Wednesday, February 21, 2024
Venerable Timothy of Symbola. Eustaphius, Archbishop.
Readings: Isaiah 5:16-26; Genesis 4:16-26; Proverbs 5:15-6:3.
The reading today from Isaiah (5:16-26) begins with an acknowledgement that God, the Lord of hosts, is exalted in holiness and righteousness. In all that He does, God is just and right. He is the Creator of heaven and earth; and justice is what He demands of His people on earth.
The prophecy goes on to call out the sins of Israel. There are those who bound to iniquity; there are those who call evil good and good evil; there are those guilty of drunkenness and bribery; and those who have rejected the law of God and have despised His word. The Assyrians, a nation far off, will be the executor’s of God’s judgment.
Tuesday, February 20, 2024
Leo, Bishop of Catania.
Readings: Isaiah 5:7-16; Genesis 4:8-15; Proverbs 5:1-15.
Monday, February 19, 2024
Apostle Archippus, of the 70 Apostles.
Readings: Isaiah 4:2-6; 5:1-7; Genesis 3:21-4:7; Proverbs 3:34-4:22.
Sunday, February 18, 2024
First Sunday of the Great Fast. Our Holy Father Leo, Pope of Rome (461).
Readings: Hebrews 11:24-26, 32-12:2 | John 1:43-51
Today is the first Sunday of Great Lent, also known as “the Sunday of the Veneration of Icons.” Today we commemorate the victory of the Church over Iconoclasm and the final restoration of the veneration of icons in Constantinople in the year 843 AD. At the seventh ecumenical Council, which took place in Nicaea, in the year 787 A.D., the Church made it very clear that as Christians, we do not worship icons; for God alone is worshipped and praised. However, we do venerate and revere icons, because they are visible signs of God and His Kingdom. When we venerate an icon of Christ, by kissing or touching it, our love and devotion is not given to the icon itself, but is always transferred to God alone. When we venerate an icon of a saint, we also worship God alone, for the saints in heaven keep nothing for themselves. Mother Mary keeps nothing for herself. St. Josaphat also keeps nothing for himself. All glory, praise and honor are always passed on by them to God alone, Who dwells in His saints and Who is the source of all holiness and divine life.
Icons in our Churches or in our homes are very important for several reasons. First of all, they are windows into heaven, (we are looking from this world into the kingdom of God) and therefore, they create a sense of reverence in our worship of God. Secondly, icons are the Word of God, Holy Scripture, written down not with ink or letters on paper, but with colour on wood. So, wherever they are mounted, icons always silently proclaim the Gospel, and they can be very useful in teaching the faith to others. Finally, icons help to establish a personal link between ourselves and God. When we pray before an icon, it becomes easier to focus our attention on God and to make our prayer more personal and intimate.
We often forget, however, that not all icons are objects, made of wood, cloth and paint. There are such things as ‘living icons’, which move and breathe and have life in them. These ‘living icons’ are you and me — human beings. God Himself has called us ‘icons.’ In the Book of Genesis, just before creating human beings God said, “Let us make man in our image and likeness” (Gen. 1:26). And so, God made man in His image and likeness, male and female He created them. Well, the word “icon” is a Greek word, which means “image.” So, to be created in the image of God, is to be an icon of God.
If we met someone on the street who knew nothing about God, how would we describe God to that person? We would probably begin by saying that God is an infinite and eternal Being, the Creator of all things. We would try to paint a picture, or image, with words. We would say that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere present, all loving and merciful, infinite in goodness and wisdom, and the fountain of all truth and eternal life.
All these wonderful attributes, which are infinite in God, are also reflected in humans, but only in a finite and limited way. As humans, we have been endowed with free will, finite beauty, knowledge and wisdom; we have been created to love and to be loved, and to live for eternity in God. This is what it means to be an ‘image of God.’ When we look at a human being, we are looking at a created reflection of God Himself. God, as the Master Iconographer, has created us in His own image and likeness.
When the priest (or deacon) incenses during church services, he not only censes the icons on the walls and doors, but he also censes the ‘living icons’ assembled before him – each of us present in the church. To show respect only to icons made of wood, and to disrespect the living ones, would be hypocritical on our part. All people – regardless of colour, gender, class, or nationality, — all are icons of the living God. Some may be tarnished and darkened because of sin, some in the process of being restored by the hand of God; and others may already be bright and radiant with Divine Light — but all are icons nevertheless!
If we have a sense of awe and reverence for human beings as icons of God, we will have a deep respect and love for God. If we strive to love our neighbor, to show kindness and mercy, then our love and devotion will always be transferred to God. He who loves His neighbor, loves God. In his first letter, St. John writes the following: “If someone says, “I love God” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” (1 Jn 4:20)
According to the spiritual theology of the Christian East, the ultimate goal of human life is “Theosis” or “Deification,” which literally means ‘to become like God.’ We are called to become like God, not by our own effort and merit, but only by the grace of God. (If you remember, Adam and Eve sinned against God because the wanted to become ‘like God’, not by God’s grace, but on their own, in pride and rebellion. True holiness is to become like God, through humility and obedience. This process of ‘becoming like God’ began on the day of our baptism and must continue throughout our lifetime. If we strive to cooperate with God, to become transparent, then God will fill us with His Light. He will shine through us and we will become a light in the world we live in.
A little girl with her family in a tour group, were being shown around one of the great cathedrals of Christendom. As the guide was explaining an historic tomb nearby, the girl was staring at a great stained-glass window, through which the sun was streaming, bathing the cathedral floor with beautiful colours.
As the group was about to move on, the girl interrupted the guide with her new question: “Who are those people in the pretty windows?”
“Those are the saints” – the tour guide replied.
That night as she was preparing for bed, the little girl suddenly felt inspired by something important. She turned to her mother and said, “I know who the saints are!” “Do you dear?” – replied the mother. “Who are they?” They are people who let the light shine through!”