St. Silouan the Athonite Mission Parish

Sermons

Homily for the Sunday of Orthodoxy 2016
by Fr Roberto Ubertino 

Prophecy has never ceased within the church. In the early Church the prophet was an established function that later was absorbed within the whole Church. A prophet is not some who can predict the future, like a fortune teller, but rather a person or a community that can read the sign of the times. This feast of Orthodoxy and the Restoration of the holy icons is such a prophetic moment for the Church. This feast helps us to read the signs of our time. At this time the world is engaged in a struggle, an increasingly violent battle, between those who assert the absoluteness of God and those who assert Man as an absolute.

Orthodoxy is not part of either camp. We are not for God against man, or man against God. Islam asserts the utter transcendence of God. God is totally transcendent, totally other, He is the absolute alone, who has no partner, there is no God but God alone and he has no partner, and man can only submit to him. We have many of our brothers and sisters living under increasing violence of that regime. On the other side of the battle is secular culture, secular humanism; listen to all the TV shows, news channels, intellectuals, professors, politicians and we can say they ignore, or even deny, any place for the transcendent God in society. Everything is on the measure of man. Man is the measure for everything in Western values. With the warriors of the absolute transcendence of God, the divine exists in total aloneness, He only acts to control and submit His creation by any means.

Closer to home in our secular society, paradoxically, we don’t claim God is alone but are anxious with the possibility that we are alone in the universe. The people of the earth have each side locked God and man into two separate solitudes. Each at war with the other. Each claiming goodness, right and truth as their compass. Each demonizing the other. Each bearing evidence to the need to destroy the other. Neither side in this Human/Divine battle can hear the other. Both denies the humanity of the other.  One can now logically only destroy the other. So here and in every church we humbly and boldly dare to say to both - we do not believe you can speak for God or for Man. Only the Orthodox faith can save the world today.

The struggle in the Orthodox Church to have icons has at its very core the essence of what Christianity is about. Christianity is the revelation that God became man and that from that moment on, in Christ, there is no God without man and there is no man without God. You can’t come to God apart from Man and you can't understand a person apart from his relationship to GOD.

The icon of Christ is the silent presence, the powerful prophetic proclamation of this truth for our times for our world today. The icon of the Divine Human face of Christ helps us to read the sign of the times and not fall into the trap of either battlefield. The divine and human united made visible in a divine human face - that of Jesus of Nazareth. The struggle today that engulfs whole nations that touches everyone on this planet from the forests of Africa to New York, where millions of innocent men women and children are suffering and which promises more madness of mutual destruction, is nothing but the rejection of the truth that the icon depicts. A rejection of the Divine Human reality of existence that leads all to embrace violence and destruction in the name of God or in the name of Western values.

In the icon of the face of Christ, we understand that God is not a power we must by violence and force submit to, or that man alone rules and is the measure of all reality or values. The icon heals and corrects this ancestral wound that has plagued humanity since its origin and today seeks if possible to destroy a great part of our common humanity. The icon makes present to us that life – existence – is not submission to a lonely God trapped into his own transcendence, or in the loneliness of absolute self-determination of our culture, but rather life is only found in the communion of love between God and man. The icons of the saints show us that this is true, this is possible, this is lived in the world because this is the faith that has brought the universe into being.

Now when we say that we profess the faith that has established the universe, that the Orthodox faith alone can save the world today, it is not so that we all feel proud and go home and have a big cigar knowing we are right and everyone else is damned. No, it is a warning to all of us who today shout the anathemas to the heretics and profess the true faith, let me tell you why and I will end by quoting these prophetic words of Metropolitan Anthony (of Sourozh):

“One can be a heretic, even while proclaiming every article of the creed, if we give the lie to one or all of the dogmas by the way in which we live. One can be a heretic by denying the truth by not living according to the truth. It’s not only our salvation that today we risk by failing to live this way, but the life of the world.”

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