February 25, 2007
The Feast of the Sunday of Orthodoxy
The Hierarchs of the Standing Conference
of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas
To all the Clergy and the Laity of the Holy Orthodox Churches in the Americas
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On this the first Sunday of Great Lent, we the Hierarchs of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas greet you in the peace and love of our Lord. Together, we have begun our Lenten journey with a week of prayer, fasting, and worship, seeking to strengthen our faith and renew our commitment to God and His will. Today, the inaugural week of Great Lent culminates in the celebration of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, a commemoration of the triumph of the true Faith with the final restoration of the Holy Icons to the churches in the year 843.
It is on this day that we hear once again the acclamation of those who signed the decree of the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787: “This is the faith of the Apostles, this is the faith of the Orthodox, this is the faith which has made firm the whole world.” In this statement the bishops affirmed the Apostolic character of the faith. Why was it so essential that the faith be connected to the Apostles of our Lord? Why do we as Orthodox Christians continue to affirm this Apostolic character? How do we define and understand the nature of this link between our spiritual lives and the faith of these Saints who answered the call of the kingdom, followed Christ in ministry and witness, and established the Church through their testimony of His love?
First, we know from the Holy Scriptures that the faith of the Apostles was in Christ alone and in His revelation of the divine will and work of the Holy Trinity. On the day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter proclaimed, God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). It was to this Lord and Christ that the Apostles pointed through their preaching, teaching, and healing. They knew that He was the source of life and that faith in Him was the way to salvation. The Evangelist and Apostle John wrote, In Him was life, and the life was the light of men (John 1:4). They also knew His power to help us overcome sin and live in intimate communion with God. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me, wrote the Apostle Paul (Galatians 2:20).
Second, the faith of the Apostles was evangelistic and philanthropic. Filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, they became witnesses to Christ throughout the world (Acts 1:8). They preached Christ crucified and risen, and even when threatened with imprisonment and death they proclaimed, We cannot but speak of the things which we have seen and heard (Acts 4:20). In addition to sharing the Gospel, the Apostles offered a witness of its truth through the power of healing and caring for those in need. They guided the early Christians in acts of charity, especially for the widows, orphans, and the poor, and they offered the saving mercy of God through miraculous healings in the name of Jesus Christ.
Third, the faith of the Apostles was life-transforming. The life of each disciple of Christ was radically changed through an encounter with the Son of God. Simple, ordinary people became champions of the faith. In hearing the call to service, the Apostles sacrificed much for the sake of the Cross and offered their lives so that others might hear and believe in the Gospel of the kingdom. In so doing, their own lives were transformed in holiness, they were granted great wisdom, and they were received by our Lord into a blessed and eternal communion of life and love.
This is the faith of the Apostles. This is our faith as Orthodox Christians, direct spiritual descendants of these holy ones who offer both their example and intercessions to all of us. This is the faith that we have inherited in truth and love, but it must also be the faith that we live. If we proclaim our faith as that of the Apostles, then we must believe above all in Christ and salvation through Him. Our faith must be visible through a constant witness of God’s grace and through acts of compassion, so that both the spiritual and physical needs of others may be met, and they may know of the power of the Gospel. Most importantly, we should understand that the genuine, Apostolic faith will change our lives. Our Lord is calling us out of darkness and into His marvelous light to become the people of God (I Peter 2:9).
As we celebrate Sunday of Orthodoxy, as we continue this blessed and holy Lenten season towards the Holy Pascha, may we cherish this beautiful heritage of the Holy Apostles and allow it to guide us to a deeper communion with Jesus Christ and a greater understanding of life and faith. May we also seek the intercessions of the Apostles and of all of the Saints. They have made this journey before us, and through their lives and prayers they call us to keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Savior and Lord.
With paternal blessings and love in Christ,
+Archbishop DEMETRIOS, Chairman
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
+Metropolitan PHILIP, Vice Chairman
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
+Metropolitan CHRISTOPHER, Secretary
Serbian Orthodox Church in the USA and Canada
+Metropolitan NICHOLAS of Amissos, Treasurer
Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese in the USA
Orthodox Church in America
Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America & Canada
Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA
+Bishop ILIA of Philomelion
Albanian Orthodox Diocese of America