Sunday, February 21, 2010

Avoiding the Extremes

In the year 843 at the Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, the Patriarch, the Emperor, and Empress, and others came in solemn procession to bring the icons back to their proper places. The iconoclasts were officially anathematized (delcared heretics). And that was supposed to put an end to the iconoclastic controversy in the Church, once and for all. It's amazing, how many iconoclasts are still around.

The first thing I always have to think and say about it is that I am very sure I would have been among the heretics. The abuses of icons had become so rampant that they were being virtually worshipped, and I would have been strongly in favor of abolishing them altogether rather than keep them if they were going to turn into idols. I'd have smashed them with my own hands.

But today, as every year since 843, we celebrate the middle way, the Orthodox way, avoiding both the worship and the abolishing of the holy icons. You cannot properly even recognize Christ, let alone worship Him, if you fail to see Him living in His saints. (Or if you cannot see His life being lived in their flesh, then perhaps it isn’t a real saint, but only a super-pious person; heterodox hagiography is full of such.)

One of the hymns we sang today is this one, the "theme-song" for the day, as it were:

We bow down before Your pure Image, O Good One, and ask forgiveness of our sins, O Christ God; for voluntarily You were pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh, to deliver from slavery to the enemy those whom You had created. Therefore we thankfully cry to You: You have filled all things with joy, O our Saviour, by coming to save the world.

One thing that strikes me in this hymn is how, immediately after we sing, “We bow down before Your pure Image,” we go on to affirm that Christ Himself, not His image, is our God. And we do this not once, but (depending on how you count) at least four or five times in this short hymn:

First, we call Him “Good One,” when, as He Himself taught us, no one is good except God alone.

Next, we ask Him for forgiveness of our sins, knowing that only God can forgive. He is the One who ascended the Cross.

Then we call him, “O Christ God”.

And then we acknowledge that: He created us, He fills all things, He is our Joy, and He is our Savior.

As the prophets have seen,
as the apostles have taught,
as the Church has received,
as the teachers have set forth in dogmas,
as the whole world has understood,
as Grace has shone forth,
as the truth was demonstrated,
as falsehood was banished,
as wisdom was emboldened,
as Christ has awarded;
thus do we believe, thus we speak,
thus we preach Christ our true God and His saints,
honoring them in words, in writings, in thoughts,
in sacrifices, in temples, and in icons,
worshipping and respecting the One as God and Master,
and honoring the others,
and apportioning relative veneration to them
because of our common Master,
for they are His genuine servants.
This is the Faith of the apostles,
this is the Faith of the fathers,
this is the Faith of the Orthodox,
this Faith has established the whole world.

P.S.) And something in today’s Gospel lesson struck me, too. Nathaniel, on first meeting Jesus, confesses Him the Son of God (John 1:49) Right at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Long before Peter. So I poked around a bit and discovered that Nathaniel wasn’t the only one. Immediately after He calms the storm (Matthew 14:23), all the disciples profess their faith in Christ as Son of God.