In this post I am going off from the serializing of St. Seraphim’s life and teaching in order to post a sermon on the Sunday of Orthodoxy.
Sunday of Orthodoxy
Beloved of God, we are all aware, that on this Sunday of Orthodoxy, we celebrate the restoration of the veneration of icons in the Church. But what is the meaning of icons? Well, one thing we could say is that icons are a proclamation of the meaning and purpose of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. In short, it is deification of man. From the moment of conception in the womb of the young girl, Mary, whom we know as Theotokos, the human nature which Christ assumed was deified. Therefore we can now become partakers of the divine nature.
With this triumph of Orthodoxy we have an affirmation of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, and so we have the fullness of the true faith confirmed. The Church, as the Apostle Paul writes, “is the pillar and bulwark of truth.” So we should rejoice in that the true faith has been preserved for us. However, as of old, so also today we see many tangents creeping into the Church. Therefore we need to be careful to preserve the truth that has been handed down and really be Orthodox.
Yet it is possible to be very exact in our understanding of the faith and to be well read and to be very strict in our life style by holding precisely to the ascetical tradition of the Church, yet still be lacking something. For those of us who are struggling to hold on to the fullness of the faith there is something else to consider. We must ponder the question; are we bearing the proper fruit? Since it is possible to be very Orthodox yet not very Christian; although we may be Orthodox in doctrine are we Christ-like in life? Yes, are we living icons of Christ?
So now, another question arises which is: What is criteria for truth? Who can we trust to answer this question? I believe the spiritual children in the line of Saint Silouan the Athonite are trustworthy and sufficient for this. Archimandrite Zacharias1 of St. John the Baptist Monastery in England has stated that one topic that his spiritual father, Archimandrite Sophrony asked his spiritual children to write or speak about is prayer for enemies as criteria for truth. When Father Zacharias was asked, “How is prayer for enemies criteria for truth?” He replied, “If one is developing this, it shows that one is progressing properly in spiritual life.” And he added, “A heretic cannot attain this.” In his book, “Remember Thy First Love”, Father writes:
We know the greatest of God’s commandments is that of love—love towards God and love towards man: on these two commandments hang the law and the Prophets, all heaven and earth. More particularly, the summit of the commandments to love our neighbor is to love and pray for our enemies. For he who loves his enemies loves his neighbor perfectly and loves God perfectly, being conformed to the Spirit of the Saviour-God Who stretched out His arms on the Cross and embraced all, friends and enemies alike, those far from Him and those near to Him those who know Him and those who do not. So the man who loves his enemies and does good to them that hate him has fulfilled the two great commandments to the utmost and knows God as He is.
According to Father Sophrony’s teaching, the commandment to love our enemies kills every trace of pride in us. In order to fulfill it we must humble ourselves utterly so as to make way for the Holy Spirit. St. Silouan said that love for our enemies is the surest criterion of the presence of the Holy Spirit in us: whosoever loves his enemies possesses the Holy Spirit in great measure.2
Before continuing with Father Zacharias let us look at a few sayings of Saint Silouan:
The Holy Spirit is love, and He gives the soul strength to love her enemies. And he who does not love his enemies does not know God….
The Lord is a merciful Creator, having compassion for all. The Lord pities all sinners as a mother is compassionate with her children even when they take the wrong path. Where there is no love for enemies and sinners, the Spirit of the Lord is missing.3
Now back to Father Zacharias:
And the presence of the Spirit of God is also the presence of truth in us, for the Holy Spirit, the Heavenly King and Comforter, is also the Spirit of Truth, and He guides us into all truth. Love for one’s enemies is therefore the best way to authentic knowledge of God: the Spirit leads us to ‘the knowledge of the Son of God’ and ‘unto the measure and stature of the fullness of Christ.’4
So then, in this fashion, this trinity of fathers: Saint Silouan, Father Sophrony, and Father Zacharias reveal to us criteria for truth and how to grow into the likeness of God—living icons of Christ. Through their prayers for the whole world may we also attain this. Amen.
1. Father Zacharias is a spiritual child of Father Sophrony, who is the biographer and the closest spiritual child of Saint Silouan.
2. p. 318
3. p. 105