My weekend in Minneapolis was a tremendous joy. The Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Clergy Association is a wonderful brotherhood of Orthodox priests and deacons that has obviously helped foster a strong since of common Orthodox identity and true brotherhood. It was a pleasure Sunday evening to be in the altar with so many brothers from various jurisdictions. I long for the day, as do most Orthodox in America, for a single common jurisdiction for us all. But for this I can pray and wait.
I had several opportunities to preach – in a variety of settings. Everything was focused on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, when we mark the return of the icons to the Churches in the reign of the Empress Theodora. My own thoughts were mostly on two aspects within us as human beings (not that there aren’t many more).
The first one is an impulse towards icons in the first place. Created in God’s image, we are created as iconodules (those who honor icons). The distortions within us mean that we often crave images that are not the Truth (see my article, The Icon We Love the Most). Sitting in airports, as I am today (and now in a hotel room – marooned in Chicago), there is a huge range of “image seekers” to be seen. We decorate ourselves, adopt fashions, etc., all in an effort to create an image and to give ourselves a defining image. I’m wearing a cassock (as I usually do when I travel) so I have to include myself in this number. It makes for frequent and interesting conversations and opportunities to share the Orthodox faith.
The other impulse is a drive towards iconoclasm – that is as much in evidence in our daily lives as anything in our modern world. Indeed, modernity can almost be defined as the age of Iconoclasm. We sweep away the past as if it were only so much clutter standing in the way of progress to a world we always assume will be better. Some of our most powerful technology is aimed specifically at re-designing the human. We will be new and improved if some research has its way.
Other forces are working rapidly to redefine things that already exist, so that things that might have once been considered wrong or dysfunctional are now considered desirable and good. There is almost a sense that we can redefine the world into a state of goodness, though nothing will have changed in such schemes that bring us closer to God’s kingdom.
Some of our iconoclasm is dangerous, indeed. Changing the image of an unborn child into a “foetus,” and thus rendering them somehow more clinical, and less human, allows us to destroy the image with less guilt and concern. Redefining life can also allow us to euthanize the weak and the elderly without remorse. Stanley Hauerwas has frequently noted that “compassion” in ethics is almost always a prelude to murder.
Thus when we celebrate the return of icons to the Churches, we also have to look at ourselves. The icon, the image of God, must be restored to the Temple of our self. We must renounce false images and embrace what God has revealed of Himself. The Holy Icons of Christ are precisely part of that revelation. We honor Him in His icon lest we fail to honor Him in the Truth.
At the same time we have to renounce iconoclasm. In so doing, we inherently set ourselves against certain forces within modernity. The truth is indeed eschatological, that is, it lies in the future, but we also believe that this eschatological reality was incarnate in Christ, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. We do not oppose the future in embracing the Tradition we have received. We embrace the future that is coming in Truth, rather than the false utopias of modern man’s imagination.
May the Holy Icons truly be honored and may we all be restored to the image in which we were created. Thy Kingdom Come, O Lord!
Indeed, Fr. Stephen, we get to travel here in Colorado for the Sunday of Orthodoxy too! We have a lovely set of Mission Vespers and the Sunday of Orthodoxy was at the Greek Catherdral of the Annunciation in Denver. It was a packed house with people from every jurisdiction. There was a great speaker from the IOCC at the end.
If anyone else has ever been to that Cathedral, the iconography is spectacular and the icon of the Theotokos (More Spacious than the Heavens)is huge and awesomely beautiful.
Other churches, have become very iconoclast; some won’t even have the Life-giving Precious Cross of Christ in the temples because its a “distraction” what ever that means. When we give tours of our Church to those who have come out of other traditions most are overwhelmed by the beauty that is given to God. Our Churches are truly a reflection of Heaven. I understand the history of this but it keeps getting worse all the time. People are thirsting for Orthodoxy, because they are thirsting for Christ and His truth. They want to SEE Him and they don’t know that they can. They are told its wrong to have images, the buggaboo of iconoclasm still rears its ugly head because people don’t have the whole truth.
I was chrismated in 1991 in Minneapolis but my home was two hours north of the Cities where there was no Orthodox presence. For the following 10 years I lived without a priest or a parish, something that was incredibly painful and surely antithetical to being Orthodox.
It wasn’t until a few years ago when I moved here to St. Cloud to be part of Holy Myrrhbearers that I ever was able to experience a Sunday of Orthodoxy and what you have described about the brotherhood of the clergy. The love and the faith of them all is nearly palpable when they are together, especially when they are in the altar, and most certainly on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. That is why I hated to miss it this year.
Last year, when it came time for the Synodikon and they all stood in front of the altar facing us, icons themselves, it was utterly electrifying to hear and see them shout out those incredible words “This is the faith of the Apostles! This is the faith of the Fathers! This is the faith of the Orthodox! This is the Faith which has established the whole universe!” It was as if the very voices of the Apostles were crying to us through them from the Other Side (which, of course, they were!) and I couldn’t help sobbing for the joy of it.
Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for putting some of Sunday in Minneapolis into words for us.
I too missed my chance to attend the Sunday Vespers service due to weather related circumstances in the Twin Cities. You were in my prayers though. Thank you for taking so much time and effort to share your life with the faithful here in Minnesota.
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