In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be! Every day of the year, in the Orthodox Church, we have various Saints that we remember. During Great and Holy Lent, in addition to the Saints remembered on particular days, each Sunday of the Fast has its own special commemoration. On these Sundays, the Church chooses these commemorations to support us spiritually in our Lenten efforts to be more like Christ. We’ll learn about prayer and worship one week; about true repentance one week; we’ll be strengthened midway through the Fast by the Veneration and Exaltation of the Life-Giving Cross. Just as we were prepared for a month before the Fast, we’ll continue to be reminded during the Fast that the purpose of everything in life is Christ. And so today we have the Sunday of Orthodoxy—the commemoration of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. There are many angles we could take to talk about the Triumph of Orthodoxy, but this being our first year together celebrating the day, let’s talk about what it is we’re actually commemorating. The Triumph of Orthodoxy celebrates the restoration of Holy Icons into the Churches—first by the 7th Ecumenical Council in 787, and then finally by a local council in Constantinople in 843. As we’ll see, this commemoration is specifically for us to remember, and learn from, what happened from about the year 700 to the mid-800’s in the Orthodox Church. For us as Orthodox Christians in 2007, it seems strange to think that there was a time in history when the veneration of Icons was called into question within the Church. But in fact, for nearly 150 years there was literally a battle in the Christian empire over icons. From the beginning of the Christian Church, even in the catacombs and in the house Churches of the earliest communities, Christians have used images. And until the early 700’s, there was no opposition to this to speak of. Sure, there were occasionally people who questioned images—just like there were people who had issues with virtually every practice and doctrine of the Church—but the Church as a Body never had to deal with opposition to Holy Icons. Until the early 700’s. The reasons for the rise of iconoclasm—opposition to icons—are various, and worth noting so we can be sure to learn from the past. 1) Many note the rise of Islam on the borders of the empire as an influencing factor. Islam was and is opposed to any use of images, and their new interpretation of the Scriptures likely had an impact on the Christian empire they were constantly invading and interacting with. Many point to the fact that you don’t have a movement in the Church opposed to images until someone else, someone not Christian, raises the issue. 2) Another reason that those opposing Icons were able to gain some support were abuses by some of the faithful of Holy Icons. Some people just didn’t understand the proper place of the Icon, and this resulted in bizarre practices like venerating certain Icons to ensure one’s salvation, actual worship of Icons, parents adopting particular Icons to be the ‘godparents’ of their children, putting paint chippings from Icons into the Chalice with the Holy Eucharist. So once some questions arise about Icons, people are able to point to actual mis-uses of the images to gain support for them being banned. 3) Another very sad issue with iconoclasm was the bad relationship between the Byzantine government and the monasteries. Around this time there were approximately 100,000 monastics in the empire. They owned a lot of land for the support of the monasteries, and they had a good bit of influence within the empire. So some historians point to this clash—the government wanting more control over the monasteries for land and power—as one of the major factors in iconoclasm. The monks supported the veneration of Holy Icons, so the government could launch an attack on the monasteries by attacking the use of Icons in the Churches. 4) A final factor I’ll mention are the heresies still at work in the empire. No matter how many times a certain teaching is condemned, you’ll always find people ready to believe it and teach it. Most of the wrong teaching around today were first dealt with by the Church within the first few hundred years after the life of Christ. In the late 600’s and early 700’s, heresies were on the rise that taught that the material creation was intrinsically evil. So these people denied that Christ really became man, and they viewed Icons as idolatry. Whatever all the actual reasons and influences for iconoclasm were, we can certainly be sure that Satan was taking advantage of various situations in the Christian Church at the time to launch an attack on the Body of Christ from within. And this is a point we need to be reminded of constantly. We should always be on the lookout for the attack from Satan. And often that attack comes from within. Like the Psalmist writes, he receives an attack from his closest friend and confidant, from the place he least expected it, and he’s wounded because the attack was unexpected. The heresies the Church has dealt with, iconoclasm included, come from within. Satan works from the inside—his worst attacks both on the Church and on individual Christians—are not blatant attacks from the outside, but subtle attacks from the inside. So back to the story of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. In the early part of the 700s, a group of bishops on the Eastern border of the empire began opposing the use of Icons. Their opposition grew so serious that the Patriarch of Constantinople decided to defend the use of Holy Icons with a Patriarchal Epistle. This epistle reaches the emperor, Leo, who for some reason decides to take the side of the iconoclasts. The emperor decides to oppose the Holy Icons. So he publishes an imperial decree against Icons, and begins to enforce the decree militarily. Soldiers begin removing Icons from public places and Churches, the people resist, and both Christian faithful and imperial soldiers are killed. The faithful and the monastics rise up immediately in defense of the Holy Icons. The emperor calls a Church council (we see here the problem of politics getting involved in the Church) and the council rules against the use of Icons. So the Patriarch is deposed, and one who will support the emperor is installed. So basically, iconoclasm begins as a small force that turns into a major issue once the emperor decides to support it. The Bishop of Rome responds quickly, excommunicating the iconoclasts and upholding the ancient practice of the Church having and using images. So you have a very definite split in the empire—with the West supporting Icons and the East, which was closer to the emperor, being forced to do away with the Holy Images. The next emperor takes an even harsher stand against the Icons, and calls a council that condemns them in 754. This council says that the veneration of Icons comes from heretical understandings of Christ—the 7th Ecumenical Council, which the Church obviously accepts, says exactly the opposite, that those who are against Icons have a false understanding of Christ. Following the council, the emperor has many icons, relics, and various other religious items destroyed. And many people who continue to defend the ancient Tradition of the Church were killed. Monasteries were shut down, monastics were imprisoned, killed, forced to marry (monks forced to marry nuns), and generally the monastics were treated horribly during this time. Many of the monastics in the empire fled to Rome, because the West continued to support the use of Icons of the Church. A new emperor comes to power in 775 (21 years after the iconoclast council), and while he also is against the Icons, he doesn’t use the military to enforce the ban. He only rules for 5 years, and in 780 his wife, Irene, comes to power. This is where we begin to see hope for the Church. She soon has a new Patriarch of Constantinople installed—its interesting to see that St. Tarasius is this new patriarch who supports the Icons, and his feast just happens to fall on today. In 787, 7 years into the reign of Irene, St. Tarasius calls what comes to be known as the 7th Ecumenical Council. We’ll look at what the council said, briefly, in a minute. But we should finish the story of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. This Council defends the ancient practice of having and venerating Icons in the Churches. So things basically return to normal—there is not a huge resistance to the restoration of the Icons. Which makes what happens next even stranger. When you look at history, you really see the hand of Satan in there using people, making things happen that don’t seem to have any logical reason. A people excited by the return of Icons shouldn’t return to iconoclasm, but…Irene is overthrown and exiled in 802, and iconoclasm returns. In 815 the emperor demands that Icons be raised above head level so they can’t be kissed. Again, the monastics and the faithful rise up in defense of the Tradition of the Church, and another period of persecution and death follows. But this time, the effort of the emperor is only able to be in Constantinople and the surrounding regions. So much of the Christian world is actually spared during this second wave of iconoclasm. But this second tide lasts 40 more years. St. Theodora comes to the throne in 842, and she immediately begins to restore the Icons in the Churches and to uphold the statements of the 7th Ecumenical Council. In early 843 another council is called that upholds the 7th Council. And in celebration of this, on the first Sunday of Great Lent a huge procession with Icons goes through the capital city, and the Icons are restored once and for all in the Christian Church. And every first Sunday of Lent since 843, the Orthodox Church has celebrated the Triumph of Orthodoxy—the restoration of the Icons, and the remembrance of the atrocities that accompanied iconoclasm. So, today is about more than a historical event remembered, it’s also to help us remember that at any time attacks can come on the Faith from anywhere. And we have to be willing to defend the fullness of the Faith in Jesus Christ with our lives, if necessary. We have this commemoration today to help us remember that the Christian life is a constant martyrdom. Just like all those people died defending the Holy Icons, we will die daily to defend Christ being first in our lives. If we’re serious about the faith, this time of Great Lent will be an attack on our passions and a martyrdom of our will, in order to put the things of Christ first. As a final thought, there are many who don’t understand our use of Icons today. So why did the 7th Council deem that Icons were part of the Faith that needed to be defended? To keep unchanged all that was handed down since the time of the Apostles, one part of which is making pictorial representations…especially to show that the Incarnation of the Word of God is real and not merely a phantasm. The Churches are to be adorned with Icons of Christ and His Holy Saints, as are the homes of the faithful. So that by more frequently seeing the images our minds are raised up to the Prototype. We venerate, but do not worship the Icons. Worship is for God alone, but we salute the Saints who have been remade in His image. And following after them, we struggle to live the life that Christ has called us to. Simply having Icons defends the real Incarnation of Christ, establishes the goodness of creation, shows that Christ came to sanctify all things, and remind us constantly—every time we see them—of what our lives should be. Glory to God for the gift of the fullness of the Christian faith in His Holy Church. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

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