip derided by saying, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth” so we too can encounter God in even the most mundane of places through our personal struggles.

Today’s feast ultimately reminds us that we are called to be living icons. We were created in the image and likeness of God, our struggles during the Great Fast are our attempt to cooperate with the grace of God that we may be able to restore that likeness which is distorted by sin. The Fast gives us an opportunity to reflect on God’s Divine Plan for us which, more often than not, does not coincide with our personal agenda. Our struggle is to see faithfully God’s will in our lives.

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