In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
…What is Orthodoxy? Brothers and children, it is not an ideology; it is not a religion or a philosophy; nor is it an organization, it is first and foremost the revelation of the True God and the true man, face to face.
That phrase ‘face to face’ could not be translated from Hebrew into Greek by the Jewish translators in the third century before Christ. Since they could not find a proper phrase in the Greek language, which had been developed by philosophers, poets and writers, they introduced a new phrase into the Greek language in order to describe this reality: face to face, or rather, person to person. When one man meets another, he finds himself facing another face, and the other faces him.
This is the mystery of the meeting of persons, and this is today's Feast of Orthodoxy: the true glory of the Human Face and Person, the human Image and Appearance, the human, God-like Icon. This is what we depict and confess today in the Holy Icons, painting them, honouring them, kissing and venerating them, because we are human-beings, made of souls and bodies, with eyes, and can be represented and portrayed. And this is why Christ became man, why He became visible, why He can be portrayed and represented. We therefore depict the Image of God that has been revealed to us, and we portray the Image of God, the Icon of God, as it has been revealed in Christ the God-Man and His Saints, the truly Godlike and Christlike.
In ancient times, when people came from all over the world to the Egyptian desert to see St Anthony, to ask him something spiritually profitable, to beseech him for something, a man who had come from Rome just stood and looked at him, without asking anything. When he was returning, his companion asked him: ‘You asked nothing of Saint Anthony?’ He said: ‘I only looked at him; it was enough for me to look at him’. Eyewitnesses say that they could listen to St Nikolaj Velimirovic for over two hours, as he spoke, just looking at him, looking into his eyes that were as deep as the sea…Such were the eyes of Christ also, all-seeing eyes…
This is the feast that Orthodoxy celebrates today. Godless iconoclast emperors and godless mighty men tried to fight icons, sadly, with the help of a few bishops; very few Christian laypeople were on the side of iconoclasm, and not a single monk, but there were a few bishops and priests. It was mainly the iconoclast emperors, fighting God and Christ, who gave the orders to remove the Holy Icons from the churches. Then Islam appeared. This was between the seventh and eighth centuries. Arabs were invading from the East, attacking Constantinople and mocking Christians: ‘See, our Prophet (or rather pseudo-prophet) has restored the faith that forbids the making of a graven image of anything in heaven or on earth’. The iconoclastic emperors were from those eastern parts, and they wavered, being weak in faith.
In the face of the powerful Arabs, they wanted to please, so they started forbidding, removing, destroying and burning Icons in the Christian Church. At first, they raised them higher, so that Christians could not reach them and venerate them. In the West, this practice of raising icons beyond people's reach unfortunately started from the time of Charlemagne and the Franks in the eighth century. (They also introduced statues there, instead of icons). The iconoclast emperor, Leo the Isaurian, of Armenia, started destroying icons. At that time a great number of them were lost. Fortunately, they were preserved on Sinai, in Cyprus and in catacombs, so we can still find icons from the pre-iconoclastic period. The struggle was great and lasted for a long time. In the end, the Church won, and on the First Sunday of Lent in the year 843 the feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy was established, the Triumph of the True Faith in the human Archetype…
Brothers and sisters, have you heard anywhere in the world today - at all these world summits, conferences and in all this propaganda - of anyone anywhere preaching, testifying to, confessing, or showing the true Image of man, or anyone speaking of the importance of the human image, of human Godlikeness? The only thing that is propagated and advertised is some faceless and, for the Godlike and Christlike, degrading systems, some ‘Europe’, some ‘integration’ (either European or Transatlantic), some ‘transitions’, ‘reforms’ and other generalized, ‘global’, as they call them, ideas and abstractions. They are outside us and apart from us, outside man and apart from man, and they are not for man as a Godlike being, a being in the image of God.
The ideal of man, either as an individual or as a community of beings in the image and likeness of God, cannot be those famous ‘standards’ of Europe, Euro-America, globalism, or whatever else. All this is paraphrased only a little differently from what the Marxists tried to impose on us, when everything was turned into certain ‘classes’ and certain ‘movements’, mass ‘happiness’, mirages and abstractions, the results of which we have seen and felt in our own skin. As a clever man from Novi Beograd said at the time: ‘The working class has abolished the worker. We, the workers of Novi Beograd, want a church. We collected countless signatures in one of the tower blocks in Novi Beograd during the sixties. But they would not let it happen. The Communist Party would not have it! The obstacle was a few people, the upper echelons, who decided our fate, supposedly 'in the name of the people' and in the name of the working class’.
Brothers and gentlemen, such are also many of today's abstractions of the so-called European Parliament, the United Nations - various groups (contact or crisis groups), which are also dehumanized, faceless abstractions, inhuman and iconoclastic, human creations working toward the destruction of mankind. Their result is that ‘their footsteps smell of inhumanity!’ They speak of justice, but there are no specifically just people. They speak of freedom, but there are no free people, because they impose on human hearts and human consciences that which disfigures man. They want a crowd, and an obedient one at that. They want to flatten out every self-willed and disobedient person with their steam roller, and the name of that steam roller is, as you well know, NATO - that armed alliance, that brutal force, that ‘partnership for peace’.
Wherever they appear, they bring disorder, war, bloodshed, and injustice - the best example of this is Kosovo…That is why they invented the ‘partnership for peace’, while in reality, wherever they appear, they sow war. And they are preparing for a new war. As the Prophet said: They speak peace, peace, and they sow war, because war is in their hearts (Is. 59, 8). Peace has never been spoken of more than today, and yet there have never been more wars. The Lord prophesied that: There will be wars and rumours of wars, there will be earthquakes, there will be disasters (Mt. 24, 6-8). But do not deceive us, then, into thinking that this is the main thing. On the contrary, it suppresses the main thing in man and in mankind, and that is what is God-like.
This is why our Church, our faith, our tradition, our position and our defence of who we are, that is, our identity, if you will, is first of all man himself and then the deeds of man, first the lmage of God in man, and then business and organization around man. First the God-Man, and then everything else will be added. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (Mt. 6, 33). Prioritizing external relations, conditions, business, things, is actually a denial of and contempt for man and mankind as persons.
Take a family, for example. I was born into a Serbian family and my mother gave birth to ten children, six of whom are alive. Imagine if my mother had treated everyone in exactly the same way. There was equality for all in some ways, but not in everything. First of all, we were not made as equal by God: four sisters and two brothers, different sizes, different ages and make-ups, different health, different appearances and gifts. For example, four sang nicely, but I and my youngest sister were poor singers, yet we were all in the same family. Such a thing as imposed equality cannot exist, as St Nikolaj Velimirovic used to say, an equality of the kind would cut off people's heads. There is another kind of equality, true equality: we are all children of God, we are all brothers. But you cannot even make the fingers on your hands equal; you cannot trim them down to make them all the same size.
Today’s steam roller of the new world order wants to bring equality everywhere, but what is actually happening is that a group of tyrannical people, or rather inhuman creatures with their own interests and goals, are trying to submit all others to it. Do not tell me that those who have entered the European Union are free. Go there and try and live in Switzerland or Sweden. Ask our people who used to live there what their marriages are like, what their families are like, what their children are like. The trough is not for man, the gutter is not for man, even bread by itself is not for man, as precious as it is, for the Lord said: Man shall not live by bread alone (Mt. 5, 4).
I say all this not to deny the need for human organization, society, order, and business and things, but, as they say: ‘Do not put the cart in front of the horse’. We know what needs to come first, what second, and what third in life. The Lord said: Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (Mt. 6, 33). In another place, Christ said: These things also ought to be done and not disregarded. But what if the first thing, the main thing, that which shows us to be God's children, as Godlike creatures, is suppressed and denied? They will not even hear the word God, much less accept the reality of God, the presence of Christ, in Europe. This is because man does not come first for them either. The Lord said: Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt and its fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit (Mt. 12, 33). Put man first, the Image of man, the Image of God in man, and then everything else will be added to that man.
May God and this Holy place forgive me for speaking so: the kind of people that rush into Europe are those who start salivating when they hear the word Europe, without realizing what sorts of evil are present in Europe and what sorts of evils come from Europe, both for us and for it. For three centuries they have been carving out our destiny and imposing their ‘solutions’, and they will never accept any responsibility for the decisions they have imposed on us; it is always we who are guilty. We see the decisions they are imposing now, and which they then change, considering they have the right, and we do not, especially when it comes to the greatly-martyred Kosovo and Metohija! And what are the results of their ‘solutions’, of those imposed ‘decisions’?
But God lives and our souls shall live, as God's prophets and saints used to say. It was in this way that they existed and survived. We shall also survive in this way, but only by holding on to what is most important: the image of man in God. When you see your brother, you have seen your God - this was an expression of the hermits who isolated themselves in order to approach God more closely, but who honoured their brother and therefore bowed to each other. That bowing of one brother to another is the bowing before a living Icon, and is itself depicted on our Holy Icons, just as a mother likes to have a picture of her child, her son, or one friend has a picture of another.
Man is a creature with eyes, a created being who can be depicted, a created being who can be portrayed, a created being who loves to see and rejoice, to have all his senses participate in joy, including the eye - the great gift of God by which we see; we are seers, we are man-seers and God-seers! Sight is a gift from God. So is hearing, and singing, and touch. There is the mystery of touch, there is taste for food, there is touch and embrace, and it is all given by God and blessed by God. But all in due order, in its time and place.
The Sunday of Orthodoxy restores this order. It reminds us today to venerate Thy most pure Image, O Lord, according to which Thou has created us. Thou hast come to save us, to cleanse us and renew us, to develop in us the God-like dignity of God's children, sons of the Heavenly Father, Thy brothers. Thou hast come to renew the image according to the Prototype. There is nothing more beautiful and joyful than when man, by repentance and returning to his true Godlikeness, is reborn and renewed, and when he thus gladdens himself and others, including the angels in heaven, who descend from the Lord to us and ascend from us to the Lord, because Christ has opened Heaven and all heavens for us. It is joy, such as there is on a child's face after it cries and then its face shines and is joyful like an angel’s. Let children cry, let your hearts cry also.
Mankind today is striving to take away all trouble, sorrow, misfortune, tears - but not in order to make people happy, but to keep people untroubled, to keep their consciences untroubled. When I was in unfortunate America I saw advertisements for undertakers: ‘We Understand You’. That was their advertisement. This is to say: they take the dead person from you, they embalm the body, make a puppet out of it, and bring it to the grave for you, so that the relatives can never experience seeing it off, meeting it and saying farewell, and also the desire, full of love, to remain in unity, and then cherish the memory afterwards, to commemorate and honour the reposed in love and prayer, until the Lord comes again and until the general resurrection.
Do Americans or Europeans keep the memory of those who are killed, those poor people whom they send to the war zones of the world? I witnessed it in Kosovo. Do you know how many of these Americans and NATO troops have died of sorrow, of sadness, of suicide? That is why they are so aggressive and so impatient and rash, because they do not find the Image of God in themselves, in another, in all other peoples and nations, not seeing what we are and who we are, where we are and what we are rushing into.
Brethren and children, the Orthodox tradition is to stand before the Holy Icons, or by our beds, and think: Where was I today? What have I done? And to pray: O Lord, forgive me; I have sinned as a man; do Thou, as God, forgive me! That is why Thou art God. That is why Thou hast created me, that is why Thou lovest me. That is why Thou hast come into the world, and become man, and lived and suffered with us. And Thou hast died for us, but Thou wast also resurrected and granted us eternal life. Help me, O Lord, to be the way Thou hast made me to be, the way I ought to be - God-like and Christ-like. That is the return to ourselves, the return of the son who took the father’s property and left, who wasted all his wealth and then saw what he had got himself into (Lk. 15). Man needs not only food, drink, property, things of this world and age. These, food and drink, knowledge and organization, are necessary. But they are not the most important thing for man, not his greatest problem.
Misfortunes are so great and are only getting worse in this world and this life, because a human being cannot endure abuse. Just as nature cannot endure abuse. Marxists and today's capitalists proclaim exploitation, the use of nature as if it were a beast that must be butchered and have its insides gutted and consumed. This is the goal of today's consumer society. This is why the Earth is taking revenge. God-given nature is taking revenge around us. This is the famous ecological or environmental problem of today. There is the ordering of the environment but there is also care for the environment. This refers to the family, the human environment, our surroundings, the environment which we live in.
Nature is taking revenge. Human nature is taking revenge even more, the soul and the body, because of abuse. Just look at how many new illnesses there are! Regardless of how many new cures are found, there will only be (I am no prophet, but it is so) more and more diseases, and they will only grow more and more complex. But, thank God, He has sown much good and a great deal of talent in man, so there will also be solutions to these problems. The world will not come to an end, nor will mankind, until God says it is the end of the world and history. But we need to strive for the quality, for the substance, of our human life. The Sunday of Orthodoxy witnesses this to us, it relates this to us.
When we leave at the end of the Divine Service, having taken holy communion, to walk around the church and carry the Holy Icons and sing: ‘We venerate Thy Holy Image, Thy lcon, O Lord, let us also ask this of the Lord: Show us, O Lord, as Thou hast shown Nathaniel, Thy Divine Image in ourselves and in our brethren, so that we may perceive Thy Prototype, which is ours, given to us and conveyed to us’. Then may we know by this that we are Orthodox. I repeat, Orthodoxy is not a great organization, a mighty force. You will hear many people ask: ‘What is the Church doing?’ I say: ‘It is doing nothing, it is serving the Divine Liturgy’. This was also said by a Russian priest at a meeting in Europe, when Russians were first allowed to leave their country, after Stalin’s horrific persecutions. He and others were met by Protestants and Catholics, the organizers of the meeting, and they asked him: ‘What is the Russian Church doing? What mission does it have in Russia today?’ And the priest said: ‘We serve the Liturgy’. The others laughed, not understanding that this is the greatest work that can be accomplished in this world and in this history, beyond which is God’s Eternity.
This is why Orthodoxy is that which holds on to the One Thing Needful, as the Lord said: Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful (Lk. 10, 41-42). The rest is needful also, Martha's job was needful, to be the host, to serve - but Mary had chosen the better part…