Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | April 8, 2013

Triumph of Orthodoxy

Earlier this year, I finally doubled up on a Sunday and made my way over to attend the pan Orthodox Vespers for the Sunday of Orthodoxy. As the Washington DC area has been blessed to have a large number of parishes, the effect of the service generated an authentic vision of the Triumph of Orthodoxy with a Metropolitan and 30-plus priests from five jurisdictions. More than that, for the first time I had the experience of our worship as not a people of God, but in fact as God’s suffering people. As Orthodox faithful, we  can go off in uncreative ways here… seeing ourselves alone as God’s suffering people. But what I mean to refer to is not just ourselves, our Orthodox selves in particular as the faithful people of God, but the Orthodox as icons of all believers, and our service as an re-enactment of a restoration of the faith and worship of all people. Maybe that’s an odd thing to think …just because we’ve run through this and a ceremony which walks a restoration of church “art” into the houses of worship as though it were a civil right march, but maybe not either.

Ours is a land and a time where all of us have fallen from True Faith. Some of us are on the road or have been on the road to recovery for some time, others of us are stuck in a rut and struggling to get back on the pavement, and of course there’s a third group of us still tooling happily along a wrong way “as if”. We do all three… all of us. Yes… even those Episcopalians everyone seems to enjoy making so much fun of and feel superior to…. yes, even they want in some corner to be a people of God… and if they capture that third way better, we’re remiss if we think they capture it alone. They don’t. We’re there, too. Everyone of us. And so if we really do allow ourselves to see each of these groups separately and unconnected to the struggles of the other – unconnected from our own struggles, we miss much in the Christian life. Our Christian life in that case becomes a life a part rather than a Christianity that renews and restores all people. and is a part of all of us. It’s a “handy” small Christ we can put in our pocket and take where we want, but it’s not the Christ of the book of Acts that converted thousands on Pentecost…. let alone Peter and the Apostles.

Sunday of Orthodox in Washington DC at Sts Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church

Sunday of Orthodox in Washington DC at Sts Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church

So if icons are truly a window into heaven, and for this modern guy… yeah… increasingly I see that… then the Triumph of Orthodoxy may itself be a window into the heaven wherein the church – our church – becomes an icon on earth for all people. And then maybe we’re actually getting somewhere. The truth is that all God’s people are no longer in our churches… whether these churches are Orthodox or something else, and if there is a unique gift in Orthodox spirituality, it is the  challenge to see ourselves in this, to see and experience this falling away as part of our story, to see the Prodigal worshippers as ourselves, to see our Church as wayward in its time – time and again, and to yet see the Triumph of Orthodoxy as a broader renewal and restoration of the icons as our story as well, as the restoration of ourselves and our worship, too. This too can happen, and it does because it has: Both the Fall and the Restoration. And that given a chance, given open hearts where the head and the ego (the same!) can for at least a moment take a back seat and we can “let the Church be the Church” as was intended… we can have that again. And at least let it be our prayer that God make it so.

And if we look at it this way, it doesn’t seem that hard nor does it even seem corny, goofy or all the other sorts of old foggy stuff we normally associate with our society of creative anachronism. Rather, in a dysfunctional world, the story of a group of people divided unreasonably against themselves gathering to re-enact and “model” if you will a point in time when their forebears sucked it up, picked up an image of a glorified saint and marched off to worship in ways that said, “Yeah we’re done with all the mock worship, the faux christian life, the humanity lite and ready for the real thing”….and now, we’re ready to crucify ourselves bit by painful bit in love of one another… yeah, that’s a message we could give.

So this day and in this Triumph of Orthodoxy it seemed to me that we were meant to be fashioned not just as an icon of a day long ago, but of a day yet to come. I felt as though we really were one people… a people of Orthodoxy in whose image worship was restored even as the icons themselves were restored to the church. And this worship wasn’t ours alone as though made up out of our heads, but fit into a pattern not made by human hands, fit into a mold of glorified humanity, or better, humanity glorified in the gilded image of divine beauty… as the Divine project would have it in making man was at last completed with the last words of Christ’s Passion in John’s Gospel, “It is finished”. And yes, there is more gold brocade in the living icon of this moment, more clergy and less lay folks than might be fitting, but we’ve had five plus years of a united, pan Orthodox clergy association… and how many years for our pan orthodox lay activities? Mmmmm. Right. Okay. Got it. So maybe it takes a long time to climb out of the catacombs? Yep. But if we let our anti-clericalism continue to be the excuse for not making the effort ourselves, then in the immortal words of John Wooten, we are preparing to fail by failing to prepare ourselves. And if we do not come together as a church of one faith in Orthodoxy, as one true American people chosen and allowing ourselves to become Orthodox, how can we possibly expect anyone to consider that we take the Savior at His word, that we should all become one? And hence our orthodoxy becomes not a faith for all people but for us alone… fitting for those seeking shelter in the catacombs, but not for those who’d chance a battle with Babylon to lift their souls to the heavens.

No one could describe the Word of the Father; but when He took flesh from you, O Theotokos, He accepted to be described, and restored the fallen image to our former state by uniting it to divine beauty. We confess and proclaim our salvation in words and images.

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