By Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria
"The paternal institution of the Church has been preserved, icons of Christ and His saints are painted and embraced with the lips, heart and will...".1
The above exhortation is characteristic, my brethren, of Saint Theophanes the Confessor, Bishop of Nicaea. We ought to preserve the institutions of the Church, the sacred traditions, the voices of the Holy Fathers, honorably embracing the sacred icons of the Master Christ, the Most Holy Theotokos and our Saints. Because, as the God-bearer John of Damascus says in one of his homilies, using the opinion of Athanasius the Great: "We the faithful do not worship icons as gods, like the pagans ... Just as Jacob, when he was about to die, venerated the tip of the staff of Joseph, not to honor the staff, but the one who held it, so also the faithful do not kiss icons for any other reason, but to show the longing of our soul."2
Today, therefore, when the Church of Christ, the only Church (because there are no other Churches, as we confess in the Symbol of Faith: "In One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church"), rejoices and is glad and glorifies the Bridegroom Christ, "who redeemed us from the delusion of the idols,"3 allow me, my beloved brethren, to convey to your love spiritual highlights of our Holy Church about the great issue of Orthodoxy. After all, today's Sunday, the first of the Fast, is called the Sunday of Orthodoxy.
First: What is Orthodoxy?
The word "Orthodoxy" consists of two Greek words: "ορθή" ("orthoi") and "δόξα" ("doxa"). Doxa means, on the one hand, a doctrine or opinion we have about an issue, and on the other hand it means doxology. These two meanings go hand in hand and compliment each other. Orthodoxy means both true faith and true doxology of God.4 This true faith guides us to true doxology of the Triune God. If the faith is in error, then the doxology of God is also in error. If the faith is true, then it has the ability to heal fallen man, to guide it from the idolatry of the passions to the authentic worship of the true God and communion with Him.
This faith is not the result of human imagination, nor scientific research, nor the product of reason, but it is the manifestation of God. This is clearly explained to us by John the Evangelist in his preamble to his Gospel: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only-begotten Son of the Father."5 This is why our Fathers stress how Orthodoxy is connected and identified with the true faith and true tradition. Whatever the Holy Apostles received, whatever the Fathers of the Church experienced, this they transferred to us within the boundaries of life and death, boundaries which distinguish the treatment from the illness, boundaries that distinguish truth from falsehood.
This is why faith, tradition, worship and healing are particularly stressed and inextricably linked. They have such unity, that it is impossible to live in an orthodox manner, if you cut yourself off from one of these realities. Only in this context can we talk about Orthodoxy.6
When speaking about Orthodoxy, we should not repeat the mistake of Pilate, who asked Christ at the Praetorium on Great and Holy Friday: "What is truth?"7 The correct question is rather: "Who is truth?" Simply because truth is not an idea, nor a theory, nor a philosophical system, but a Person, who is the Savior Christ Himself.
Second: What is Orthodoxy?
Since the truth is Christ, then it is completely identified with the Church. This truth is the revelation of God to humanity. It is not the prerogative of the literate and educated. Even the most illiterate, as the great Father of the Church Saint Gregory Palamas stresses, can attain to this uncreated energy of God. This God-bearing Father also made a clear distinction, in the turbulent times he lived refuting Barlaam, between the two forms of wisdom and the two forms of knowledge. There is human wisdom and divine wisdom. The wisdom of God is revealed to the Saints and is independent of the cognitive power and human education. This wisdom is greater than that possessed by the philosophers.
This is why he supports in an orthodox manner that truth is perfectly identified with the Church. "You are in the truth of Christ's Church, and if you are not in the truth then you are not in the Church of Christ."8 This is true: God reveals to people as much as people are in communion with the divinizing grace of God. Thus, anyone who is not in tune with this frequency, is cut off from the link with truth and excluded from the Church.
For this reason we need today to hear again the voice of Saint Gregory, who reminds us in his confessionary text of the following important features: "All those who do not confess and believe that the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets,... let them be anathema."9 Those, therefore, who lose this tradition, and do not accept the experiences of the God-bearing Fathers, and separate the Fathers from the Apostles and Prophets, and those who create their own traditions, are cut off from the Church, and considered heretics.10
Third: What is Orthodoxy?
One could say in the language of our time, that Orthodoxy is that wondrous synthesis of doctrine and morals, theoria and praxis. It is inseparably connected with orthopraxis.
If we separate these two, then we will only have a shadow, which will display a glorious past to the reality of this life, but without hope for the future. Orthodoxy without orthopraxis is worse than heresy. It is hypocrisy and a mockery, which is why the most dangerous heretic is the Christian who believes one thing and does another, sacrificing the truth, virtue and tradition for their own interest. Orthodoxy is not a museum and of the past, but life, creation and radiation.
My brethren, it is a great honor to be Orthodox, but it is also a great responsibility and priceless treasure, on the one hand to keep it, and on the other to experience it in our daily life. Let us conclude by listening to the awesome words of Saint John of Damascus, which is both timely and timeless:
"Brethren, the Christian is faith. He who walks by faith gains many things. The doubter, on the contrary, is as a wave of the sea torn and tossed; he profits nothing (Jam. 1:6). All the saints pleased God by faith. Let us then receive the teaching of the Church in simplicity of heart without questioning. God made man sane and sound. It was man who was over curious (Eccl. 7:30). Let us not seek to learn a new faith, destructive of ancient tradition, Saint Paul says, 'If a man teach any other Gospel than what he has been taught, let him be anathema' (Gal. 1:9).... And may Christ fill you with the joy of His resurrection, most holy flock of Christ, Christian people, chosen race, body of the Church, and make you worthy to walk in the footsteps of the saints, of the shepherds and teachers of the Church, leading you to enjoy His glory in the brightness of the saints. May you gain His glory for eternity, with the Uncreated Father, to whom be praise forever. Amen."11
1. 1st troparion of the ninth ode of Matins for the Sunday of Orthodoxy.
2. "Third Treatise on Holy Icons", ch. 59.
3. Sticheron of the Praises of Matins for the Sunday of Orthodoxy.
4. Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, The Church and the Ecclesiastical Mindset.
5. Jn. 1:14.
6. Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, The Church and the Ecclesiastical Mindset.
7. Jn. 18:38.
8. "Retration of the Letter to Ignatios of Antioch."
10. Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, The Church and the Ecclesiastical Mindset.
11. "Third Treatise on Holy Icons", ch. 42.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.