Sunday of Orthodoxy
On the ﬁrst Sunday of Great Lent, the Church celebrates the restoration of the icons to the church. This day is called Sunday of Orthodoxy. Over a thousand years ago, there was an emperor (Leo the Isaurian, 717-741 AD) who made a law against icons. He said it was wrong to have them or to venerate them. He ordered that all icons be removed from churches, buildings and even people’s homes. Christians, mostly monks, were put in prison and even killed because they kept icons.
Many years later, a new empress named Irene understood about icons. She knew that they helped people worship God. She knew that the people did not worship the icon itself. She called a special meeting called a council. They decided that people could venerate icons. But people still fought about icons. The emperors after Irene ordered icons to be destroyed. It wasn’t until many years later that a new empress, Theodora, ordered the return of all the icons to the churches. The icons were carried through the streets and brought back to the main church.
On the first Sunday of Lent, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Triumph of Orthodoxy, of true faith, which trampled down all heresies and was established. For this reason this Sunday is called the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Heresies showed up even at the very beginning of Christianity. The Apostles of Christ themselves warned their contemporaries, and with them us too, about the danger of false teachers.
We should know that the new heresies are not saying anything new but repeating what the old heretics have already said. All of these heresies were anathematised by the Seventh Ecumenical Council. So the decisions of the seven Ecumenical Councils are enough for us, especially the Seventh Ecumenical Council. This is why we rejoice today and celebrate the Triumph of Orthodoxy, which was expressed and fixed by the Seventh Ecumenical Council.
On Sunday of Orthodoxy, at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, a service is conducted in commemoration of the affirmations of the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787 and the restoration of the use of icons in 843. Orthodox faithful carry icons in a procession, while the clergy offer petitions for the people, civil authorities, and those who have reposed in the faith. Following is a reading of excerpts from the Affirmation of Faith of the Seventh Ecumenical Council and the singing of the Great Prokeimenon.
The name of this Sunday reflects the great significance which icons possess for the Orthodox Church. They are not optional devotional extras, but an integral part of Orthodox faith and devotion. They are held to be a necessary consequence of Christian faith in the incarnation of the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, in Jesus Christ. They have a sacramental character, making present to the believer the person or event depicted on them. So the interior of Orthodox churches is often covered with icons painted on walls and domed roofs, and there is always an icon screen, or iconostasis, separating the sanctuary from the nave, often with several rows of icons. No Orthodox home is complete without an icon corner, where the family prays.
Icons are venerated by burning lamps and candles in front of them, by the use of incense and by kissing. But there is a clear doctrinal distinction between the veneration paid to icons and the worship due to God. The former is not only relative, it is in fact paid to the person represented by the icon. This distinction safeguards the veneration of icons from any charge of idolatry.