Orthodoxy and life is very deep and complex, but the essence of Christian life is simple. The Gospel today teaches us a simple way, and if we obey the simple apostolic command, we will not be confounded. If we think too much, we will always be confused. We look at the calling of Nathaniel and the simple way he was told to approach his doubts; this applies to EVERY doubt and difficulty in our life. “Come and see!” is the only door to the triumph of Orthodoxy, that is, the fullness of the indwelling of God, in our hearts.
The “Triumph of Orthodoxy” is not only a historical event that we commemorate today, but also applies to every individual Christian. We spoke about the meaning of icons and the incarnation last night – the triumph of Orthodoxy for the individual is that, as one of the hymns teaches, because of the incarnation “the sullied image (of God, in us) has been restored to its ancient glory and filled with the divine beauty.” The readings today teach us how to realize in our lives this promise, and the Gospel is short and succinct – the Lord commands us to “Follow me” and “Come and see” What does this mean practically for us.?
The true meaning of icons is proclaimed in the Sunday of Orthodoxy Services. The “surface meaning” of an icon is that we can depict Jesus Christ as a man precisely because He became a man. We are not satisfied with such a shallow explanation, and the services delve much deeper into the meaning of the incarnation. Two examples, one from Vespers, and the other from matins, describe the wonder of the incarnation. Every time we gaze upon an icon, we must remember that we, who have nothing in common with God, can know God because He chose to have everything in common (one hymn, below, describes this as the God-man taking on all the “distinctive properties” of our flesh), with us, save sin.
Thou who art uncircumscribed, O Master, in Thy divine nature, / wast pleased in the last times to take flesh and be circumscribed; / and in assuming flesh, / Thou hast also taken on Thyself all its distinctive properties. / Therefore we depict the likeness of Thine outward form, / venerating it with an honor that is relative. / So we are exalted to the love of Thee, / and following the holy traditions handed down by the apostles // from Thine icon we receive the grace of healing. (Sunday of Orthodoxy, “Lord I have cried”, Tone VI, spec. mel.: ‘Having set all your hope’)
The uncircumscribed Word of the Father became circumscribed, taking flesh from thee, O Theotokos, and He restored the sullied image to its ancient glory, filling it with the divine beauty. This our salvation we confess in deed and word, and we depict it in the holy icons. (Sunday of Orthodoxy, Kontakion, Tone 8)
We give thanks unto Thee, O Lord Jesus Christ, that Thou hast brought us this present time of fasting unto salvation, so as to heal the great wounds of our souls in a short span, seeking to lift from us the burden of our many sins; and we pray Thee, O All-Good One: …
(Provided by Fr John Shaw (Bishop Jerome), From an ancient Ambon Prayer)