In the Divine Liturgy (as well as all other Holy Services), prayers for Orthodox Christians are repeatedly offered. This Sunday is also called the Sunday of Orthodoxy. What is Orthodoxy, and what does it mean to be Orthodox?
Our Church is known as “the Orthodox Church,” but its official title, as written in the Creed, is: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The word “Orthodox” is nowhere to be found, so where did this new title come from?
Even after the condemnation of various heresies by the Seven Ecumenical Councils, heretics continued to afflict our Holy Church. Particularly aggressive were the iconoclasts, who confused the veneration of Icons with worship of Icons, and so decided to destroy them wherever they were found (and persecute faithful Christians who honored them). This tragic situation in the Church continued for a century, until the pious Queen Theodora of Constantinople convened a Church Holy Synod in the year 843. Referring to the decisions of the 7th Ecumenical Council, they definitively condemned iconoclasm, and on the First Sunday of Lent in that year, officially restored the holy Icons in all churches. This day was then declared the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Since then, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church has used the title of Orthodox Church, with its members being called Orthodox Christians. The word orthodoxy is complex, but the basic meaning is “right doctrine,” which in this case is a person believing in the teachings of our Holy Church. The name “Orthodox Church” distinguishes us as the true Church of Christ, in contrast to schismatic and heretical so-called “churches,” such as the Latin Pope of Rome (who broke away in the 11th Century) and the Protestants (Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli, among others) who split from the Roman Pope in the 16th Century.
Despite the hostility that the Orthodox Church has faced from the Heterodox over the centuries, the Church still prays to the Lord for an end to schisms. To pray that heretics are restored to the true faith, and united with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, affirming Christ as God. It is in the Orthodox Church where the Doctrines of the Ecumenical Councils and Apostolic Traditions are kept, from the time of Christ to the present.
If we consider how many millions are born in these heterodox environments, growing up with heretical beliefs, we can appreciate how blessed we are, as Orthodox Christians (either born into Orthodox families, or led by the Holy Spirit later in life to Orthodoxy and rebirth with the Holy Sacraments of the Baptism and Chrismation). And we should not worry about how few Orthodox Christians there are, as it is not about numbers. As the Lord said, "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you His kingdom" (Luke 12:32). The Orthodox Church does not use force to convert people, but rather echoes the Lord’s call: "If anyone desires to come after Me...” (Matthew 16:24). Orthodoxy spreads with the word of the Gospel, love of all, and the self-sacrificial ministry of her membership, for the sake of Christ and their “neighbor.” In the early years of Christianity, it was the example of Christians themselves that most impressed the pagans. They saw how much Christians loved each other, and came to be baptized. It is impressive to note that in Side of Pamphylia, after centuries of persecution, the large amphitheater of Side (which is still there today) was used for Divine Liturgy, due to the great number of Christians. We have such wonderful examples of true Orthodox Christians! Let us imitate their faith and their love, by having love between us, and love for all!
At the end of each Liturgy we chant: "We have seen the true light; ... we have found the true faith..." With the study of the Holy Gospel and Orthodox books, we can strengthen our Orthodox faith and be prepared to give the correct answer to everyone who ask us to justify what we believe (see 1 Peter 3:15). We face the terrible situation of heretics and other false teachers approaching Orthodox Christians with their distortions of the Gospel, trying to convert them. Sadly, there are some who listen, and end up leaving the Church to join these groups.
My brothers and sisters, the Orthodox Faith is our greatest treasure. Millions of people over the centuries have shed their blood to protect this great inheritance of the true faith. Let us carefully guard our precious faith, allowing it to be passed on to future generations in the same way.
We conclude with the timely exhortation of the Apostle Paul: "Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love" (1 Corinthians 16:13-14). Amen.