Today, on this first Sunday of Great Lent, our Holy Church celebrates the triumph of Orthodoxy. It is a commemoration of victory of the true faith against heresies, and all other enemies. That is why this day is called the “Sunday of Orthodoxy.”
We know from the New Testament and history that many forces have attacked the Church. First it was the Jews who rejected and condemned Christ, continuing to persecute His Disciples. This went on for 40 years, until the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Jewish nation. Then the pagan Roman emperors stalked and killed Christians for 300 years. At the same time, since the days of the Apostles, heretics introduced false teachings and doctrines into the Christian community, sowing division among the faithful. This poison reached even the imperial throne, with the result that Orthodox bishops, priests, monks and others who remained faithful to correct Church teachings were imprisoned, tortured, and exiled. The last persecution of the Church by heretics was done by the iconoclasts, and this lasted for more than a century. Not even the decisions of the 7th Ecumenical Council in 787 AD stopped them. It was not until March 843 AD, when the Empress St. Theodora convened a Synod under the Patriarch of Constantinople St. Methodius, that the iconoclast period finally ended. With this great Synod, the decisions of the 7th Ecumenical Council were reaffirmed, the holy Icons restored to their proper place, and it was decided that this event (and the overall victory of the Faith) be celebrated every year on the first Sunday of Great Lent.
My brothers and sisters, the Orthodox Church has fought hard and long for so many centuries, even to this day. The Church has been in conflict as no one ever has, and yet never defeated, because the Church is Christ Himself. The Church is the Body of Christ (see Colossians 1:24). "Christ is the head of the church" (Ephesians 5:23) and is directing it. And as the Lord has promised, the Church is invincible: "the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). Our greatest “weapon” is the Orthodox faith: "this is the victory that has overcome the world, our faith" (1 John 5:4). Our faith is the victory of the Gospel over all enemies. It is the victory of Christ by which the Church of God has defeated heretics of all ages, who came as fierce wolves to destroy its flock. The Church, which is preserved by the Orthodox faith, has fought for 2,000 years to protect Christ’s teachings and the Sacred Traditions. This is why Orthodox Christians celebrate our Orthodoxy! We feel it, and there is no greater honor than being a member of the Orthodox Church. There is no safer road for our eternal salvation. In this festive atmosphere, we do not forget those who struggled: The exiles, the tortured, and the martyred. During the Litany of the Holy Icons, we gratefully commemorate these defenders of Orthodoxy. With their wise writings, prayers and sufferings, they upheld the Doctrines of the Holy Orthodox Church. At the same time, we ask these witnesses and soldiers for Christ to intercede to God for us, so that we may be able to follow their faith and life.
This is our responsibility, both clergy and lay people, to continue their struggle and have zeal for the preservation of Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, even today there are those who oppose the Christian faith. Heresies continue to be spread, and our Lord Jesus Christ with His Holy Church attacked and defamed. The Apostle St. Peter urges us: "Do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience "(1 Peter 3:14-16). These words are very important; "give a defense” first of all. This is why the Bible is constantly studied, along with related books that interpret the truths of the Holy Gospel, so that we all know how to live our lives. Secondly, the Holy Apostle recommends to us that we have a “good conscience.” What does this mean? We should not be burdened by the weight of sin. Our conscience helps us to see what we should be doing, and it should be clean. If we act in this way, then other people will see that we do what we say and are serious. If people see Christians not living as they teach and not loving each other, than they will be pushed away from the Church by this hypocrisy and have excuses to malign it.
May we imitate these guardians of Orthodoxy in preserving the true faith, and providing a good model for the Christian life.