The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John 1:43-51
The Church offers us this gospel reading at the first Sunday of Great and Holy Lent and it is interesting that this passage is focused on the calling of some of the disciples. In a manner of speaking, Lent is a renewal of the call to follow after and search for this Jesus of Nazareth that everyone is talking about. When I was a young man in college I thought I knew who Jesus was. I had grown up in the Church and went to Sunday school. But really, I didn’t know much about Him. I got to the point in my life where I wanted to follow God but I didn’t want to follow Jesus Christ simply because my parents believed in Jesus or because my grandparents believed in Jesus. I needed to struggle to seek Him myself. God was calling me and asking me to follow His Son, and I chose to try and follow in my weak and imperfect way.
Here at the beginning of Lent each of you is presented with a similar situation. Some of us know that we come to Church on Sunday but we don’t really know why. Most of us know that Jesus is an amazing teacher and we call Him the Son of God but do we really take that to heart? Do we really understand the magnitude of what it means for our lives? Have we ever really followed after Jesus? When Our Lord Jesus came to Philip He said to him “Follow Me.” Nothing more was said. Two words changed Philip’s life and these same two words set the world on fire with the love of God. How did that happen? Because Philip was deeply affected by this personal encounter with Jesus and he took it seriously and devoted his life to following Jesus. Then he invited others into this beauty that he had discovered.
It is well known that the best type of advertising is word of mouth advertising. This happened even in the case of the disciples. Some were called directly; others were called directly through their friends or family members. But what is really important here is that these disciples had a personal experience of Jesus Christ. They saw Him with their own eyes! In 2 Peter 1:16 St. Peter writes “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”
On the first Sunday of Great Lent we celebrate the Sunday of Orthodoxy. It is the commemoration of the return of icons to all of the Holy Churches of God which occurred in the year 843 ad on the first Sunday of Great Lent. For years there had been misguided bishops and priests who believed that any depictions of the Lord or His angels or saints was a direct violation of the commandment that forbid the creation and worship of any graven or carved images. In fact there was only a very small handful of Christians who did not fall into the belief that icons should be removed from all the churches. One of the factors which possibly led to the rise of the Iconoclasts (those who were against Icons) was the rise of Islam which does not permit one to depict God or even the prophet Mohammed. In Islam, God is known only through the text of the Koran. He is faceless and impersonal.
St. Peter reminds us that the disciples were not writing clever fables or myths about God. They met His Son face to face! It is this simple fact that Jesus took human flesh and became a man with a form and physical substance that we celebrate in the holy icons that surround our churches. In fact, if we enter a church without icons, we should be extremely wary. First we should wonder where that particular church finds it’s authority (no doubt they will claim the Bible) because icons were present in all of the Christian Churches for most of history as is quite evident from the historical record of archeology and the use of icons was upheld at the Seventh Ecumenical Council in the ninth century as not simply recommended but truly proper and essential to the Christian faith. Next we should wonder about the underlying message. Our underlying message is that God is known not only through a text or a book. God is known in space, in time and in matter through His Son. God really took real human flesh. Our Lord says “He who has seen me has seen the Father who sent me.” St. Paul taking hold of this writes that Jesus Christ “is the icon (usually translated as “image”) of the invisible God.”
We don’t know what God looks like, for God is spirit. God forbid the creation of idols and forms because no one had seen Him or His Son. But we know exactly what God looks like in the image of His beloved Son. So either the Son of God was actively present and visible in the midst of others or He wasn’t. There is no middle ground here. Either God is known through the revelation of His Son in the form of a human being that could be seen and related to on a human level or God is only known in the abstract and in books. We really know God and we really worship Him because we have seen Him as a man and can therefore depict Him as a man. To forbid the image of Jesus Christ is in fact to make a subtle argument that we could never know God with our physical senses, but only in our spiritual imagination. Obedience to the first and greatest commandment to Love God becomes quite difficult if God is only known in the abstract and impersonal.
God sent His Son to us so that we would know Him personally and through this personal knowledge of Him we would dedicate our lives to worshiping and serving Him who was seen and known personally. Finally, God sent His Son to us and we are reminded that because the Divine one became a man, we who are weak and imperfect men, might become refashioned in the likeness of His divine Son. This is our triumph over sin, this is the triumph of Orthodoxy. Glory be to God forever AMEN.