by Fr. Gabriel Bilas –
For the early Church Fathers and Mothers, false teachings in the Church were taken very seriously. The Saints would say that heresy was even a greater sin than murder!
After an incredible week of services during the first week of Great Lent, we find ourselves temporarily taken away from the solemnity of Lent, and into the celebration of Orthodoxy Sunday! We remember all of the countless men and women who have kept the Truth and Life of Orthodox Christianity alive throughout the centuries, against all of the enemies of the Church; all of the heretics that have sought to water down, confuse, and divide Christ’s flock.
This week, while we remember and praise the heroes of our faith, we are reminded of our own tremendous calling that is given to all Orthodox Christians. From the very first day we are brought into the Church, whether it is as an infant or an adult, we are all made a part of a living link, a living tradition, and unbroken chain that can be traced back to Christ and His Apostles. Being a part of this Divine Connection, we are each charged with making sure that we take this gift that has been given to us, and pass it down intact and unchanged, to those who are coming after us. These services, this holiness, this creed, and this beauty needs to not only be kept alive, but like those who have gone before us, it needs to be guarded from the outside forces that are seeking to destroy it.
Although it is not of the “four letter variety”, there is one word that the early Saints of the Church despised more than any other word: Heresy. There is nothing more dangerous to the Divine Link that we are a part of, than a heretic, who is best defined as someone who chooses to propagate and distort the Divine Teachings that were passed down to them. Heretics are those who break the Divine Link, by choosing to believe something other than what was given to them.
In our own time, it sometimes seems that the only heresy that is condemned, is accusing someone else of being a heretic! But for the early Church Fathers and Mothers, false teachings in the Church were taken very seriously. The Saints would say that heresy was even a greater sin than murder! To so many that are outside the faith, that would seem crazy! But to an Orthodox Christian, we know it is true, because the sin of murder is one that can only harm the mortal body…whereas spreading heresy is an attack on another’s eternal soul!
I often wonder what some of our earliest Church Fathers like St. John, or St. Polycarp or St. Clement would say, if they came to the United States today, and heard things like: “We all worship the same God…the individual teachings and practices don’t matter!” They would be floored! They know that if everyone were to succumb to that kind of thinking, the Church would eventually be watered down into oblivion! We would lose iconography, the ancient hymns of the services, the concrete teachings of the Creed, and the real and palpable experience of Love that we get from the Holy Mysteries! The world would be left with nothing!
Orthodoxy Sunday is a day for all of us to be inspired by all of the Saints who gave their lives to protect and to hand down this ancient deposit of faith that we are able to celebrate every time we enter into the doors of the Church. This responsibility, dearest brothers and sisters in Christ, now falls to us.
Being an Orthodox Christian is not about being a part of a social club on Sundays that does nice things for people. This is a serious faith…one that comes with the tremendous responsibility to take what we have been given, to protect it, and to pass it on untainted and untouched until our Lord comes again. We are not the end of the Divine Link…we are the middle. There are countless generations that will come after us, and we have to ask ourselves: “If we don’t take on this sacred responsibility…what will our children have left?”
I will leave you this morning, with one action item that I pray you all take very seriously on this Orthodoxy Sunday, and that is to learn. Ask questions. Learn about the teachings and spiritual practices of the Church. Teach them to your children!
One of the heresies that we denounce today was the teaching that icons shouldn’t be allowed in Churches. There was a time in the 8th century where they were destroyed and ripped out of the sanctuary, because there were lost souls who said that we were worshiping idols. Even though this heresy was squashed 1,300 years ago, there are still those out in the world that question why we have icons in the Church! Individually ask yourself: “Can I give a response to that…other than “just because…”? Can I confidently share that icons are a visible confirmation of an invisibly reality for us in the Church? What other aspects of my faith am I not strong in understanding?
Learn, teach, and protect this tremendous Gift of Holy Orthodoxy, my dearest brothers and sisters! It is our tradition on Orthodoxy Sunday, to show the world in a small way, that this faith cannot be contained within four walls and a roof. We take our icons, our banners, our choir, and our love out into the world in a procession, where it belongs. This needs to be done in an even larger way in our own lives! The world is thirsting for the beautiful truth that Christianity has to offer, and it was the famous Dostoyevsky who rightly shared with us in his writings, that it is “beauty that will save the world.”