The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John 1:43-51
If we enter the church to simply check a mark off of our weekly “to-do” list, we are probably confused. If we come to the church in hopes of passing time quickly and getting on with “life”, we have a problem. The services of the Holy Church are not here for your convenience, they are here for your salvation. At no time is this more true than during Great and Holy Lent.
Lent is boot-camp. It is a time to get back to the basics of the Christian life. On this the first Sunday of Lent we celebrate the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Traditionally this is the day when we commemorate the return of the icons into the church sanctuaries. But in a greater sense the Sunday of Orthodoxy is a proclamation and celebration of Christian truth. If you like, we can use the word “dogma”.
This word tends to bother some people because it makes them think about rigid, unchanging ideas that come from the top down. But that is not what we mean by dogma. In fact the idea of talking about what we believe offends some and there are so-called Christian groups that do everything possible to avoid talking about doctrine or dogma. They think that by avoiding certain subjects they can do a better job of ministering to people “where they are.” But in our understanding, it is precisely “where they are” that is the problem. Dogma, doctrine, and truth are the first steps to bringing people out of darkness. Truth brings people from death to life.
For us, dogma simply means the expressed truths of our faith. These truths have been expressed to us through the Old and New Testament, through the teachings of Our lord Jesus Christ and they’ve been upheld or defended by the teachings of the Church fathers who met in Holy council.
Nevertheless, our dogma’s are in fact unchanging and for good reason. To change our dogma’s would be like asking a scientist to change Newton’s laws. It is ridiculous. God does not change. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews writes “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). This is what we celebrate during the Sunday of Orthodoxy and we have an important reason. If our beliefs about Jesus Christ change, our foundation changes. If our foundation changes, we will lose our source of life and salvation. So it’s not about being politically correct or “changing with the times.” Our belief about Jesus Christ cannot change. If we are offended by the basic teachings of the Church, we have a problem that can only be remedied in a couple of different ways. We can pretend that the problem is the Church and try to change it, or we can understand that we are the problem that must be changed.
While our children are young we are bound by God to teach them the identity of Jesus Christ and the Holy Trinity. When they deal with those who believe in other gods or other religions, we are bound to remind them that while we respect all people regardless of their beliefs, we do not respect all religions because some are plainly false. We are bound to teach our children that Jesus Christ alone is the way, the truth and the life.
We are not simply bound to teach our children. We are bound to teach others through our behavior and our words.. In today’s gospel reading we see that after his simply encounter with Jesus Christ, Philip is changed. He begins the work of an evangelist from that very moment. When others ask him about Jesus, he replies “Come and see.” We are so quick to recommend products to others. We recommend diets and movies and books. If we love others, we are compelled to recommend Jesus Christ and the Church which He has established. We don’t do this out of a sense of guilt or even obligation, we do it out of joy. I love Him who loved me and gave up His life for me. Taking a few moments to introduce others to Him is a natural expression of this love.
Another natural expression of our love for Christ and His Church is to invite others to witness the beauty of Orthodoxy and this includes other Christians. I’ve been to many services in many denominations. Let me tell you a secret (which is no secret at all). They lack depth and richness. While they have been reinventing the wheel for a couple hundred years (if they are even that old), we have been calmly passing on our faith to those who are serious about knowing Jesus Christ and worshipping Him in spirit and in truth. It is not enough to know about Jesus Christ. How do we engage with Jesus Christ in proper worship? How do we commune with the Father, Son and Spirit? How do we allow God to heal our wounds and restore our humanity? These are questions that deserve answers. These are all answers that have been passed down through the living experience of the Church through the centuries. We don’t teach theories, we pass down the verified experience of the saints who came before us.
The Sunday of Orthodoxy is a celebration and a reminder. What we believe matters. Our belief is a reflection of the truth of what has actually taken place in the universe because God took flesh and became a man and revealed Himself to us. Studying the Christian faith through the Scriptures and writings of the Church fathers and the lives of the saints, allows us to understand what it is that we actually believe, and why our beliefs matter. And this allows us to truly join the saints and celebrate what it means to be an Orthodox Christian.
Glory be to God forever AMEN.