How to restore ourselves as icons of God 我們如何回復如神的形像
John 約翰福音 1：43-51 New King James Version (NKJV)
2013.3.24 sermon by Father Jonah
John 1:43 The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
46 And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!”
48 Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
49 Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
50 Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Today you saw that we celebrated the restoration of the icons, the Sunday of Orthodoxy. As we saw from last week, the Great Lent is a period to prepare us spiritually to accept and be ready for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the Church has different steps for this preparation. Last week the Church taught us that without forgiveness there is no meaning for the spiritual life. And today the Church tells us the second step: that without the true faith, without the right faith, there is also not spiritual life. And this is why the church reminds us today about the correct faith.
Because “Orthodox” means to glorify God (doxa) in the right way (ortho). And if we don’t believe correctly, this also affects our everyday spiritual life. The Christian is not an intellectual Christian. He is not like a mathematician, for example, or a physicist, or even a doctor who can have his own theoretical ideas while his life is different. But our life and our faith is one thing: our faith saves our life; our life expresses our faith.
And for the history, I will start here to say that what we read today, because it is a longer text, it has more anathemas, and it started to be read in the Church from 843, when the icons were restored in the churches. Because, as you know there was a big controversy against the icons for about 150 years by the emperors, and some of the people of the church (you hear some of their names in the anathemas). This misunderstanding was because the emperors who were influenced, from one point of view, by the Muslims – coming from the East to the West – who did not like any kind of image. And from the other point of view, because many Christians over-used the icons, using them in the wrong way and scandalizing many people. So many of the icons were destroyed. We had the Seventh Ecumenical Council, which gave the meaning of icons, but even after this we had a lot of conflicts. All of this finally ended in 843, and from that time today, the Church reads this text.
Just to say a few things historically about the icons. There are have icons even in the old Testament, for example God told Moses to make the golden cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant. And we see in the New Testament that the historians of the Church said that the woman who Jesus cured from the bleeding, in gratitude made a statue of Jesus Christ outside of her house and she was kneeling in front of this. Then Julian the emperor destroyed this statue of Jesus Christ and he put his own statue there, but thunder came from heaven and destroyed the statue. We have also the cloth with the face of Jesus that was sent to the king of Syria, Abgar, with his face. We also have the cloth of SaintVeronica, the woman who put a cloth to Jesus face when he was being carried, to comfort him and the image of His face was stamped on it. This is the living tradition of the church, how we paint the face of Jesus Christ. We also have icons in the catacombs; we see a lot in Greece and Rome and other places we have drawings. And Luke the apostle was an icon painter. We have icons in Greece painted by Luke the apostle, even this Black Madonna there (pointing to one on the wall), which is the tradition of the Church, although it was stolen by the Crusaders and now it is in Poland now. The tradition says it was painted by Luke the apostle and it is black because of its age.
Icons are theology in colors, not in words, but in colors. An icon is made by different layers of light, as you can see here (pointing to icons over the altar). It is transparent and it is a very holy art. It is not for everybody to make icons, you must pray and do a lot of things. And the icons are not portraits; there is a very holy way to make icons and we have icon painters who, through the painting of icons, become holy. And we have many, especially the most beautiful of the icons, the Holy Trinity by Andrei Rublev, who became a saint by using the mystery and the mastery of color to express theology.
We have all these things, but we see now what happened to the heretics, who misunderstood the Church, even made mistakes with the Church. And this is a point that we stress about faith today: they separated from the Church, they did not follow the way of the Church. And the Church way is if you see something you think is wrong, you go to the bishop or to the Council, the Church of course has a procedure. So what did they do? They split the Church; they created their own churches, splitting and scandalizing the people of the Church, and then they took icons and threw them away, they did a lot of things. People died for this, and this was the big sin, to create a scandal and split the church. Jesus Christ came and he said, “I want you to become a father,” in his last prayer, John 17, the prayer of the high priest, he said, “To become one, as the Trinity is one.” We should become one, but the heretics split this thing, this unity of the church. And this splitting also created for them a big lie, because the Church is not a political party where you can split a political party to make an opposition, like we have in everyday politics or in business. But the Church is the Body of Jesus Christ.
And you see the heretics, if you see the life of the heretics, for example Balaam, who was against Gregory Palmas, they never saw him receive the Holy Communion in Constantinople or Mount Athos. So you see how his wrong faith influenced him, and because of not receiving the Holy Communion, he had the wrong faith and it became a cycle. If you see the Anathemas and the bishops and the monks who were against the icons, they were conspiring with the emperor to arrest other abbots and bishops. This is why when we read their names we say they died; they had their foreheads branded with hot iron like slaves. So living a life of conspiracy, living a life of lies, living a life of “Can we do this,” or, “We will do this. We will make something here. We will destroy the icons there. And we will make a church without icons here.” These people, of course they were not confessing, or even if they were confessing, they were saying lies. Because when confessing, you know, you do not confess to me, you confess to God. If you tell a small thing but you hide a big thing, for example, if you say, “Yes, I told lies to my mother when I was a kid,” and you hide that you conspired to destroy the church, this is a big thing, right? You tell the small thing and you hide the big thing. The priest is not an investigator, he must accept whatever you say in front of God, and if you cheat, you cheat God. And, yes, those people who cheated God in their confession, and they mocked God, of course they became gradually heretics.
You must understand the Orthodox faith, once more I say. And this is why I prepared some applications for mobiles and IPads some simple and abstract explanations of the Orthodox faith. We don’t say, this is dogmatics, we say, the worshipping faith; because It is never like when somebody is studying dogmatics, something for the theologians. It’s not about the theologians; if we have wrong faith we have wrong life, and if we have sinful life we have wrong faith.
So somebody will say, “And finally, what is this all for?” The official name of our Church is not “Orthodox,” our church’s official name is “The One, Catholic and Apostolic Church,” right? This is what we say in the Creed. This is the faith of the Apostles as we read today; this is the faith of the saints; this is the faith of the Catholic Church. We are the Catholic Church. What is Orthodoxy? I will say to you, it’s not the candles and the icons and all this; I will say to you very simply – it is what Jesus Christ said, “Father, I want them to be one as we are one.” This becoming one, this is the Orthodox faith.
But how to become one? Not under a king, not under a chief, but in an unbelievable way, a way that even the angels could not imagine. The Son of God became human, and he gave his body so that when we come here we enter his body through the sacraments of the Church, with different ways you and me, but we unite ourselves and feed ourselves. And as today in the liturgy of Saint Basil, which is such a beautiful liturgy, we saw that he says, “To become one, one in Jesus Christ, and one in everybody of us.” This mystery is the mystery of the Trinity. This why we say, “Where is another God like our God?” And we say it so beautifully, because we don’t compare gods, but you see the Holy Trinity, the Communion and the ultimate. The Orthodox Church says that freedom is not making a contract for your freedom, but freedom is love, freedom is coexistence. And if there is no love, there is no freedom.
So we see what Orthodoxy is all about. And only if you have this idea of Orthodoxy, the communion with each other, the unity with each other to become one in the Body of Jesus Christ, taking this Body and participating in the Liturgy even if you don’t receive the Holy Communion. This is the Orthodox Church. And if you have this then the icons make sense, then the incense makes sense, then these clothes (pointing to his robes) they make sense, everything makes sense. If we don’t have this, we are not Orthodox. You can be named whatever you want. I can be named the Pope of Rome; I’m not, so what?
And it is very important to understand that an Orthodox – even if he is in his house, even when he prays alone – he is never alone: he is a part of the Body of the Church. Even the ascetic, the monk who lives in a cave in the mountains, he does not pray as an individual: he prays for the Body of the Church and he prays as a member of the Body of the Church. He is never alone. He is like this hand, one finger here, one finger here, one finger here. So this is Orthodoxy. If we have this idea, if we have this way of life, the unity in the community, in the Church, we are Orthodox. If we don’t have this we can be many other things but we are not Orthodox. And yes, this is why the Church reminds us today: without the correct dogmatic life, forget about spirituality, your spirituality is not fulfilled, it is missing, it is something sick.
And yes we will do sins because of human weakness. It is different to do sins because of human weakness, as I do – more than you, and to do sins on purpose and hiding, on purpose to destroy something, to destroy you, to destroy the Church of God. It is different to do a sin because, well, I’m angry or my mind it cannot be so big. This is why the Church has confession, this is why the Church gives forgiveness. And then we will see next Sunday and the Sunday after that, the different steps to go through confession and to improve in the love of God.
God is love because God is Trinity. God has no love as an emotion, but he is love because of his existence and the way he exists. And he wants us to know him as love, not as power, as the demons know him very well – but they know him as power, not as love.
And this is Orthodoxy. This is the knowledge of God from the Orthodox. It is not to say, “Do you believe in God?” “Yes, of course I believe.” That is not the Orthodox faith. To know God is to know him, as I say, as Trinity, and in the Holy Communion and in the Sacraments of the Church. And today I gaze at you and you gaze at me, eye to eye, honestly. And why do I say honestly? Because we see the icon of God today. And this is the meaning of restoring the icons. I told you to hold the icons in you: it’s like holding babies on your bosoms. Because you have the saints on you, so close, and because the saints become so familiar to you, and the Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Mother, this is how we must have the icons (crossing hands over his chest) just like our kids.
The emperess who restored the icons, she was hiding the icons from her husband, and he said to her, “What are you doing? What are you hiding here?” She said to him, it’s like the kids who have dolls. And I could give you another kind of title, and I will explain to you later. But who will restore? So today we must remember that we must not only restore the icons – the icons have already been restored in the Orthodox churches from 843. But who will restore these icons, our icons, my face and your faces, that are sick, dirty – because they are icons of God. And each one of us, by different ways, has polluted, has scratched, and has destroyed it. There are specialists who can restore an old icon. But where are the specialists who can restore our own icons? Because we are images of God. And this is what the Fathers of the Church want us to remember today. We are images of god and whatever we do that is bad, we scratch this holy icon of God. And we must restore it because, yes, we have these icons. The most beautiful icons in the church are you because you are the living images of God; we are the living images of God. And we should not forget this.
And this is why I would like to give you a mirror when you return the icons so you could see yourself, to see each of us, as a holy icon of God, to see – each one of us – how to restore this icon of God, and how to respect each other as an icon of God.
Many times I have told you how I admire the Japanese people because they bow everywhere (bowing repeatedly), and this is very deep because just as we bow in front of the icon of our Lord Jesus Christ we should bow in front of you, and you should bow to each other because Jesus is inside your body, you are the temple of God. The Bible says this, right? Our body is the living temple of God; this (pointing to the altar) is not, this is just stones and plastic and glass and any kind of materials we use. And you see the Holy Communion I will not throw to a holy place, I will throw in your mouths and in my mouth.
So, remember this today: you are the icons. Later take a mirror and see yourselves; bow to yourself, bow to the others, see our brothers everywhere, and when you see them you see Jesus Christ and bow to him. The Fathers of the Desert say, “Did you see your brother? You saw your God.” And when we do this, then really we can go on and we can carry on in the spiritual life, restoring and polishing and making the icon of God that we are to shine, and to become one with Jesus Christ, as he said, “All to become one.”
May the Holy Trinity protect all of us. Amen.