Monday, March 12, 2012

Met. Ephrem's Sermon for Sunday of Orthodoxy, 2012

This sermon was given in Kfarhabou on March 4, 2012. The Arabic original can be found here.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

Beloved, we have begun the struggle of Great and Holy Lent and today is the first Sunday of the fast. On this Sunday, which is known as the Sunday of Orthodoxy or the Sunday of Icons, each one of us must know about Orthodoxy, why we are Orthodox and what this means in relation to our life. Why is our Church attached to holy icons, when other Christian sects and other religions do not have icons? We must be aware of our belief for our faith. This Sunday emphasizes faith. This is why you heard the Epistle talk about all the martyrs who suffered because of their faith. So what is the connection between faith, Orthodoxy, and icons?

We tried in the bulletin for today to give an idea of Orthodoxy and you will receive a beautiful icon that depicts the three angels who appeared to Abraham. A famous Russian painter named Rublev painted this icon which depicts three angelic persons who appeared to the patriarch Abraham and he received them in his house. This second icon is of Moses, to whom the Lord appeared in the bush that was burning but was not consumed. This bush still exists on Mount Sinai, which you can see if the Lord gives you the opportunity to visit the Monastery of St. Catharine.

The three angels symbolize the Holy Trinity, which is part of our belief and our faith as Orthodox. This sign which is use is very important, when we make the sign of the cross on our bodies with three fingers, meaning that we believe in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is something basic and entirely simple, that shows, as the Evangelist John says, that God is love! God is love. Our God is the God of Love. Our belief is that God did not remain in heaven, far from us. He became incarnate and came to us and became a human being.

First of all, how can one live love, if not for the love for which we are gathered today, in order to pray for our loved ones who have left us. We are connected to each other, through love and through our faith that God is love. There is no love without communion. Communion, whether it is in the family or in the Church or in any place in the world, is that man does not live alone and life is not individualistic. This is why the Church is a communion of love, just as we pray today in the Divine Liturgy. This is the meaning of the Trinity. This is why we are with our holy fathers in holding that God is one in three hypostases: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In short, this is the Orthodoxy that we celebrate today.

The second point is that God became incarnate and took human form. He took our form and lived like us. He suffered and wept. He rose from the dead and conquered death because of His love, even unto the cross. That he conquored death and suffering and was incarnate, this is our faith as Christians. This is what separates us from other religions, from Judaism and Islam and even from those heresies that do not believe in the incarnation, that Christ is God and man. This is who was crucified. He became incarnate, taking our form and lived like us because He loved us, even unto death. This is why we can make images of Him and make images of the saints and honor them. We do not worship the saints, not even the Virgin Mary! We only worship God, the Lord Jesus, but we honor the Virgin. We honor the saints because they were sanctified by God's grace. And so, our belief that we celebrate today is the belief in the divine incarnation that is symbolized by these icons which we honor because they bear the image of God and of His grace.

We hope that the Lord will strengthen our faith and comfort us. Our loved ones have departed from us, but now they are in glory. Our faith comforts us. Our prayer comforts us. They have gone ahead of us to heaven and have been glorified. For this reason, today's Gospel reading, the Lord's words to Nathaniel, "You will see greater than this. You will see the angels of the Lord upon the Son of Man." Only God has come down from heaven and ascended, and we are called to behold this when we depart from this life. Glory to God forever, amen.

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