Joel, Metropolitan of Edessa, Pella and Almopia
"COME AND SEE"
Address on The Sunday of Orthodoxy
Your Beatitude, Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and All Greece,
Most Reverend Hierarchs and Beloved Brothers in Christ,
Your Excellency, Mr. President of the Hellenic Republic,
Dear Brethren in Christ,
Today, the First Sunday of Lent, when we celebrate the restoration of the holy icons, is a most significant occasion for the Church. For a period of one hundred and twenty years, interrupted by a brief span of thirty years(1), the People of God were severely tested because of the terrible iconoclastic heresy. The Seventh Ecumenical Council, held in 787AD, accurately formulated the truth regarding the holy icons and objects of veneration, thus bringing peace to the Church's fold.
We therefore see the venerable Lenten fast intertwined with the triumph of the holy icons, Lenten repentance and God-pleasing contrition interwoven with the truth of Christ, virtuous ascetic struggle that vanquishes the passions and the cultivation of virtues conjoined to the Church's spiritual victory over the Devil's falsehood. "The truth as it was proven, falsehood as it was dispelled, wisdom as it was freely spoken, Christ, as He has rewarded, thus do we believe, thus do we preach, thus do we proclaim"(2).
Today's reading from the Gospel according to St. John describes the calling of two disciples: Philip and Nathanael. Certain details about how they were caught in the net of the Divine Fisherman, can lead us to valuable conclusions.
a. First of all, of what quality of men were these two future apostles?
Philip, when he first accepted Jesus' calling and followed Him, told Nathanael about it in the following manner: "We have found Him, of whom Moses in the Law, and also the prophets did write"(3). St. John Chrysostom, commenting on these words spoken by Philip, on the haste which he showed in transmitting this truth to Nathanael, as well as on the fact that he studied the Law and the Prophets and lived in continuous and anxious anticipation of the Messiah's coming, writes: "See what a concerned mind he possessed and how he continuously studied the Law of Moses and looked to the Messiah's coming. For the expression "we have found" belongs to those who are constantly seeking"(4). This same anxious anticipation is seen in all Old Testament people, for the Old Testament is an anxious cry unto God: "When will You come unto me?"(5) The same holds true for Nathanael. We can see from the clarifications that he seeks from Philip concerning Christ, i.e. whether or not He is from Nazareth, that, as St. Cyril of Alexandria observes, "he was swift to bring about results and that (Philip) knew (Nathanael) to be most painstaking and studious ... and addresses him not as if speaking to someone ignorant but well learned..."(6). Both men were well responsive to Christ's calling, well disposed towards Him, receptive to His vivifying Grace and well versed in the knowledge of the Scriptures.
We should point out here, that these qualities should be characteristic of every Orthodox Christian of every time and every age. "Orthodox is he who in humility, innocence and without malice, kneels before God. He shall meet Christ. Christ shall reveal Himself to him and he shall speak with Christ"(7).
b. A second detail is the search for truth. Both sought after the truth.
As a rule, men seek truth in things and theories that make an impression, in persons with outstanding qualities, in philosophical and secular movements that desire to change the existing traditional order of society, in situations that please, provoke enthusiasm and captivate their spiritual powers. It is difficult for them to accept that it is possible to receive that which is truly good "from Nazareth". "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"(8) Deep down, we like to think of ourselves as being better than others.
Today is the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the Sunday of the correct opinion (orthē doxa), the Sunday, we could say, of the truth. What is the real truth? It is man's meeting God within the framework of personal relationships in the Church. The Church is "the pillar and bulwark of the truth"(9). When the two disciples met with Christ, they found spiritual peace and discovered that which they had sought throughout their lives. St. Gregory Palamas provides us with a standard by which we can discern whether or not we have discovered truth in the Church: "Whence, then, shall we know that we believe in God correctly; that we think of Him well, with certainty and piously? From our Confession of faith: if it is the same as that of our God-bearing Fathers"(10). In other words, proof positive that we possess the truth concerning God, is our agreement with the God-bearing Fathers of our Church. The experience of the saints is the proof of truth. Experience confirms truth.
c. A third element is Philip's invitation to Nathanael: "Come and See"(11).
It is not enough for us to have an inclination towards God. Experience is also needed. We have already referred to the experience of the saints. Our experience causes us to live our faith not as "a theological ideology and as reified knowledge, but as spiritual experience and life; as 'learning' through 'experiencing' "(12). We pass through experience in order to attain to our goal. St. Nicholas Cabasilas says that the saints learned more from experience than through instruction. "Indeed, I say that one can learn more perfectly from experience than from teaching"(13). All the praiseworthiness of the saints is to be found in their Orthodox faith, their laudable life, and in the Grace of the Holy Spirit that they possessed. In the words of St. Symeon the New Theologian: "All the praiseworthiness and blessedness of the saints is to be found in the Orthodox faith, the praiseworthy life and the gift and charismata of the Holy Spirit that they possessed"(14). The saints with their experience struggled to achieve the ultimate end and to attain to perfection. In this they were led by the Holy Spirit. St. Paul states: "Not that I have already attained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own"(15). Surrendering oneself unto Christ is not forfeiture, but the greatest spiritual achievement to which a Christian can attain.
How many of us possess a heart that burns with faith in Christ and is filled with unshakeable trust in Him? A sure sign by which we can ascertain whether or not we truly believe and have trust in our faith is our relationship to the Church. Are we closely tied to the Church, which is Christ, extended to the ages?
There are individuals that believe in God, recognise and accept the existence of moral and spiritual values, but do not consider it necessary to live the ecclesial life of repentance, to partake of the Sacraments and participate in ecclesial koinonia with others. Despite the fact that they profess to believe and to be Orthodox, they deny the institution of the Church. Can one, however, be Orthodox without the experience of life within the Church?
All this holds true for each and every one of us, but also for the whole of our pious nation. It is necessary that we preserve our Greek and Orthodox inner being, as well as the distinctive features of our nation(16). The Orthodox Church, like the Ark of old, sustained our nation in times of peace and saved it from complete destruction in moments of crisis.
The Sunday of Orthodoxy means the Sunday of (the prevalence) of) truth, which truth is identified with the person of Christ. In other words, it is the Sunday of the (prevalence of the) life of the Church, the manifestation of the Body of Christ, which is made up of both clergy and laity joined together in life and faith. Let us pray that our Orthodox people ever remain lovers and friends of the truth of Christ, ever joined to His Holy Church, which is the Ark of the Nation. Amen.
+ J O E L,
METROPOLITAN OF EDESSA, PELLA AND ALMOPIA
1. - Cf. Nikolaos, Metropolitan of Phthiotis, The Holy Icon as an impress of Christ's Incarnation, Published by the Holy Metropolitanate of Phthiotis, Lamia 2003, p. 5.
2. - "Synodicon of Orthodoxy", Triodion, Sunday of Orthodoxy.
3. - John 1:45.
4. - John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel according to St. John, Homily 20, John 1:45.
5. - Psalm 100:2.
6. - Cyril of Alexandria, "Commentary on the Gospel according to St. John", P.G. 73, 219.
7. - Archimandrite Symeon Kragiopoulos, Synaxes of the Triodion, vol. II, Panorama, Thessaloniki, p. 105.
8. - John 1:46.
9. - I Tim. 3:15.
10. - Greek Fathers of the Church, vol. 9, Homily VIII, p. 216.
11. - John 1:46.
12. - Dionysios Psarianos, Metropolitan of Servia and Kozani, The Faith handed down to us by our Fathers, Athens 1987, p. 7.
13. - "Life in Christ", P.G. 150,552.
14. - "Catecheses" X, SC 104, 142.
15. - Phil. 3:12.
16. - Cf. "Message of the Holy Mountain to the Greek Nation," Athonite Dialogues, issue 24, August-September 1974, p. 2.