We, the Orthodox, like our processions. The First Sunday of the Great Lent, the Sunday of Orthodoxy, makes no exception, as flocks of clergymen and devoted carrying icons circle round their church buildings, singing hymns and proclaiming the victory of the Orthodox and the restoration of the icons.
But why is it so necessary in the present day, in the 21st century, to recollect yearly a theological debate that occurred many moons in the past? Well, perhaps as a result of what was at stake then is at stake now. The battle of the Orthodox with the iconoclasm is much from being over. The combat for the icons was not a debate about artwork in the Church. It was a wrestle for the understanding of Man, his goal in Creation and his salvation in God. The icons maintain the important thing to the Orthodox response.
What units the Orthodox aside from others is our understanding that God created man in His picture. He did this in order that man, appearing in concord with the divine grace, will obtain the likeness of his prototype, God. Through this, man is turning into himself god, not by nature, after all, however by full participation in the lifetime of the Godhead. It is what we name theosis or deification. This idea is the engine of every part we do. All our efforts are subservient to this final aim. Or not less than that was the plan…
The Fall and Its Impact
In paradise, Adam and Eve have misplaced by means of sin the unique straight path to theosis and, as sin entered the human nature, a brand new path was cast for all of us: the trail of askesis, or the holy wrestle. This features a everlasting consciousness of our human weak point and a steady collaboration with the grace of God to transcend it and regain our place in God’s presence. This path goes by means of the phases of purification of passions, illumination and lastly theosis.
While all of us as sinners are nonetheless stumbling by means of the primary stage of our purification from passions, the Orthodox iconography expresses the later phases of our life in Christ: illumination and theosis. The holy individuals we see depicted in strains and colours are forward of us, having already fulfilled the potential of their humanity, and they’re now resting in the glory of God. Icons turn out to be due to this fact doorways by means of which we will stroll in the divine actuality, misplaced by means of disobedience.
Sin, as Fr. Rafail Noica, a disciple of Elder Sophrony (Saharov), was saying just lately, just isn’t the true actuality, however a kind of digital actuality that conveys to us a perverted, illusory expertise that solely leads us additional away from the unique aim of our existence. We can say that dwelling in sin is like dwelling in one in every of these digital actuality video games, like World of Warcraft or Second Life, the place the participant will get to regulate his look, his mind, his powers and, by means of cybernetic manipulation, turns into in a approach the god of his digital universe. This is nothing else however a perverted theosis, the identical sort of corrupt considering that made the satan fall together with his angels.
The Glory of the Icons
The icons provide us a direct imaginative and prescient in the “true” actuality of God, and the saints turn out to be mannequin males and ladies who broke the veil of deception and met God in His Kingdom. In order to flee the perverted actuality of sin and entry the genuine existence depicted in the icons, we have now to scrub our nous, or coronary heart, because the Fathers name it. The nous is our solely sensory organ succesful to see God. This is the aim of our purification from passions: to scrub our hearts so we will attain the imaginative and prescient of God: theoria. This is the best way of the ascetics, whom we venerate in the icons. If we venerate them in the icons, we additionally should imitate them. We can not reside a bipolar life in which we love the saints however dislike what they’ve achieved in order to turn out to be saints.
The holy wrestle, askesis, follows in the footsteps of those nice luminaries. As the late Fr. John Romanides was saying that we have now no ethics, however ascetics. God doesn’t want us to behave. He just isn’t a moralist, nor a Puritan. He doesn’t change if we sin, however we do. God is ideal, He loves the sinner, the atheist, the moralist, the thinker and the saint all the identical, as a result of God Himself is Love. It is us who haven’t achieved but perfection, who must collaborate with Him to achieve it, who must turn out to be love at our flip.
The transformation we’re referred to as to make in our lives contains creating a brand new relationship with the whole Creation, with all that’s materials. God usual man out of probably the most primordial materials: earth. He breathed into him life and positioned him in a bodily place, paradise. He additionally gave him permission to eat out of all timber and benefit from the firm of different dwelling beings: animals, birds, bugs, and so forth. Man was put in cost of all Creation, however this bodily world was not the top. It was solely meant as a imply of sustenance till Man was able to reside “by every word coming out of the mouth of God” (Matthew four:four). Through sin, nonetheless, man misplaced this goal and, dressed in clothes of pores and skin, matter acquire, began to eat it and be consumed by it.
Fr. Dumitru Staniloae says that the fabric world, initially meant to be a stairway to the heavens, by means of misuse and abuse, has been remodeled in a wall between us and God, and between us and our neighbor. The bodily world has misplaced its transparency and turns into an opaque barrier that doesn’t enable us to understand the truth of God.
The prodigal son demanded his portion of inheritance from his Father. He couldn’t see previous the pleasures this wealth would deliver him and wished to own it alone, in a far nation. But as soon as the treasure spent, and the phantasm gone, the veil was lifted from his eyes, and he began to see one thing completely different. He realized that what he really misplaced was not wealth, however the communion together with his Father. This is why, with a renewed appreciation, with a modified thoughts, metanoia, he got here again into himself and went to aim once more to reside in Communion with Him. More so, he did it absolutely realizing that he might have to just accept the decrease standing of a servant. Losing every part, however accepting the duty of his deeds, he recovered what Adam has misplaced by means of sin, the true goal of his existence, which isn’t buying materials issues and worldly pleasures, however being in God’s loving presence.
This is why the Great Lent is so necessary for us, and because of this, yr after yr, we undergo this coaching of will and detachment. Leaving behind this fallen world and setting apart all that’s materials will ultimately occur at dying. The soul leaves the physique that returns to the earth, and the immaterial soul reaches towards God. Our entry to materials items is over at that time and, if we have now shaped attachments, too dangerous. I suppose this might be a part of hell for us, as we are going to crave them in useless like an addict in withdrawal.
Great Lent: The Regaining of the Purpose of Creation
What lets do then? In Monasteries, the primary week of Lent, Clean Week, is spent in deep prayer, consuming just about nothing, aside from partaking twice in Holy Communion. Even with one’s finest efforts and observe, on the finish, one feels exhausted as a result of we can not depart with out materials meals. We are usually not saints—not less than not but.
Like the prodigal son, we should always strive as an alternative to make use of this lovely observe of the Church to recuperate the unique which means of the bodily world and use it solely to get in a better communion with God. At the conclusion of Clean Week, EVERYTHING will style fantastic. After forsaking most every part, our style for all times is renewed and we get to take pleasure in once more what we have been taking as a right. Apples, the place have you ever been? Bread? Taste of heaven! Kale? What a candy perfume! And extra apparently, we now really feel a special style that solely a cleansed coronary heart can really feel: the style of heaven!
I’m not advocating that folks ought to starve to dying to re-discover the style of life. But consuming merely in the course of the quick ought to enable us to rekindle our relationship with the fabric world and open us a little bit extra yearly in the direction of the uncreated.
Today we have now a lot of every part! Go to a grocery retailer and you’ll see fruits that my great-grandparents by no means knew existed: bananas, kiwi, pineapple…goji berries?! Even common seasonal fruits like strawberries and my favourite raspberries can be found year-round. We don’t have to attend for something. We have a lot to style, and but nothing pleases us and we’re all the time searching for new issues for our discerning palate to expertise. After some time, nonetheless, all purchase the identical bland style, and nothing satisfies us anymore. Yet paradoxically, we can not depart with out them. We want our repair day by day, we’re junkies of matter.
Elder Cleopa tells a narrative on how he obtained three new shiny cash from a devoted, and he favored them a lot as a result of they have been new and glittery. And he couldn’t cease himself from them on a regular basis. Then he began to be obsessive about anybody stealing them and started to suspect plots towards him from the brothers. In the top, he realized that he was struck with the love for silver, and in order to flee it, he gifted the cash to a beggar. This is how he was cured.
Lent comes to interrupt our habit to matter and permits us to regain the style of paradise misplaced, to scent as soon as extra the perfume of prayer that’s lifted as much as God, to really feel the loving embrace of the Father welcoming His prodigal Son, to listen to the phrases of forgiveness from His holy mouth and see for ourselves that the Lord is Good! All our senses are prepped to understand the truth of the Kingdom.
Lent just isn’t a rejection of matter, however a return to its which means and a pre-taste of the “new heaven and the new earth” that’s to reach with Christ at His second coming. In this new world, our newly refashioned spiritualized our bodies, after the mannequin of the resurrected Christ, will crave no extra the fallen Creation, however will merely reside by being in everlasting and full communion with God, fulfilling the aim that was given to us for the reason that starting of the world. The renewed Creation will stop to be simply an icon, a mirrored image of the unique, however will determine itself with God, whose dwelling physique is, and shall all the time be. Amen.
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