In the Name of the Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit!
Today the church celebrates the Triumph of Orthodoxy. For our humble little church, where no more than 40 or 50 people gather on Sundays, this seems incredibly loud. Especially considering that our church was founded in Spokane, where more than 40,000 Russians live and most of them are not Orthodox. Of course, we have the well populated Greek Church of The Holy Trinity and the Antiochian Orthodox churches. But all the same, in numbers our Triumph of Orthodoxy loses out significantly. But let us take a look not at the numbers, but rather at the essence of this Triumph. After all, quantity does not always guarantee quality.
Today we remember and confirm the victory of the Church over the iconoclastic heresy. What is this heresy? Heresy is a false teaching, which contradicts the true faith and turns towards denial of the true Divine Revelation. As a rule, heresy takes on the appearance of righteousness and piety. As the Apostle Paul says, this is not surprising “For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14)
At first glance, it may not be obvious why on the Church, on the day of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, celebrates specifically the victory over iconoclasm. What’s so special about it? Can’t we believe without venerating the icons? We may. And we see that many do believe in this way. But this is already a different faith. And what’s the difference? And why is it so important for us?
Today, on the icon stand, we see the icon of our Savior, Lord and Our God, Jesus Christ. What does this mean for us? The Apostle John, in the very beginning of his first epistle, beginning his confession about Jesus Christ writes, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life”. (1 John 1:1). That is, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14). The Apostle intentionally repeats “which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon” (1 John 1:1). And in the next verse, again “the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness” (1 John 1:2). And once more: “that which we have seen and heard we declare to you” (1 John 1:3). Four times in three verses he repeats the fact, that they saw (and touched) the incarnate God. And the icon that we see today is none other than that same God the Word, become flesh, God, which the apostles beheld. Here He is, and we see and touch him. Not literally, but contemplating and contacting the image, we contemplate and kiss the prototype, God Himself and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our body, which God gave us, has five senses: vision, hearing, taste, touch and smell. This are the doors into our soul, through which we experience the material world around us. And for this very reason, God came into this material world, to reach us through these five doors. Reaching our souls by any other means became impossible due to the material nature that we acquired after The Fall.
In today’s Gospel we heard how Phillip came to Nathaniel and told him about Jesus. But Nathaniel is skeptical of his story: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” And then Phillip makes the final and strongest argument. He says, “Go and see”. (John 1:46) That is, words often produce doubt, but our eyes we believe almost always. We can accept all of our senses, but sight gives our soul the brightest and most convincing impression.
And the sermon of the Gospel the church conducts in all five “languages” of our bodily senses. We not only hear the Word of God, but we taste His Holy Flesh. We not only smell His Holy Blood and fragrance conveyed to Him through incense, but we also touch Him, and kiss His holy image. And, of course, we see Him in the holy icons. There is nothing that we lack in comparison with the Apostles. And all five of these spiritual sensations bring to our souls the confession that our God Jesus Christ truly came into the world in the flesh.
And why we must believe this confession is again revealed to us by the same holy Apostle John, whom the Church calls “Theologian” with good cause. “Beloved”, he writes, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1). And further on he explains how to test the spirits: “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.” (1 John 4:2-3). Having tested the spirit in this way, which confesses to us through the holy icons the coming of Christ in the flesh, we know that this spirit is the spirit of God.
Over the course of several centuries in the history of the Church there was disagreement about icons. And the Church, in the person of the holy martyrs and confessors, who did not regret sacrificing their lives for the Truth, fought bravely so that this same significant spiritual door into our souls could remain open for the confession that our Lord and God Jesus Christ truly came in the flesh. So that with all of our senses, hearing, sight, taste, smell and touch we could accept in our hearts the Divine Spirit, Which conveys to us this confession in all its fullness. So that through our senses: hearing, vision, taste, smell and touch we accepted into our hearts the Divine Spirit, Who brings us this confession in all its fullness. So that our hearts did not grow dull, loosing the living communion with Christ, and so that we did not become that about which He speaks: “the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes for they see” (Matthew 13:15-16). This is why it is so important. And this is what we celebrate today - the victory of the Church’s full confession of the Truth! Amen.