Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sunday of Orthodoxy

Triumph of the Icons
The Sunday of Orthodoxy is the first Sunday of Lent (which started last Monday for us Orthodox folk). This day commemorates the triumph of the iconodules (or iconophiles) over the iconoclasts. Basically, icons were removed from parishes for a number of years and then after a long struggle the icons were replaced. I'll explain a bit more below.
Some of my readers may remember my In Defense of Icons 2 part series where I tried (and probably failed) to defend the Orthodox position on icons. Well, the Church had to defend itself against the iconoclasts about 1500 years ago. For those who don't know what an iconoclast is here is a little excerpt from Wikipedia:
Iconoclasm may be carried out by people of a different religion, but is often the result of sectarian disputes between factions of the same religion. In Christianity, iconoclasm has generally been motivated by people who adopt a literal interpretation of the Ten Commandments, which forbid the making and worshipping of "graven images or any likeness of anything".[2] The degree of iconoclasm among Christian sects greatly varies.
 The Church had two iconoclasm periods, the first between AD 730-787 and was brought on by Emperor Leo III. This period saw much debate and such figures like St. John Damascus  and St. Stephen the Younger (who became a martyr). St. John Damascus is quite well known for his writings against iconoclasm. It should be noted that the wife of Leo IV, Irene - who became regent after Leo's death - convened the Seventh Ecumenical Council which reaffirmed the place of icons in the Church:
It was determined that "As the sacred and life-giving cross is everywhere set up as a symbol, so also should the images of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, the holy angels, as well as those of the saints and other pious and holy men be embodied in the manufacture of sacred vessels, tapestries, vestments, etc., and exhibited on the walls of churches, in the homes, and in all conspicuous places, by the roadside and everywhere, to be revered by all who might see them. For the more they are contemplated, the more they move to fervent memory of their prototypes. Therefore, it is proper to accord to them a fervent and reverent adoration, not, however, the veritable worship which, according to our faith, belongs to the Divine Being alone — for the honor accorded to the image passes over to its prototype, and whoever adores the image adores in it the reality of what is there represented."
The peace did not last long. The second period of iconoclasm lasted from about AD 814-842. This was brought on by Emperor Leo V (great-grandson of Emperor Leo III). This Leo was succeeded by Michael II who upheld the iconoclastic positions as did his son Theophilus. Wikipedia has this to say:
Theophilus died leaving his wife Theodora regent for his minor heir, Michael III. Like Irene 50 years before her, Theodora presided over the restoration of icon veneration in 843, on the condition that Theophilus not be condemned. Since that time the first Sunday of Great Lent has been celebrated in the Orthodox Church as the feast of the "Triumph of Orthodoxy".  
And also:
Despite the teaching about icons defined at the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787, the Iconoclasts began to trouble the Church again. After the death of the last Iconoclast emperor, Theophilos, his young son Michael III, with his mother the regent Theodora, and Patriarch Methodios, summoned the Synod of Constantinople in 842 to bring peace to the Church. At the end of the first session, all made a triumphal procession from the Church of Blachernae to Hagia Sophia, restoring the icons to the church. This occurred on 19 February, 842 (which that year was the first Sunday of Lent). The Synod decreed that a perpetual feast on the anniversary of that day should be observed each year on the First Sunday of Great Lent, and named the day, "the Sunday of Orthodoxy" (ἡ Κυριακὴ τῆς Ὀρθοδοξίας).
So every year on the first Sunday of Lent we proceed around our temple carrying our icons in remembrance of the struggle that went on before us. This year will be the fist year that I actually get to take part in this celebration. I will try to get some pictures to post after the service.
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