Sunday of Orthodoxy Concelebration and Youth Gathering at St. Sophia Greek Cathedral - 03/16/2008Los Angeles, California
It was perhaps the greatest liturgical celebration of the Sunday of Orthodoxy southern California had ever seen. More than 1,000 Orthodox Christians commemorated the restoration of the holy icons without paying attention to jurisdictional background, restoring—if only temporarily—a union given from God on high to His Holy Church between Him, His saints depicted in the icons and His people on earth. Four canonical Orthodox Christian bishops concelebrated the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy with each other for the first time ever: His Eminence, Metropolitan GERASIMOS of the Greek Orthodox Christian Metropolis of San Francisco and the West; His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Diocese of Los Angeles and the West; His Grace, Bishop MAXIM of the Serbian Orthodox Christian Diocese of Western America; and His Grace, Bishop BENJAMIN of the Orthodox Church in America’s Diocese of the West. Joining them were their southern California cathedral deans, the Very Rev. Fathers John Bakas (host priest on Sunday morning), Michel Najim, Nicholas Ceko and Michael Senyo (host priest on Saturday morning). They served in brotherly fellowship around the holy altar, rising above cultural, linguistic or any other man-made divisions.
It took a year of dialogue and planning among the four bishops and their cathedral deans to see this historic weekend come to fruition. On Saturday, March 15, 2008, they gathered with other clergy and faithful warmly welcomed at Holy Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Christian Cathedral in Los Angeles, California. Vladyka BENJAMIN celebrated the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom for the First Saturday of Great Lent, which commemorates the Miracle of the Kollyva (Boiled Wheat) wrought by St. Theodore the Soldier. Following the Liturgy, the hierarchs dined together at a local restaurant to finalize details for the unprecedented Liturgy they would concelebrate the next morning.
St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Christian Cathedral in Los Angeles graciously hosted the filled-to-capacity gathering of Sunday, March 16, 2008, with nearly everybody bearing an icon to commemorate the Church’s overcoming of the iconoclast heresy on the First Sunday of Great Lent in 843, known also as the “Triumph of Orthodoxy.” In the ninth century, Empress Theodora and her young son Michael restored the holy images to the Church in Constantinople, after a period of iconic destruction and desecration by those who did not fully comprehend a God revealed to humanity in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, Who was physically present with His people as they saw and touched Him. Thus, the restoration of the holy images means the Church can see her Savior, His Holy Mother and Saints so it can see the salvation and transformation of her people.
Dhespota GERASIMOS focused on this subject in his sermon. He acknowledged that the old iconoclast controversies are over, but a new one has emerged. “This desecrates icons of Christ not made of wood or paint, but by neglecting the most vulnerable members of society,” he said, describing the poor, the abandoned and the abused who are viciously treated. “God has entrusted unto us our brothers and sisters as ‘living icons’ who are to be carried with reverence. St. John Chrysostom reminds us that we cannot clothe ourselves with silk when others outside have no clothes.” His Eminence reminded the gathering that the holy icons show a world transformed and without sin, and we are to join this world. He added that the “new iconoclasm” is ignoring the transformation from sin, not realizing the good of the created world. “Look deep into the icon with compassion so that we can be transformed,” Dhespota said. “Thus, we can restore the holy images all around us—those who are in need—in acts of love, mercy and patience, thus healing our world.”
Following the sermon, the bishops, priests, deacons, subdeacons and altar servers processed around the cathedral bearing icons, stopping in all four corners in the traditional Sunday of Orthodoxy procession. The priests offered prayerful petitions for God’s continued mercy on the clergy and the people, those who are living and those who are asleep in the Lord. The multi-parish choir, under the direction of St. Sophia choir director Connie Callinicos, sang the apolytikion of the Sunday of Orthodoxy (“We venerate Thy pure image”) at each stop, and the entire congregation sang “Lord, have mercy” in one voice in response to each petition. Then, as the procession culminated on the solea in front of the iconostasis, the four bishops recited “The Synodicon”, the profession of faith in unison with the clergy and people.
The celebration was by no means over after the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. The bishops continued to inspire and teach this time focused on the youth. Vladyka BENJAMIN led a discussion and question-answer session in a jammed-packed classroom on the beautiful St. Sophia grounds. The questions ran the gamut, from Christian unity to icons to Great Lent to helping the teens live and know their Orthodox Christian faith. “Make this faith your own,” His Grace said. “Don’t just go through the motions. Though it is important to know other people’s religions, we have to be most informed about our Orthodox faith so that we can share it with others.” Vladyka reminded the teens that the Orthodox Church possesses the fullness of the faith as witnessed in its history, its dogma, its saints and its traditions. “Other churches use the Bible, but they do so without the Tradition behind it,” His Grace said. “We use the Bible in the way that the Church Fathers gave it to us. The Bible is an Orthodox Christian book.”
After the clergy and congregation finished worship in Orthros and the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, the generous Lenten fare that followed, and the fruitful youth discussion that capped off the day’s events, no one realized that it was already 2:30 in the afternoon! The long day hardly had any impact on everyone’s energy levels, because they were too overjoyed to be a part of an historical, spiritually rewarding and uplifting day—one that truly cannot be missed in the future. We are thankful to Almighty God that He erased our divisions to unite His hierarchs: His Eminence, Metropolitan GERASIMOS; His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH; His Grace, Bishop MAXIM; and His Grace, Bishop BENJAMIN; and we are thankful for their efforts to bring the clergy and faithful together as we honor and love one another as images of Christ in our own modern-day “Triumph of Orthodoxy.”
By Subdeacon Peter Samore