During my years at Hellenic College/Holy Cross, I was chosen to be part of the Byzantine Choir, under the direction of Professor Savas Savas, of blessed memory. We would be asked to participate at various ecclesiastical events throughout the east coast. A vivid memory was the invitation, by His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos, to participate at the Pan-Orthodox Vesper service for the Sunday of Orthodoxy at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New York City. We boarded the bus in the wee hours of early morning in Boston for the trip to New York, to arrive for the Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral, a few hours of exciting free time in the Big Apple, my first time there, and then the Vespers Service. This was my first experience participating as a member of the choir to offer the responses in this magnificent service. The pageantry of the many Orthodox hierarchs and clergy processing holding their icon with conviction, hearing the reading of the Synodikon of the Seventh Ecumenical Synod and reciting the Creed was a spiritually moving experience. Watching, I realized that I, too, have an icon within me, being created in the image of God. What a meaningful way to begin the Great Lent.
The Great Lent affords us the opportunity to restore the inner icon through repentance, confession, prayer and the Eucharist. The image of God in us grants us the privilege of being able to communicate with Him, not with a cell phone, twitter or through a computer, but, directly through prayer. And yet, many times we clutter our lives and don’t feel like talking to God any more. It’s like when a friend calls and says, “I’m coming over to visit you.” You respond, Oh, don’t come over right now, my house is in such a mess.” Do we live our lives in a messy way and don’t feel ready or comfortable to talk to God, to have Him visit?”
From time to time, we hear of the phenomenon known as a “weeping icon”. When I was serving the parish of Holy Trinity in Indianapolis, it came to my attention that there was an icon that was weeping in Chicago at an Albanian Orthodox Church. Presvytera and I decided that during the Spring Break we would take our sons to Chicago for a vacation, but especially to venerate the icon of the “weeping” Panagia. It was a great spiritual experience for our family. People flock to see and pray before such venerated objects, however, all around us there are living icons that are weeping, too, because they are hungry or lonely or grieving or suffering. How much attention do we pay to those living, weeping icons? Do we rush to them? Do we wipe away their tears? Do we bring them the solace and comfort of Jesus? We are the holiest of icons, loving God and our neighbor as ourselves, all living images, waiting to be restored.
On the Sunday of Orthodoxy, we need to remind ourselves of this, and if we have been marred, we need to use the Great Lent to come back to Him, like the Prodigal Son and be restored. So, rise up and return to the Father! We are the living icon that Jesus came to restore. Like a face on an oil portrait, dimmed with dust and dirt, perhaps, God’s image in you may have been marred and obscured. So, come to Him during the Great Lenten season. Come as did the Publican and Prodigal. Come with penitence, pleading His mercy. “God, be merciful to me the sinner.” Not only will He restore the image of God in you, but He will make you a real icon, that doesn’t need to weep; a window through which the world can look and see the living Christ in you.
As an Orthodox Christian, make the Sunday of Orthodox a daily observance in your life remembering the powerful words, “This is the faith of the Apostles, this is the faith of the Father, this is the faith of the Orthodox, this is the faith which has established the universe…” Daily, tell yourself that you are a member of that faith and a living icon of God created in His image. Daily, tell yourself that you are a temple of the Holy Spirit. Daily, tell yourself that you were made to house God. Be restored as a living icon to the Church!