The Struggles, the Joy, the Reward - A Homily for the Sunday of Orthodoxy (2024)

The Struggles, the Joy, the Reward - A Homily for the Sunday of Orthodoxy (2024) - Holy Cross Monastery



For Christians, Lent is a time of spiritual renewal, a time of increased understanding of our relationship to Christ, and a time to apply ourselves more forcefully to a Christian way of living, be that monastic or lay.

Lent is the recalling to Paradise of those who have been cast out; it proclaims the truth to those deceived by the devil; and it announces sight to the blind, guidance to the lost, a haven for the storm-tossed; it is the announcement of life in Christ to those dead in sin, a life in a world that kills the soul.

This recalling, this truth, this sight, this haven, this life in Christ, is acquired and understood not by faith alone, nor by becoming a philosopher or logician, but by becoming ontologically different, that is, by becoming transformed.

The Christian life is understood through “doing.” It is a way of life; a way of life that leads continuously to Christ and to Christ-likeness. It is this way of life that we are being taught, especially through the days of the Lenten Triodion thus far. It is a way of life which makes us become a new creation because it is the means we use not to become good and moral people, but because it attracts the grace of God and leads us to Christ, as the Lord Himself has taught us and as the saints have exemplified for us.

The Triumph of Orthodoxy

We are well into the Lenten Triodion and have come to the First Sunday of Lent with five more until Holy Week. Today, being the first Sunday of Lent, means that in the previous six days, we Christians have begun to fast, to spend more time in services, to live more ascetically. Moreover, the first reward of this struggle, which we commemorate today, is orthodoxy, is the Truth (with a capital “T”).

In the days leading up to today, which have found us in the Divine Services, there is a spiritual affinity with the struggles of the martyrs and defenders of the faith. Moreover, the Christian way of life is also made evident; that is, the path to the truth, the path to Christ, is a difficult path, and the difficulty and the strain of these first days illustrates the words of Christ when he said that the Kingdom of Heaven is taken by force (cf. Matt. 11:12).

The first Sunday of Lent is called the Triumph of Orthodoxy. On this day, we are taught that the Church, whom God has guided into all truth and against Whom God promises that the gates of Hell will never prevail, has been protected from all heresies. On this Sunday, today, we acknowledge the dogmas of the faith which God has made known to His Church and the heresies which She rejects and those who have suffered in order to uphold these truths and fend off heresy.

On this Sunday of Orthodoxy, following the Divine Liturgy, there is a special “Office of Orthodoxy.” It is a service which in our present times is usually only performed where a hierarch resides. In this service, anathemas are pronounced against all of the heresies that have risen up against the Church since its beginning. Three examples, taken from this service are as follows:

  1. To those who deny the existence of God, and assert that the world is self-existing, and that all things in it are made by chance, without the divine providence, ANATHEMA!
  2. To those who dare to say that the most-pure Virgin Mary was not a virgin before childbirth, in childbirth, and after childbirth, ANATHEMA!
  3. To those who do not believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the prophets and apostles, and by them instructed us in the true way to eternal salvation, and confirmed the same by miracles, and now dwelleth in the hearts of all faithful and sincere Christians, and guideth them into all truth, ANATHEMA!

And there are fifteen more.

Following these “Anathemas”, “Eternal Memory” is pronounced to honor those who have defended the Faith, be they Church Fathers, patriarchs, emperors or any of the pious faithful. Three of these proclamations are as follows:

  1. To the great confessors of the Holy Orthodox Faith: St. Athanasius the Great, archbishop of Alexandria, the “Father of Orthodoxy”; the great ecumenical teachers and hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom; St. Cyril, archbishop of Alexandria; our father St. Maximus the Confessor; St. Methodius, patriarch of Constantinople; our father St. Theodore the Studite; and St. Mark, metropolitan of Ephesus, MEMORY ETERNAL!
  2. To the most holy Patriarch of All Russia, Tikhon, the most holy Serbian Patriarch Barnabas, the martyred and slain Metropolitans Vladimir and Benjamin, Metropolitan Anthony, Metropolitan Anastassy, Metropolitan Innocent, Archbishop Apollinary, Archbishop Vitaly, Archbishop Nikon, Archbishop Averky, the ever-memorable Bishop Ignatius, the ever-memorable Bishop Theophan; and the holy Righteous Father John, Wonderworker of Kronstadt; and our holy and God-bearing Father Herman, Wonderworker of Alaska; and the holy Blessed Xenia; and Metropolitan Innocent of Moscow, Enlightener of Alaska; St. Nicholas, Enlightener of Japan; and St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco; and all the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia; MEMORY ETERNAL!
  3. To those who suffered and were slain in various ways for the Orthodox Faith and the fatherland: the princes, nobles, and Christian forces, and all Orthodox Christians who have reposed in true faith and piety and in hope of resurrection, MEMORY ETERNAL!

And this also includes five more “memory eternals”.

The Path to Christ

For Lent, we are not given a textbook to study through which we come to understand all the workings of the material and spiritual world. No, instead, we are given Divine Services, a Great Canon, fasting, and the gnawing of the stomach, weariness, fatigue, readings from St. Ephrem, St. John Climacus, from The Evergetinos, and our reward is the feast for today: truth/Christ/Orthodoxy; a forerunner to Pascha. These are the means through which we will see Christ clearly, the means by which we will know Christ.

The Foundation of the Sunday of Orthodoxy in Light of Preceding Sundays

The theme of the previous Sundays has been aimed at encouraging the proper disposition that we should strive towards for the Lenten period and, in the larger picture, by which to undergird our whole life. Therefore, as a foundation to the Sundays of Lent, we have learned of the zeal and fervent expectation of Christ by Zaccheus, that we ought to humble ourselves like the Publican, to repent and come back to the Father like the Prodigal Son, that we will go the way that we have chosen when we stand before God on the dreadful day of Judgment, and that we are to forgive our neighbors if we expect forgiveness.

The Asceticism of Love

Woven throughout our pre-Lenten readings is also the significance of our disposition towards our neighbor. On Zaccheus Sunday, we read the Scriptural account of how Zaccheus repented and gave away his money to the neighbors he had wronged (Luke 19:1-10). The Pharisee condemned his neighbor, saying, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people” (Luke 18:10-14). The older brother of the prodigal son was angry upon his return home, which showed a disposition of soul worse than that of his repentant brother (Luke 15:11-32). On the Sunday of the Dread Judgment, we read that our judgment before God is based on whether or not we gave food, drink, clothing, and comfort to our neighbor who was in need (Matthew 25:31-46). Lastly, on Forgiveness Sunday, we read that our forgiveness is based on whether or not we have forgiven our neighbor (Matthew 6:14-21).

We could describe “love of neighbor” as how we act toward them and how we are disposed toward them. In both of these ways, we affect our neighbor and, ultimately, our own soul, as the Gospel teaches us. Ivan Andreyev includes one more way we affect our neighbor, and that is by our sins, even if our sins are not directed toward anyone specifically and even when no one else is around.

Being a highly educated man – a trained physician and philosopher - having spent three years in the Solovki Gulag and then teaching and writing at Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, he is now buried there, to the left of the entrance of the cemetery chapel of the Dormition. He offers this perspective when giving a lecture about a murder in New York City in his day that was indeed an atrocity. We will not go into the details as he does, but he suggests that it is our fault because, in a world brimming with evil, our sin can tip the balance and cause evil to burst forth in these unexpected ways.

The tragedies of this world in which we live and the activity of the devil have become so obvious that we should not forget the asceticism of love for our neighbor. St. Ephrem spoke on this topic to us this week in his Beatitudes, if only slightly, when we read: “Blessed is the one who like one wise does not judge his brother but with spiritual understanding struggles to throw the plank from his own eye” (55 Beatitudes, #46). At the very least, may we pray for this struggling world and, in this manner, love our neighbor.

The Struggle and the Joy

Harvest follows sowing, victory follows training, and deification is the reward of the Christian life. However, before that time, Christ does offer us “spiritual delights” as St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite calls them. This is the spiritual joy that comes amidst the trials of life. It is the spiritual in which we need to find our joys in and not in the material of this world. St. Basil the Great, writing about the Prophet David, says: “When the psalmist received the insight of the flashing brightness coming from the beautiful Messiah, he was touched in the heart by this beauty and proceeded to love that spiritual beauty, which once it was revealed to the human soul, everything else previously esteemed appeared worthless and objectionable” (Handbook of Spiritual Counsel, 228). Earlier this week, we read a similar passage from St. John Climacus, “He who has tasted the things on high easily despises what is below. But he who has not tasted the things above finds joy in possessions.” (Step 17, #6).


Everything this week has been more severe as we tried to subdue the desires of the flesh and invigorate the soul. For each of us, it is about finding the proper balance of these hardships in order that we not grow soft or, on the opposite end, be wound so tight as to almost break. Yet here we are at the beginning of Lent, the Sunday of Orthodoxy, commemorating the fruit of the life lived for God – that fruit being knowing God – in the Church, experientially, dogmatically, knowing Him who triumphs over all heresies and Who even triumphs over the demons in our own lives who try to beguile us.

If we do not use the means that God has given us so that we will be able to see Him more clearly, whether it be in the advice of our spiritual father, in the Divine Services, in our prayers, in our spiritual reading, then what should we expect? What are we hoping for? This is eternal life, says the Apostle John, that you will know God the Father and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (John 17.3).

Fathers and Brothers, Mother and Sisters, you who are beloved of Christ: May God grant us wisdom to use rightly the means which He has given us, and may He strengthen us throughout this Lenten fast so that it would be much light and life so that we will see the resurrected Christ at the end of our sojourn.



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