My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
SUNDAY OF ORTHODOXY: The First Sunday of Holy and Great Lent
Sermon of Archbishop Averky
"This is the Apostolic faith, this is the faith of the Fathers, this is the Orthodox faith"
Beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord, you hear these solemn and significant words in the Rite of Orthodoxy which the Holy Church has established to be served on this day. The first week of Holy and Great Lent has ended a week of intensified prayer and ascetical repentance. Now the Holy Church, desiring to encourage and console us, has established for us in this first week of Great Lent, on its first Sunday, a spiritual celebration, one most dear and close to our hearts--the Triumph of Orthodoxy.
This celebration was first performed in 842 A.D. in Constantinople in the presence of the Blessed Empress Theodora by His Holiness Patriarch Methodius in memory of the overthrow of the last terrible heresy to shake Christ's Church, the heresy of iconoclasm. But in this celebration the Holy Church marks the Triumph of the Holy Orthodox faith in general, her victory over all impious heresies, false teachings and schisms.
Our Lord Jesus Christ the Savior founded His Church on earth so that all belonging to her could be saved, could elude the nets of the devil and enter into the Heavenly Kingdom prepared for them.
The devil exerted all his strength to overthrow and destroy the Church of Christ, through this, to hinder the salvation of men. At first he raised up terrible persecutions against the Church on the part of the Jews and pagans. For almost three centuries the blood of Christian martyrs flowed without ceasing. But the devil did not succeed in his task. The blood of the martyrs, according to the apt statement of the Christian apologist Terullian, became the seeds of Christians. Christianity triumphed over its persecutors. The meek lambs of Christ's flock transformed the wolf-like rage of their persecutors into lamb-like meekness.
But the devil did not resist after the defeat he suffered at the hands of the martyrs. When the Church of Christ triumphed in the world he raised up a new, even more dangerous persecutions against her: from within the Church, as the Holy Apostle Paul had foretold in his conversation with the Ephesian presbyters: "men arose speaking perverse things". Saint Paul called such men grievous wolves (Acts 20:29-30). These were so-called heretics who tried to pervert the true teaching of Christ concerning faith and piety in order to make this teaching ineffective for men.
When this happened, the Holy Church, in the person of its best servants, took up arms against these heretics in order to defend its true, undistorted teaching. There began to be convoked first Local and then Ecumenical Councils. Bishops came together from all the corners of the earth and through the Holy Spirit they gave voice to the pure and undistorted Truth, following the example of the First Apostolic Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:6-29). They also cut off heretics from the Church and anathematized them.
This was in according with the clear commandment of Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself who said, "If he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican" (St. Matthew 18:17). And in accordance with the commandment of the Holy Apostle Paul, the great Apostle to the nations who said, "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be anathema. Maranatha" (I Cor. 16:22).
Thus our moving, majestic and solemn Rite of Orthodoxy takes its beginning from Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and from His great Apostle, called by Him to be the Apostle to the Nations, i.e., of the whole pagan world.
From the 9th century on the Holy Church has established that this rite should be served on the First Sunday of Holy and Great Lent and that it be named Orthodox Sunday. The rite, brothers and sisters, is particularly important and significant in the evil times we are experiencing, times in which the Orthodox: faith is wavering and shaking..."
"Inspired by Your Spirit, Lord, the prophets foretold Your birth as a child incarnate of the Virgin. Nothing can contain or hold You; before the morning star You shone forth eternally from the spiritual womb of the Father. Yet You were to become like us and be seen by those on earth. At the prayers of those Your prophets in your mercy reckon us fit to see Your Light, "for we praise Your Resurrection, holy and beyond speech. Infinite, Lord, as divine, in the last times You willed to become incarnate and so finite; for when You took on flesh You made us all its properties Your own. So we depict the form of Your outward appearance and pay it relative respect, and so are moved to love You; and through it we receive the grace of healing, following the divine tradition of the Apostles."
"The grace of truth has shone out, the things once foreshadowed now are revealed in perfection. See, the Church is decked with the embodied image of Christ, as with beauty not of this world, fulfilling the tent of witness, holding fast the Orthodox faith. For it we cling to the icon of Him Whom we worship, we shall not go astray. May those who do not so believe be covered with shame. For the image of Him Who became human is our glory: we venerate it, but do not worship it as God. Kissing it, we who believe cry out: O God, save Your people, and bless Your heritage."
Apolytikion (Tone Two)
Christ our God, begging forgiveness of our sins, we venerate Your pure image O Good One. Of Your own will You condescended to ascend upon the Cross in the flesh and delivered those You created from the bondage of the enemy. Wherefore, thankfully we cry out: When You came to save the world You filled all things with joy, O Our Savior.
Kontakion (Plagal Fourth Tone)
The undepictable Logos/Word of the Father became depictable when He took flesh of You, O Theotokos; and when He had restored the defiled image to its ancient state, He suffused it with Divine beauty. As for us, confessing our salvation, we record it in deed and word.
Lenten Prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian
O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. Yes, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother (or sister), for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God