Reflections on The Sunday of Orthodoxy
March is a busy time of year at our house, partly because it’s spring sports season, and partly because it’s Lent. Lent is the 40 day season of preparation that precedes Easter (or Pascha, which is the Hebrew word for Passover). For Orthodox Christians, Lent is one of the most important seasons of the church year. During Lent, the Orthodox faithful attend church frequently, fast, pray, and serve in their communities to prepare for Pascha, the day of our Lord’s Resurrection.
The Sunday of Orthodoxy is the first Sunday of Lent. It is a joyful time of tradition when the fast lightens and the people celebrate the restoration of the icons back into the Church.
Here is little bit of Church history: In the 7th century, a controversy occurred in which the Iconoclasts, also called “icon-smashers” became suspicious of any art depicting God or humans. These iconoclasts demanded that all icons be destroyed because they saw them as idolatrous. A council met to determine what should be done about this controversy and it was decided by the 7th Ecumenical Council of 787 AD, that “having icons in churches and homes” was appropriate and considered “open books to remind us of God.” Iconography became a way for people to “see the faith of Christ unfold before them.” Orthodox people think of their icons the way a relative would think of a photo of a departed loved one, with love and reverence. https://orthodoxwiki.org/Seventh_Ecumenical_Council
In our churches, the faithful come together on the Sunday of Orthodoxy bringing their icons and their religious imagery. During the service, parishioners hold their icons all during the service, children stand at the front of the church with their favorite images of the saints of old, and all the parishioners process around the church with a large cross and pictures of Christ.
Our most recent Sunday of Orthodoxy was just as vibrant a day as any I can remember. In the choir we held our icons, our priest preached on the glory of the saints, and all held crosses or images for a procession. That evening, we went to Holy Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral for a pan-Orthodox vespers service. It was golden and grand, seeing our priests from all the different Orthodox churches in the metro area sharing in prayer and celebration.
The highlight of the evening… as we walked into the cathedral …was glancing up to see a gigantic Byzantine style tiled mosaic of Christ, looking down over us. It was heavenly.