First Sunday of the Great Fast. Triumph of the True Faith

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by Fr. George Worschak

Triumph of the True Faith

The First Sunday of the Great Fast is called the Sunday of Orthodoxy or the Sunday of the True Faith. The Sunday of Orthodoxy, also known as the Triumph of Orthodoxy, is celebrated in both the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches. We commemorate and celebrate the final defeat of iconoclasm and the restoration of icons to the churches.

The Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787 had presented a clear teaching about icons.  The Council taught that “Icons… are to be kept in churches and honored with the same relative veneration as is shown to other material symbols, such as the ‘precious and life-giving Cross ‘ and the Book of the Gospels.”

Nonetheless, iconoclasts (those opposed to the use of icons in churches) had stirred up trouble once again.  The last iconoclast Emperor of Byzantium was Theopholos.  After his death in 842, his son Michael III along with his regent-mother Theodora sought to bring peace and accord to the people of Byzantium.  Together with Methodios, Patriarch of Constantinople, they were able to realize this accord.  Patriarch Methodios summoned a Synod in 843, whose intention was to bring peace to the Church.

At the conclusion of the Synod’s first session, a triumphal procession of icons was made from the Church of Blachernae to the Hagia Sophia, where icons were restored to that church.  In order to commemorate this triumph over iconoclasm, the Synod Fathers decided to establish an annual commemoration – on the First Sunday of the Great Fast.  Just as the faithful celebrated the restoration of icons in 843, so too do Eastern Catholics and Orthodox today have a procession of icons, either prior to the Divine Liturgy or towards the conclusion of the Liturgy.

For us, Ukrainian Catholics, the icon has become and remains an integral part of the Faith and the faithful openly venerate them. In the person of Christ Jesus, God is present among us. His presence is real, complete and visible. The Churches of the East regard the icon as having a “sacramental” character.  The icon makes present to the believer the person or event depicted.  Proper terminology is to be understood and kept, namely, that we “venerate” icons, but we “worship” or “adore” God alone.

His Beatitude Sviatoslav once explained in his homily for the First Sunday of the Great Lent how the holy icon is a “window to Heaven.”  Icons open to us another realm – the spiritual, other than the merely visible.  Looking at the icon, our eyes are transformed, changed, enhanced. The icon gives us a glimpse into the divine and that of the Eternal God Himself. We contemplate the face of God by means of His grace and by the power of the Holy Spirit. We look upon the face of God, depicted in human form and this enables us to experience a foretaste of the Heavenly Kingdom, which is an eternal Kingdom of happiness and peace.

 

“Can anything good come from Nazareth? – Come and See!”

The Gospel of the first Sunday of the Great Fast speaks of Jesus calling His first disciples, the apostles.  Andrew is the “First-Called”, then Andrew’s brother, Simon Peter. The next day, Jesus went to Galilee and asks Philip to follow Him. Philip in turn meets Nathanael and tells him: “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth” (John 1:46).

Nathanael’s initial response was: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip told him: “Come and see!” As Nathanael was walking toward Jesus, Our Lord remarked: “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is no guile.”  Although Nathanael’s initial response was not proper, for he had judged Jesus merely based upon His place of origin, Nazareth. But after Philip invites Nathanael to come and see for himself, Nathanael decides to go and see for himself, expressing an openness to Whom Jesus truly is.  After Our Lord told Nathanael that He had seen him under the fig tree even before Philip seen and spoke with him, Nathanael asserts that Jesus is “the Son of God, the King of Israel (John 1:51).”

Let us during this holy season of Great Fast (Lent) seek to develop a deeper personal and spiritual relationship with our Lord and make the Gospel message of Love and Truth the very center, core of our lives! For we acknowledge Jesus as our Redeemer Who died on the cross to save us from the wickedness and cunningness of the devil. So great was the Love of Christ that He died on the cross to save us and He continually cares for each and every one of us.- our well-being and salvation of soul.

 

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