Hierarchicial Divine Liturgy - 03/08/09Los Angeles, California
“We have many languages and many customs, but we have one true God and one true worship.” Those words of His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH inaugurated the festivities for the Sunday of Orthodoxy weekend on March 7 and 8, 2009. The canonical Orthodox Christian bishops of the West Coast resumed their new annual tradition of gathering to concelebrate the divine services this year at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Los Angeles.
Orthodox Christians worldwide commemorate the restoration of the holy icons in the ninth century, after they were heretically removed from churches and destroyed for over 100 years by confused iconoclasts. But on the first Sunday of Great Lent in 842, the mother of Emperor Michael, Theodora, venerated an icon of the Theotokos in front of Patriarch Methodios. The other faithful in the church did the same, venerating all the icons, considering them to be representations of their original elements, not idols. “The icons have two dimensions: seen and unseen,” Sayidna said, “and we are touched by their holiness. Icons reveal the presence of Christ, the Theotokos and the Saints in our lives.”
Following Great Vespers on Saturday night, Sayidna JOSEPH hosted an intimate Lenten dinner for the hierarchs, their guests and the Cathedral clergy. His Grace invited Rev. Kevin Scherer, the Executive Director of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF), which is the official outreach ministry to Orthodox Christian college students on campuses across the nation. He addressed the gathering about reaching out to students in a “post-modern” world. Many people, including parents, blame the youth’s abandonment of the Church beyond high school on the secularization of campuses and students being presented with distorted moral opportunities. But Fr. Kevin dismisses those theories as too simplistic. He says today’s Orthodox generation, more than ever, has deep, pressing questions about the Faith that simply are not getting answered—even though they are surrounded by them.
“All that we have in the Church—the iconography, the hymnography—exists to establish the Christological connection,” Fr. Kevin said. “The Church in the first nine centuries was courageous and willing to go to the table to argue and settle the issues. Students need to hear the Church tackling issues like sexual identity and gender. This generation wants to sit down to talk and listen with their clergy at a Starbucks.”
Fr. Kevin thanked the hierarchs for their outstanding cooperation, which he called rare in the American experience. He also asked them for their help in expanding OCF’s ministry on the West Coast, where campus chapters are few and far between because of geographic challenges. The hierarchs pledged their support.
Sunday morning, Sayidna concelebrated the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy with His Grace, Bishop MAXIM of the Serbian Orthodox Christian Diocese of Western America. His Grace, Bishop BENJAMIN of the Orthodox Church in America’s Diocese of the West could not attend due to illness. His Eminence, Metropolitan GERASIMOS of the Greek Orthodox Christian Metropolis of San Francisco preached the homily on the celebration of the day’s gathering, focusing on two themes: the ancient destruction of icons, and the modern destruction of “icon”—humanity created according to God’s image.
“Iconoclasm is nothing less than the destruction of the True Faith,” Dhespota said. “We cannot protect Orthodoxy if we do not protect its dogmas. Our Faith is thoroughly modern while adhering to its ancient traditions. If we do not venerate icons, then we are not worthy of the name ‘Orthodox Christian.’”
Then Dhespota GERASIMOS transitioned from the icons “made of paint and plaster” to the icons “of flesh and blood”, saying, “We must learn to love and do good to the less-fortunate, which was preached by the Apostles. We do not have God’s love if we do not help one another; He became human to reach out to the oppressed. We cannot confess our Faith in words alone; we must recognize God’s living and breathing icons.”
Near the end of the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, the entire congregation from the hierarchs down to the littlest children processed around the exterior of the Cathedral, bearing cherished icons that they brought from home. The choir, led by Alex Nassief, sang the Apolytikion of the Icons (“Thy pure image do we venerate”) as the procession stopped at each of the four corners of the Cathedral. The priests and deacons offered the petitions praying for the peace and stability of the whole Church, and for the remembrance of those who gave their lives for her. The clergy and congregation then returned inside, and recited the Synodikon (“The Affirmation of Faith”) and the Creed in unison, confirming our Faith, which includes the veneration of icons.
Following the Liturgy, the ladies societies of the four Los Angeles area Orthodox cathedrals provided a large Lenten luncheon with plenty of food to spare, as usual. After that, our hierarchs focused on our youth. They met inside the Cathedral with the teens to discuss their issues and asked for their opinions as to how to improve celebrations like these. The teens came up with one request: to have more inter-Orthodox celebrations together with their bishops. Everybody took well to that idea.
Our hierarchs wrapped up the historic day with words of inspiration to our youth. “This gathering embodies the Christian spirit—many inter-Orthodox movements do not,” Dhespota GERASIMOS said to the youth. And Sayidna JOSEPH concluded, “Your presence is so significant on this day. Thank God, our hierarchs, clergy and people are working together for the glory of God and the Holy Orthodox Church.”
By Subdeacon Peter Samore