Choose the Joyful Beauty of the Second Adam over the Ugly Misery of the First: Homily for the First Sunday of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church

It is all too easy to find evidence that we human beings are not living as God originally intended in His image and likeness. Whether it is the horrible persecution of Christians in the Middle East or the challenges posed by our own health or other difficult life circumstances, we have good reason to join Adam in his sorrow about what sin, suffering, and mortality have done—and continue to do–to us all.

God created us as His icons, in His image with the calling to become ever more like Him, to grow in the divine likeness. But we have all followed Adam and Eve in repudiating that calling, stripping ourselves naked of the divine glory, and choosing the misery of lives driven by self-centered desire over the joy of holiness.

The good news of our faith, of course, is that Jesus Christ is the Second Adam Who has come to restore the fallen image and to enable us to participate personally in the divine glory for which He created us in the first place. On this first Sunday of Great Lent, we recall that we are all living icons of Christ, made in His image and likeness, and enabled by His mercy to be healed of the disfigurement and decay that our sins have worked on our souls. That is why we pray, fast, confess, repent, forgive, and give to the needy during this season, for we want to cooperate as fully as possible with our Savior’s gracious intentions to bring us into the holiness for which He breathed life into us.

Today we commemorate the restoration of icons to the Church after the period of iconoclasm in the Byzantine Empire, which I know may seem like ancient history. But it actually speaks to the very heart of our faith; for the icons show us what Christ has enabled us to become. Visibly and tangibly, using paint and wood, the icons make clear that Jesus Christ became one of us with a real body in the world as we know it. Icons of the saints display particular people glorified in the holiness of God. Their example calls and inspires us to become like them. Icons teach that salvation is not something invisible, totally out of this world, or somehow separated from what we think of as real life. Christ did not come to save people who live in a fantasy world without evil, pain, or death. No, He entered fully into the great mess that we and countless generations have made of our lives. He came to call not the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. Of course, that means us all. As the Second Adam, our Savior clothes us with a robe of light and our original dignity in the image of God is fulfilled as we become ever more like our Lord. Yes, He makes that possible for even the most wretched person. By His mercy, we may all become unspeakably beautiful icons of His salvation.

Today we rejoice because we are no longer shut out of Paradise. Today we celebrate because through our Savior we “will see the heavens opened and angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Today we process around the Church joyfully with icons because we have received the fulfillment of the promise for which the Saints of the Old Testament hoped “since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” Imagine that.

So as we continue our Lenten journey in preparation to follow our Lord to His Cross and the joy of His glorious resurrection, let us do everything that we can to embrace as fully as possible this high calling to become holy, pure, and righteous icons of Christ. The disciplines of Lent are not about legalism or punishment; no, they are simply tools for opening our lives to the healing power of the One Who wants to make us all uniquely beautiful and blessed in holiness. As your priest and spiritual father, I urge all of us to use these tools for our salvation. All that we have to lose by using them is the misery that fallen Adam brought upon himself and that we have brought upon ourselves. What we have to gain is the divine glory for which we were created and by which Christ has conquered sin and death. When we think of it that way, our choice should be clear for the joy of the Second Adam over the despair of the first. Remember that the Savior said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” He wants to make us all shine with the light of heavenly beauty and glory. At the most fundamental level, what could be more natural than for us to become who we are created to be, living icons of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ?

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