Congratulations! We have made a good beginning. Even if only a little bit, each of us has yet experienced something of a "Triumph" this past week. At the very beginning of this first week of Lent, you made the effort to humble yourselves, asking and granting forgiveness of each other. In doing this you also experienced something of a foretaste of God's loving forgiveness and the joy that is ours when we actually experience freedom from the bondage of resentments, remembering wrongs and hidden animosities towards others. This is an experience of the triumph of good over evil, truth over falsehood and of the Christian Spirit over the spirit of the "Old Man" of our fallen selves - a "Triumph"of Orthodoxy.
Next we began the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete - four consecutive nights of it! Some of us may have wondered at and been puzzled by this, seemingly endless and unrelenting, meditation on the sins and failings of Ancient people. Perhaps we had a bit of a hard time,were offended, or even depressed, by the assumption that we, ourselves, might be somehow participators in these very same sins and failings. The Canon is about the fallen man, about all humanity estranged from the Spirit of God. And as the pagan Marcus Aurelius famously said many years ago;"Nothing human is foreign to me." To hear this masterpiece of self accusation is, again, an effort to humble ourselves and to likewise remind ourselves of the enormity of what Christ came to do for us. Again, a "Triumph" of Orthodoxy.
With such an excellent preparation we then came to the first service of the Pre-sanctified Liturgy on Friday evening. These quietly beautiful evening Liturgies are a special feature of our Lenten journey. The unique "last prayer" of the service reveals to us the purpose and great value of these services:
"O Almighty Lord, who has made all created things in Wisdom,
and by Thine inexpressible Providence and great goodness
has brought us to these all-holy days for the purification of body and soul,
for the controlling of carnal passions, and for hope of the Resurrection;
who during the forty days didst give into the hand of thy servant Moses the Tables of the Law...
enable us also, O Good One, to fight the good fight,
to accomplish the course of the Fast, to preserve inviolate the faith,
to crush underfoot the heads of invisible serpents,
to be accounted victors over sin,
and to attain uncondemned and adore the Holy Resurrection...
This is a "Triumph" of Orthodoxy - in us!"
So, once again, I say, congratulations! We have made a beginning.
This Sunday of Orthodoxy, we are not just celebrating an ancient doctrinal victory of the historical Church, the theological justification of icons and their veneration. Important as that is to the truth of our faith, it will be of little meaning or practical help to us if we do not experience Christ's victory over sin and evil in our own lives. This is of utmost importance. In our Orthodox evangelism we tell people "Come and see for yourselves." Not believe this, or that, rational proposition or explanation. Come and see. Come and experience the Truth directly and grow in the knowledge of that Truth through a continually deepening relationship with Jesus Christ in His Church. We do not sing"We Know about the True Light" but rather"We have seen the True Light." We must be witnesses to the Power and Love of God, witnesses of what that Power and Love are doing in our own lives to rescue us from the illusions of our fallen minds and hearts. Indeed. If we do not know this triumph in our own lives we will never really understand either Christ's Great Victory or the many great historical victories of His Church and His Saints.
The Triumph of Orthodoxy is not a triumph of ours but rather a triumph of God - in us, a blessed defeat of our egotism and a liberation from the bondage of Self. Let us be joyful, therefore, and press on into an ever deeper repentance and an ever greater "Triumph of Orthodoxy." Amen!