March 21, 2016

The Sacred Language of Symbols

By Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Patras

Excerpt from a Homily Delivered on the Sunday of Orthodoxy,
March 20, 2016

Orthodoxy, through the sensible, leads to the spiritual, the incorruptible and the eternal. It has its own secret, internal manner by which it sanctifies the external senses and leads to the cultivation of the internal spiritual world of man. Today we celebrate the restoration of the sacred icons. Within the beautiful, secret and sacred language of symbols we are elevated spiritually. What are the symbols that have been preserved as sacred tradition and a legacy of our Church? The candles, the lamps, the sacred icons and the way the faces of the icons are depicted, and so much more.

We observe that there is a huge difference between the Orthodox liturgical elevated art, such as in iconography and music among other things, and the art of groups and heresies that have cut themselves off from the truth. It is a feature of the spiritual dimension it gives, so that through this elevated experience we attain our personal transfiguration, and of the world in general.

When we hold on to the Orthodox manner of venerating and depicting the sacred icons, they are given a spiritual dimension, they move us upwards, there is a disengagement from matter, a withdrawal from what is perishable, a longing for heaven, a cruciform dimension of love. There is a loving relationship between man and the material creation of God. It helps us persist in fasting, prayer, the divine services, vigils, the entire liturgical life of the Church, and the path of asceticism.

We see, unfortunately, that this language of symbols is slowly being lost, together with the philokalic, kollyvadic, and in general the ascetic dimension of our life. Fasting, for example, is considered an outdated institution, temperance is utopianistic, prayer is a waste of time, participation in liturgical services is considered by some a social event.

Yet this language has been preserved, in its own simple little way, along with the deep spiritual meanings of the Holy Fathers. This language of symbols has been preserved and preserves the pure faith in the true God and loyalty to our Holy Church, within which is also preserved human value as a creation of God.

This is how Orthodoxy was maintained during the difficult times of bitter slavery. It was delivered to us in a simple manner by our Holy Fathers. Our mothers made the prosphoron with their tears and prayers, who preferred to use their oil to light the lamps of the Panagia and the Saints rather than consume it.

This is why contemporary iconoclasts deny the symbols and war against them. The depiction of the Cross annoys them, because the Cross displays sacrifice. They are annoyed by sacred icons, because they remind us of our destiny which is now lost. They are annoyed by candles and lit lamps, because they manifest the works of light and the Resurrection. Religious education annoys them. Oftentimes they are annoyed by the ringing of bells, because it wakes them from their slumber and raises up their fallen corpses.

Orthodoxy is a journey towards the Cross and Resurrection. We crucify the old man, with its passions and desires, and live a new dimension of life, looking towards the figure of our Lord Jesus Christ and venerating His immaculate icon, beseeching Him for the forgiveness of our sins. Because we know that it pleased Him to voluntarily become incarnated by the Holy Theotokos, to be crucified and rise from the dead, that He may save those He created from bondage to the devil.

In Orthodoxy we speak of repentance, the transfiguration of the entire man, the vision of uncreated Light, sharing in the experience of the Cross and Resurrection.

Today, when people follow the path of minimum effort and laziness, when they hear about such topics, they are as if they are listening to a foreign language. Unfortunately things are changing in our country. Our lives are losing their sacredness. Which is why we need a spiritual mindset of resistance, which through the plenitude of love, sacrifice, prayer and worship, on the one hand will preserve the holy myrrh, namely the sacred legacy and tradition, and on the other hand will prevent the removal of the sacred symbols and our ancestral piety, to continue their arduous task. Through this spirit and mindset there will be a good change within our society, which unfortunately is suffering within the terrible sea of its problems.

My brethren, Orthodoxy is our life, our root, our breath, which moves us beyond reason without rejecting it, beyond what is human and takes interest and opens for us the way towards what is indestructible and eternal.

Orthodoxy as life, as love, as hope for our future, as the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, as light, can give meaning and salvation to the world. Orthodoxy as faith, as an affectionate mother, as a spiritual treasure, as a valuable tradition can, and only it can liberate the nation of Greece from its contemporary deadlock and terrible darkness to what it is being driven to as a land without a backbone, namely without the Orthodox Church, the Orthodox faith and tradition.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.