God created man in the image of His Son so that, at the time of Christ’s incarnation, the Son of God could become man, assume the image of man, and reveal the dimensions and ranges of the human image, so that man could become God-like, Christ-like, Trinity-like. This is what Philip was saying to Nathaniel when he said, Come and see. Nathaniel went, and the Lord helped him to open his heart further, and that is when he recognized the Son of God in Him, in that “son of Joseph,” as He was regarded. Among the Jews, it was mandatory that a girl not remain unmarried. But, because the Holy Virgin Mary had vowed her virginity to God, the high priest of the time gave her to Joseph, as his betrothed, so that under the guise of marriage her secret could be kept –the secret being that from her, by the Holy Spirit, that is, by God Himself, the New Adam would be born, just as Adam was born in the beginning without a woman. Birth from a woman, that is, the normal human kind of birth, is not the only kind of birth. God can, as He said, of these stones raise up children of Abraham (Mt. 3:9). But God arranged it so that people would be born of Adam and Eve. Christ also followed that human path by becoming man: He went through the womb of the virgin-mother, and his father was the Heavenly Father. And He was born as the true Son of God and Son of Man, the one and only Christ, the eternal Representation, the Image of the True and Living God, the Image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15). He has now become the true image, the face, the icon of man; that is to say, the Original of our image has revealed Himself, the Prototype of Man. This is what we celebrate today, on the Sunday of Orthodoxy.He later adds how we can recognize our own Orthodoxy by venerating our Prototype:
When we leave at the end of the Divine Service, having partaken of Communion, to walk around the church and carry the Holy Icons and sing, We venerate Thy Holy Image, Thy Icon, O Lord, let us also ask this of the Lord: Show us, O Lord, as Thou hast shown Nathaniel, Thy Divine Image in ourselves and in our brethren, so that we may observe Thy Prototype, which is ours, given to us and conveyed to us. Then may we know by this that we are Orthodox. I repeat, Orthodoxy is not a big organization, a mighty force. You will hear many people ask: “What is the Church doing?” I say: “It is doing nothing, but it serves Divine Liturgy.” This was also said by a Russian priest at a meeting in Europe, when Russians were first allowed to leave the country after Stalin’s horrific persecutions. He and others were met by Protestants, Catholics, the organizers of the meeting, and they asked him: “What is the Russian Church doing? What mission does it have in Russia today?” And the priest said: We serve the Liturgy! Others laughed, not understanding that this is the greatest work that can be accomplished in this world and in this history, behind which is God’s Eternity.These words of an anonymous and much-suffering Russian priest are, to me, the perfect response to anyone questioning the "relevance" of Orthodoxy: We serve the Liturgy! This also reminds me of Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic's imagined exchange, cited earlier, between Tolstoy and the Synod who had anathematized him:
"My understanding is against your traditions," said Tolstoi.If nothing else, the Sunday of Orthodoxy should teach us that there is no reason we should feel that we must be forever on the defensive. The Church, after all, is the pillar and ground of Truth (I Tim 3:15).
"Our traditions are against your understandings," replied the Holy Synod.
St Theophan the Recluse, writing at a time when the Rite of Orthodoxy was under much criticism among the Russian intelligentsia, observes why its Anathemas are not only necessary, but indeed acts of love:
Does the holy Church really err in judging them, binding them, and casting them out? And would it really be love for man if she regarded the actions of such people with indifference and left them at liberty to destroy everyone else? Would a mother permit a snake to freely crawl up to and bite her little child, who does not understand the danger? If some immoral person were to gain access to your family and begin tempting your daughter, or your son -- would you be able to regard their actions and their speeches with indifference? Fearing to gain a reputation for being inhumane and old- fashioned, would you tie your own hands? Would you not push such a person out the door and close it against them forever?! You should view the actions of the holy Church in the same way. She sees that individuals of corrupt mind appear, and corrupt others -- and she rises up against them, drives them away, and calls out to all those who are her own: Beware -- so-and-so and such-and-such people wish to destroy your souls. Do not listen to them; flee from them. Thus she fulfills the duty of motherly love, and therefore acts lovingly -- or as you put it, humanely.
At the present time, we have a proliferation of nihilists, spiritists and other pernicious clever ones who are carried away with the false teachers of the West. Do you really think that our holy Church would keep silence and not raise her voice to condemn and anathematize them, if their destructive teachings were something new? By no means. A council would be held, and in council all of them with their teachings would be given over to anathema, and to the current Rite of Orthodoxy there would be appended an additional item: To Feuerbach, Buchner, and Renan, to the spiritists, and to all their followers -- to the nihilists - - be anathema. But there is no need for such a council, and there is no need either for such an addition. Their false teachings have already all been anathematized in advance in those points where anathema is pronounced to those who deny the existence of God, the spirituality and immortality of the soul, the teachings concerning the all-holy Trinity and concerning the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do you not see with what wisdom and foresight the holy Church acts when she makes us perform the present proclamation and listen to it? And yet they say, "This is outdated." It is precisely now that it is relevant. Perhaps 100 years ago it was not relevant. But one must say concerning our time, that if a Rite of Orthodoxy did not as yet exist, it would be needful to introduce one, and to perform it not only in the capital cities but in all places and in all churches: in order to collect all the evil teachings opposed to the Word of God, and to make them known to all, in order that all might know what they need to beware of and what kind of teachings to avoid. Many are corrupted in mind solely due to ignorance, whereas a public condemnation of ruinous teachings would save them from perdition.
If there were no Rite of Orthodoxy we would need to introduce one! The Rite of Orthodoxy, with its thundering Anathemas is not only not a disturbing leftover from the past, but a test and reminder of our own Orthodoxy.
I haven't much time to write more today, so I'll leave you with some valuable links:
- Audio (in Slavonic) of the late Protodeacon Nikolai Porshnikoff reading part of the Rite of Orthodoxy. This thundering reading should curl the toes of anyone who has ever harbored an heretical thought. The full Rite (also in Slavonic), as performed at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY, last year, can be heard here.
- On the Holy Icons, by St Gregory Palamas.
- A sermon given by St Tikhon, later Patriarch of Moscow, in San Francisco, on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, 1903.
- The Sunday of Orthodoxy of and the Current State of Affairs by Photios Kontoglou.
- A sermon on the Sunday of Orthodoxy by Fr Alexander Schmemann.
- Finally, you might think of looking at some of my older posts: Why Do We Venerate Icons?, The Flesh Became the Word, and The Icon and the Image.
What God is as great as our God? Thou art God Who workest wonders! (Ps. 76:14-15)