Sunday of Orthodoxy - March 16, 2003
We gather this evening in this Cathedral Church, which is celebrating its centennial, to celebrate the Sunday of Orthodoxy. To celebrate the triumph of true and proven doctrine over error and heresy that threatened the foundations of the Church countless times.
We celebrate the victory of Orthodox thought purified and tempered in the crucible of history.
We celebrate the restoration of the Holy Icons as a wholly unique feature of Orthodox piety and faith. We do not, however, gather in order to engage in an emotional salute to history. Our Orthodox faith cannot be a relic of ages past, but a challenge to us to witness its truth in our own times.
What we celebrate is not a display of archeological tokens, but a living and life-giving force in the lives of believing men and women.
The victory of the Church in the 9th century lies in the belief in the eternal power of Orthodoxy to restore the Icon of God which is imprinted in every human being. It lies in the reality that the icon of God lived and lives in the hearts of the faithful. It lies in the fact that Orthodox spirituality survived and continues to survive all the influences and movements that have been set against it throughout Christian history. If there is any meaning in commemoration, it is the value of remembering that faith always lies in hostile surroundings. It is always behind enemy lines, continually engaged in struggle.
Orthodoxy is not an empty, triumphalistic slogan, nor a procession of beautiful icons, nor simply a Church of colorful observances and rituals as it is unfortunately considered by many in America.
Orthodoxy is the Church of Christ. Betrayed. Condemned. Crucified, but always Resurrected throughout the centuries.
It is the Church of prayer and fasting and of dialogue and often silence.
Orthodoxy is the Church of mysticism, not cloistered in the monastic setting, but living in the harsh realities of the world.
Orthodoxy is the Church of monasticism and asceticism, but also and more importantly (in my opinion) the Church of Christian activism and service. Orthodoxy is the Church which struggles against the evil consequences of sin and division in the world.
Orthodoxy is the Church of saints, but the church that is relative to those who need to be saved as well. It is best expressed in the Eucharistic banquet, in the Divine Liturgy, which gathers brothers and sisters in the household of God as a community to commune the precious Body and Blood of our Savior.
It is the Church whose liturgy continues after the Divine Liturgy. It is the Church whose liturgy must be Her service of humanity.
Orthodoxy triumphs when it restores the icon of God in the souls of parishioners who come to our parishes with their families every Sunday, struggling to live their faith and to find meaning in their lives.
Orthodoxy today is challenged to address the new iconoclasm that threatens humanity. It must have something to say to the world about the war in the Persian Gulf and the irrelevance and failure of the United Nations.
It must have something to say about the disparity between rich and poor nations and their peoples.
It must have something to say to protest the inhumane treatment of peoples' in the third world but also in America's neighborhoods.
It must have something to say to the philosophers of nihilism and the proponents of all types of illicit lifestyles.
Orthodoxy must become relevant to a society poisoned by alcohol, drugs and narcotics, and polluted by pornography and immorality of all kinds.
It must have something to say to America which is plagued by marital infidelity and various forms of alternate lifestyles...It must have something to say to America where the concept of family is disintegrating...Where divorce is rampant...Where more and more children are raised in single-family homes...Where same sex marriages have been legalized and abortion sanctioned by State and Federal courts.
Orthodoxy must have something to say about the plight of our brethren in the Middle East. Her voice protesting the continued harassment of the Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem must be heard loud and clear. It is unacceptable for the Israeli government to refuse to ratify the election of the Patriarch of Jerusalem. It is unacceptable for the voice if the entire Christian world to be ignored by the Israeli government. It is unacceptable for Orthodoxy to remain on the fringes of American life and considered irrelevant -- nothing more than a relic of the past.
Orthodoxy is shattered into heaps of broken pieces when it is interpreted as religious prejudice, as nothing more than a hesychastic movement and experience; as a fanatical attachment to forms; as exclusively a mystical ecstasy; or as a sterile discipline to a code of rules and canons that, by the way, are not adhered to.
Orthodoxy is redeemed truth, transfiguring love. It is the spiritually genuine way of living, which transfigures the character and behavior, the polity and ethos of the faithful. It can never be reduced to blind obedience to a cultish guru living in the desert.
It is imperative that Orthodoxy be restored in our thinking and our conscience as a contemporary, realistic, and dynamic faith, and as a powerfully vibrant personal way of life. If not, it will never assume a re-creative role in today's society. It will never transform society into community. Orthodoxy has the power to give to humanity the true meaning and spirit of life. Its mission is to reunite man with his Creator, and to restore the beauty of truth, love and peace in human relationships.
Our rededication to Orthodoxy in America must become a rededication to orthopraxia. It must become a rededication to truth, to holiness, to prayer and worship.
If there is a compelling challenge today for us as Orthodox in America, it is the challenge to live a live of consequence and continuity; a life with spiritual and oral relevance. Only in this way would we prove the validity and dynamism of Orthodoxy in a world that though it denies everything, still seeks everything with a new meaning and a new spirit.
The Sunday of Orthodoxy, indeed the Great Lent calls us to a journey of discovery: the rediscovery of our faith and our culture, the rediscovery of our genuine Orthodox ecclesiology, the rediscovery of our call to missionary outreach, the rediscovery of our need to evangelize and share our faith and our culture just as Phillip shared the joy of his discovery of Christ with Nathaniel.
Yes, I said culture. There should be not rush on the part of the various Orthodox jurisdictions in America to rid themselves of their cultural identity in order to assume an "American" identity. Yes; we live in America and are proud to be Americans. But let us not forget that America is a mosaic of many cultures, including Greek, Russian, Antiochian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Serbian, and Albanian. Before advocating the "Americanization" of the Church, let those advocates first define just exactly what that means. The Sunday of Orthodoxy challenges all Orthodox jurisdictions in America, all Orthodox clergy and laity, to self-examination. Who are we? What are we doing?
The Sunday of Orthodoxy invites us to rediscover our polity and ecclesial conscience. There is not place in Orthodox for para-ecclesial lay groups that introduce worldly and heretical criteria into Church life. Neither is there a place in Orthodoxy for radical fundamentalism, religious fanaticism, or cult leaders disguised as Orthodox sages.
After years of investing our time and resources building monastic centers throughout America, the time has come for all jurisdictions to turn our attention to the local Eucharistic community, to build up the local parish. People searching for Orthodoxy should not be advised to seek it in a monastery. People seeking to quench their spiritual thirsts should not be given directions to the desert, but to the local Orthodox Parish, to the community which must be a modern day Jacob's Well where sojourners of life may sit to dialogue with Christ.
W e must honestly ask ourselves if this is the case today. We have to ask ourselves why attendance at all services in all jurisdictions is low. Is Orthodoxy transfiguring American culture, or it is the passive and helpless victim of "Americanization?"
The time has come for all jurisdictions to look at our parishes and to purge them of their "Americanized" -- secularized identity. The Church is the Body of Christ, not a secular organization. The time has come for all jurisdictions to look at the priesthood. Priests are not employees. They are the servants of the Lord and His people, not CEOs of corporations. Not professionals working for a salary and benefits. The time has come for all jurisdictions to evaluate how our seminaries mentor and educate those called to the priesthood. They need to do a lot better.
The Sunday of Orthodoxy is an opportunity, an invitation, indeed a challenge for Orthodoxy in America, its clergy and laity to pause and reflect whether indeed we are cognizant of and enthusiastic amount sharing the treasurers of Orthodoxy in this nations. We have to honestly ask ourselves whether we have missionary zeal. Whether we are willing to work tirelessly in the "fields that are ready for harvest."
We have invested -- perhaps wasted -- too much of our time discussing jurisdictional administrative issues, changing charters and uniform parish regulations, renaming our Dioceses into Metropolitanates, and more. We have discussed many issues and not spent enough time of the "weightier matters of the Law."
Let us pray for the courage to undertake a self-evaluation of who we are and where we are going. Let us pray for the wisdom, faith and vision to make the substantive decisions needed to restore the Icon of Orthodoxy in our parishes, in our priesthood, in our laity, in Orthodoxy in America.
This sermon was delivered on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, March 16, 2003 to an interjurisdictional gathering of Orthodox Christian faithful.