Each year, Orthodox Christians around the world 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. Eight bishops of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America finished the First Week of Great Lent and spiritually inaugurated entrance into the Second Week of Great Lent with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy together on the Sunday of Orthodoxy at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in New York City, New York. This year, the tradition returned to its roots, as Orthodox hierarchs, representing various jurisdictions of Holy Orthodox Church gathered 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 Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch welcomed about two dozen clergy and hundreds of faithful for the prayerful Divine Liturgy – the Holy Mystery of Eucharist. He was joined by his brothers—His Eminence Metropolitan Evangelos (Greek Orthodox Metropolis of New Jersey); His Eminence Archbishop Daniel (Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA); His Eminence Archbishop Melkhisedek (Orthodox Church of America); His Grace Bishop Irynej (Serbian Orthodox Christian Diocese of Eastern America); His Grace Bishop John (Russian Orthodox Church); His Grace Bishop Andonios and His Grace Bishop Sevastianos (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America)—in a unified celebration that took those in attendance beyond their different cultures, languages and local practices. The heavenly choir consisted of singers and chanters of the cathedral parish sang the responses to the Divine Liturgy and the Procession with the Right of Orthodoxy.
Archbishop Demetrios offered the homily, and, even though the gathering has heard several insights into the meaning of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, he presented a fresh perspective that manifests the depth of the Orthodox Faith. This day marks not just a restoration of the icons in the Church dating back to the eighth and ninth centuries, but humanity’s restoration to the perfection in which God had originally created it.
“When Orthodox Christians were challenged by the iconoclasts to remove the sacred images from their churches, they understood this to be an assault on our understanding of Christ’s saving work,” Vladyka said. “They understood the rejection of icons to be a rejection of God’s adoption of what we are, a refusal to believe that God loves us so much that He came to take upon Himself Adam’s flesh, to die Adam’s death, to go where Adam was in Sheol and to fill the darkness of death with the radiance of His divine life. 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.”
Following Holy Communion, all the clergy and faithful, lead by the youth of the cathedral’s community processed around the interior of the church, bearing their icons of Jesus Christ, His Mother and His Saints. It reminds the faithful that our Savior and His holy people are present with us on every step of our Lenten Journey, guiding us and strengthening us, as Archbishop Demetrios put it, as we cleanse “our inner self so that the inner beauty with which we were created can be seen, so that Christ can walk about in the creation He loves through us.” At each stop, the deacons and priests offered petitions for the continued well-being of the Orthodox Faith, concluding with the “Synodikon of Orthodoxy”:
“Let us Orthodox people, now celebrating this Day of Orthodoxy, especially glorify God, the Author of all goodness! Blessed is He forever. This is our God, who acquired and established His beloved heritage, the Holy Church, the foundations of which He laid even in Paradise, thereby comforting by His infallible Word, our forefathers who had fallen through disobedience. This is our God who, directing us to His saving promise, left not Himself without a witness, but first foretold the future salvation through the forefathers and prophets, and by manifold means gave lively descriptions of it. This is our God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in antiquity to the fathers by the prophets, and in these latter days spoke to us by His Son, with whom also He created the ages: who declared His goodwill toward us, disclosed the heavenly mysteries, assured us the truth of the Gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit; who sent His apostles to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom to all the world, and confirmed it by various powers and miracles. Following this salutary revelation, and holding this Gospel, we believe…
“As the prophets beheld, as the Apostles have taught... as the Church has received ...as the teachers have dogmatized... as the Universe has agreed... as Grace has shown forth... as Truth has revealed... as falsehood has been dissolved... as Wisdom has presented... as Christ awarded... thus we declare... thus we assert... thus we preach Christ our true God, and honor as 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 them as true servants of the same Lord of all and accordingly offering them veneration.”
And the people responded in a loud voice: “This is the Faith of the Apostles, this is the Faith of the Fathers, this is the Faith of the Orthodox, this is the Faith which has established the Universe.” The Synodikon Prayer Service concluded with the proclamation of Many Years to the living defenders of Orthodoxy, Memory Eternal to the departed.
After the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy concluded, Archbishop Daniel, accompanied by Rev. Fr. Vasyl Pasakas (pastor of the Nativity of the Birth-Giver of God Ukrainian Orthodox parish in South Plainfield, NJ and Subdeacon Mykola Zomchak) speaking with the local clergy and faithful reflected on this glorious day. “We celebrate the Sunday of Orthodoxy every year with no mention of any specific saint of the day because this Sunday is unique… We celebrate this sacred day with icons to reaffirm all Orthodox doctrines and dogmas. Therefore, we send the message that the Orthodox doctrines are the same over the centuries and forever, because they contain the truth of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. As the Synodicon says: ‘This is the Faith of the Apostles; this is the Faith of the Fathers; this is the Faith of the Orthodox; this is the Faith which has established the universe!’”
Upon the conclusion of the liturgical services, Archbishop Demetrios thanked everyone in attendance, especially the hierarchs, clergy and the entire Holy Trinity community for their hospitality and kindness. His Eminence reminded the faithful that “the Triumph of Orthodoxy is not in the procession, but in the restoration of icons and humanity to God. The Holy Spirit unified us today, so this must become the reality every day of our lives. The icon—the image of God—must shine within us 24-7.”
The community then hosted everyone to a Lenten luncheon in the cathedral hall. Those in attendance had chance to dine and dwell in unity with each other, following the first banquet around the chalice of our Lord. After a glorious morning, everyone went to their homes with a renewed sense of purpose for the remainder of Great Lent, as well as anticipation for the next Sunday of Orthodoxy celebration in 2018.