Triumph of Orthodoxy
Over the course of this past week, the first week of Great Lent, the Church prayed the Canon of St Andrew of Crete – an extended lamentation of repentance that brought before our eyes the whole history of God’s interaction with mankind. This beautiful and deeply moving work of St Andrew sets the proper tone for our Lenten journey… in the fourth Canticle we hear, ‘The end draws near, my soul, the end draws near; yet thou dost not care or make ready. The time grows short, rise up: the Judge is at the door. The days of our life pass swiftly, as a dream, as a flower. Why do we trouble ourselves in vain?’
These words struck me especially deeply this year as on the very night of the Sunday of Forgiveness and the beginning of the first day of the Great Fast, my dear friend and concelebrant at the altar of the Lord, Archpriest Viktor Tseshkovsky, reposed in his sleep. Fr Viktor came to Los Angeles in my final years there to be the rector of the Protection of the Mother of God Church in Hollywood. As I eulogized in my email sent earlier this week, Fr Viktor was a model priest… hardworking and tireless in his service to the Church and to his hundreds of parishioners. I was amazed by his steadiness and his stamina. Fr Viktor had four brothers, all of whom were priests, and his sister was married to a priest. This was a pious and God-loving family. Fr Viktor served first in his native Ukraine and then was sent to serve in many other places throughout his life as a priest including: Russia, Sweden, Spain, Italy, the Canary Islands, Canada, New York, San Francisco, and finally in Los Angeles. I learned so much from him… his dedication and steady diligence were a powerful testament to me.
‘The end draws near, my soul, the end draws near… The days of our life pass swiftly, as a dream, as a flower.’ Fr Viktor’s end was an example of the kind of death we all might wish for… Having served the Sunday Divine Liturgy and received the precious Body and Blood of our Lord, he then had the opportunity to prostrate himself before his flock and ask forgiveness. Having completed all… he then died peacefully in his sleep that night. What a blessed death! What more could one ask for?
May God grant paradise to his good and faithful servant, Archpriest Viktor. His life and death will surely stand before me as an inspiration.
This recognition of the brevity of life, of the futility of chasing after the temptations of the world, of the reality of our appointment to stand before the judgment seat of Christ… these things are brought before us in the services of Great Lent. This past week we prayed the Canon of St Andrew of Crete… an extended prayer calling us to reflect upon the history of mankind and calling us to examples of repentance.
And so, after this week of deep reflection and sighing, after this week of realizing that we are in exile from our lost Paradise, the Church presents before us today the celebration of the triumph of Orthodoxy! We recall on this day the ending of the Iconoclast controversy and the restoration of the holy icons to the churches of God.
Today we recognize and celebrate the hope and the joy and the vision that is presented before us in the holy icons. An icon emphasizes the reality of the incarnation of God… that the Incomprehensible and Invisible, out of His love, deigned to become comprehensible and visible! That God took on real flesh and blood, that we might see Him, touch Him, embrace Him. Divinity has taken on humanity so that humanity might take on Divinity.
An icon is so much more than paint and wood. It depicts the visage of a saint and becomes a window into heaven. An icon is a receptacle and a transmitter of prayer… As we gaze upon these icons set here before us, think for a moment about all the prayers, the tears, the love that has been expressed before them. They become witnesses and bearers of something very special… they become conduits of grace.
And just as the paint and wood of an icon may take on this heavenly purpose, so too are we called to become more than just flesh and blood. We are called to be transmitters of prayer, to be witnesses and bearers of something very special. We are called to become conduits of grace.
God grant that we might become living icons of Christ. This is what we are called to be as Christians! May God grant that we work diligently in this Lenten season to ‘be watchful, to close all the doors through which the passions enter and look up towards the Lord.’ It is through these efforts that we take on the task of salvation, which is a kind of icon restoration. Just as an icon restorer patiently brushes and wipes away the years of soot and damage that have caused an icon to lose its color and the clarity of the image portrayed, - so too must we patiently and persistently scrape away the darkness and the soot which obscures that living and vivid image of God within us.
As we celebrate the triumph of Orthodoxy and the restoration of the holy icons today, let us make this personal. Let us make this Lenten season a time for the restoration of the icon within our soul and a glorious triumph of Orthodoxy in our own life!