From The Word Magazine, April 1983, Page 14
by Father Paul N. Tarazi
The Sunday of Orthodoxy is a gathering of commemoration, a commemoration of a bright victory, the victory of the Orthodox Faith at the 7th Ecumenical Synod of Nicaea in 787. Yes! A festivity of victory! This is after all what Orthodoxy Sunday is all about. However, it is to my eyes highly symbolical that, already since its inception in 843, this festivity has taken place on the 1st Sunday of the Great Lent.
In the eyes of the world any feast without meat, eggs and dairy products cannot be a full scale festivity; it is indeed puzzling — if not insane — to celebrate a great victory in such a meager way. But for us, this celebration is held at the beginning of Lent as an ever reminder that it is Pascha (Easter) —the Feast of Feasts, our only ultimate Feast — which is the fulfillment of Orthodoxy. Any other festivity or celebration is by the same token wanting and incomplete until our eyes have seen Jesus Christ, the Joy of our hearts, risen from the dead, smashing down forever sin, sickness and death, and bestowing His Life upon all those who have lost life.
But Easter is not a magical trick whereby everything happens suddenly and in a compulsory way. It is rather the culmination of a long process, a long journey of pilgrimage. It is indeed very suggestive that we Orthodox, celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation with the words “Today is the beginning of our salvation!” The movement towards the victory of Easter is triggered when Jesus begins His pilgrimage: leaving His Father and His heavenly abode, He accepts an earthly one in the womb of the Virgin Mary and all the consequences which such an act entails. Did not the long history of our salvation actually begin with the words: “The Lord said to Abram: Leave your country, your kinsfolk and your t father’s house, for the land which I will show you?” (Gen.12:1).
Orthodoxy Sunday is celebrated at the beginning of Lent as a harsh reminder that our being true Orthodox is at stake today: to embark on the journey of Lent or not to embark, that is the question! To accept the fact that we are pilgrims on this earth and that “our citizenship is in heaven from which we eagerly await a Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Phil 3:20), that is the question! To understand that the Joy of Easter —the core of Orthodoxy — is not triggered by lit candles, boiled eggs or cooked lamb, but is a gift of God to all those who have embraced the mystery of His Incarnation, that is the question! And we all know that it is the reality of God’s Incarnation that was at stake in the great battle for the Icons in the 8th and 9th centuries.
Beloved in Christ,
If this message is centered in the mystery of God’s becoming man, then it has a lot to tell us, Orthodox living in North America. However, I shall dwell on one specific aspect which I consider of great importance and urgency. In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul writes: “Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, though he was by nature God, did not consider being equal to God a thing to be clung to, but emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave and being made like unto men” (2:5-7). We see here that a prerequisite for a true incarnation is the willingness of not clinging to things even if they are naturally ours and constitute our pride. That such a prerequisite is so essential to our being true Christians is shown by the fact that, later in the same letter, St. Paul applied it to himself saying: “If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, yet more may I: circumcised the eighth day, of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as regards the Law, a Pharisee; as regards zeal, a persecutor of the Church of God; as regards the justice of the Law, leading a blameless life. But the things that were gain to me, these, for the sake of Christ, I have counted loss. Nay more, I count everything loss because of the excelling knowledge of Jesus Christ, my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I count them as garbage that I may gain Christ. . . forgetting what is behind, I strain forward to what is ahead, I press on towards the goal, to the prize of God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus”, (Phil 3:48, 13-14).
Where are we today from all that? We give even the impression of acting against the example of Christ and the recommendations of the apostle. Orthodoxy in North America is divided according to ethnic groupings. That which is supposed to be left behind has impregnated the New Life of Christ to the extent of hindering its work and influence. St. Paul did not fight and win against those who wanted to impose on the believing Gentiles to become Jewish Christians in order that we today make of our converts Arab Orthodox or Russian Orthodox or Greek Orthodox! Yet, we are doing it!
Whoever has brought over with him to America his country, his kinsfolk and his father’s house is not a child of Abraham; he is a colonist and in no way an evangelist. America was a colony and has fought for its independence from England and all Western Europe. Are we planning to colonize her again . . . and in the name of Christ?! God forbid!
Beloved in Christ,
It is high time for us to understand that, as believers, we have one single allegiance: to Christ and to all those who seek Him. Many Americans and Canadians have joined Orthodoxy in spite of how we are, because the Light of Christ in us was bright enough to pierce through the thick coat of our ethnicisms. But how much more will join Orthodoxy the day we shall apply thoroughly the teaching of the New Testament as reflected in our Canon Law: one Bishop in one city, one head of church for one countryland, for then they will see in fact what we have always contended to be: the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. . ., for then our Orthodoxy will be also Orthopraxis. How much more North Americans will join Orthodoxy when we shall show them that the choice of our one Bishop does not depend on his color, nor his origin, nor his name, but on his Orthodoxy and on his gift to empty himself of all his natural credentials in order to become a real image of our only and one High Priest, Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord, to whom alone be glory with His Father and the Holy Spirit, yesterday, today, tomorrow and until the end of times. Amen.