The First Sunday of Great Lent is kept as the anniversary of the restoration of the Holy Icons to veneration and honour after the final defeat of the iconoclast heresy. The Seventh Ecumenical Council in the year 787 condemned the iconoclast heresy, but the final restoration of the Holy Icons did not take place until 843, with a solemn procession on the first Sunday of Lent in that year. Ever since then, all the churches of the Byzantine tradition, including our Ukrainian Catholic Church, remember that event joyfully. The reference to “Orthodoxy” in the title of this First Sunday of Lent is not denominational; it refers to all those who venerate the Holy Icons properly in divine worship. The Catholic Church fully accepts the Seventh Ecumenical Council and the proper veneration and use of the Holy Icons. So the restoration of the Holy Icons is a cause of joy for all Christians who accept the proper use of the Holy Icons. In our own times, we rejoice further to see an increasing appreciation of the importance of the Holy Icons among Anglicans, Lutherans and other Western Christians.
The veneration of the Holy Icons is based on fundamental Christology, on our belief in the incarnation of the Son of God, and on our understanding of salvation for the Holy Mother of God and the saints. In the Incarnation, God did not simply speak to us, or come to us intellectually; God became Man. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Son, by the Will of His Father and the cooperation of the Holy Spirit, took on Himself a human nature in the body of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who thus became Theotokos, the Holy Mother of God.
The human nature and the divine nature of Jesus Christ, Who is always One unique person, are never separated. Instead, human nature is redeemed by Christ’s assumption of that human nature. When Jesus Christ ascended into Heaven, He did not leave His human nature behind; He brought that redeemed human nature with Him, and thus accomplished the plan of our redemption. Thus it became right, appropriate, and necessary to venerate the humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Likewise with the Blessed Mother of God and all the saints. To be a saint means that a Christian gains such holiness, such deep union with God, that the image of God in that person, given at creation, shines in and through that person without distortion. In venerating the icons of the saints, then, we venerate the image of God in the saints.
The root of iconoclasm, the denial of the Holy Icons, is a false Christology: either the iconoclast denies the full humanity of Christ, and therefore cannot venerate that humanity whose very existence he does not accept, or the iconoclast denies the full divinity of Christ, and naturally cannot give divine honours to someone whose divinity he does not recognize. But our Christian Faith teaches us that Jesus Christ is True God and True Man, One Person incarnate in two natures.
So we venerate the Holy Icons; we love them and we take pride in them. In the twentieth century there has been a remarkable revival of good iconography. Authentic icons are a powerful means of preaching the Gospel, of elevating our souls to God. Of course we wish to have the best icons in our churches, but icons should also be present in our homes. Every family can surely have at least one fine, hand- painted icon, in a place of honour, expressing our faith and reminding us of God’s protecting love.
Naturally we venerate and enjoy the holy icons throughout the year. But Sunday of Orthodoxy is a day when we remember this in a special way.
Excerpt from Our Paschal Pilgrimage. A Guide for the Great Fast for Ukrainian Catholics by Bishop Basil Losten.
“Blessed is the man…” is sung.
At Psalm 140
In Tone 1
- Lead my soul forth from prison* that I may give thanks to Your name.
Accept our evening prayer, O holy Lord,
and grant us forgiveness of sins,
for You alone manifested the Resurrection to the world.
- The just shall gather around me* when You have been good to me.
O you people, walk around Zion and encompass her.
And there give glory to Him Who is risen from the dead.
For He is our God
Who delivers us from our sins.
- Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord;* O Lord, hear my voice!
Come you people, praise and worship Christ.
Glorify His Resurrection from the dead;
for He is our God Who delivered the world
from the deceit of the enemy.
- Let Yours ears be attentive* to the voice of my prayer.
Rejoice, O you heavens;
sound the trumpets, you foundations of the earth;
cry out with joy, O you mountains.
For behold, Emmanuel has nailed our sins to the Cross;
the Giver of Life has put Death to death;
and the Lover of Mankind
has raised up Adam.
- If You mark iniquities, Lord, who can stand?* But with You forgiveness is that You may be revered.
Let us praise the Lord
Who for our sake was willingly crucified in the flesh.
He suffered, was buried, and rose from the dead.
Therefore, let us sing to Him:
O Christ, keep Your Church in the orthodox faith
and bring peace to our lives;
for You are gracious and love mankind.
- I have waited for You as You have commanded; my soul patiently relies on Your promise,* for it has trusted in the Lord.
O Christ our God, as we stand unworthily before Your life-bearing grave,
we offer a hymn of praise to Your ineffable tenderness of heart.
For You, O Sinless One,
in Your loving-kindness have accepted the Cross and death
in order to grant
resurrection to the world.
In Tone 6
- From the morning watch until night* let Israel trust in the Lord.
The prophets, inspired by Your Spirit, O Lord,
foretold that You, whom nothing can contain or grasp,
and who has shone forth in eternity before the morning star
from the immaterial and bodiless womb of the Father,
was to become a child,
taking flesh from the Virgin,
being joined to men and seen by those on earth.
At the prayers of these Your prophets,
in Your compassion count us worthy of Your light,
for we sing the praises
of Your ineffable and holy Resurrection.
- For with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him there is plentiful redemption;* and He shall redeem Israel from all its iniquities.
The divinely-inspired prophets preached You in word and honoured You in works,
and they received as their reward a life without end.
For they steadfastly refused, O Master,
to worship the creation instead of You, the Creator;
They renounced the whole world for the Gospel’s sake,
and in their suffering they were conformed to Your Passion which they had foretold.
At their intercessions, count us worthy to pass through the period of the Fast without offence,
for You alone are rich in mercy.
- Praise the Lord, all the nations;* proclaim His glory, all you people.
You who are uncircumscribed, O Master, in Your divine nature,
were pleased in the last times to take flesh and be circumscribed;
and in assuming flesh, You have also taken on Yourself all its distinctive properties.
Therefore we depict the likeness of Your outward form,
venerating it with an honour that is relative.
So we are exalted to the love of You,
and following the holy traditions handed down by the apostles,
from Your icon we receive the grace of healing.
- Strong is the love of the Lord for us;* eternally will His truth endure.
As a precious adornment
the Church of Christ has received the venerable and holy icons of the Saviour Christ,
of God’s Mother and of all the saints.
Celebrating now their triumphant restoration,
she is made bright with grace and splendour,
and drives away all heretics.
With great rejoicing
she gives glory to God who loves mankind,
and who for her sake
has endured His voluntary Passion.
In Tone 2, Glory…
The grace of truth has shone upon us;
the mysteries darkly prefigured in the times of old have now been openly fulfilled.
For behold, the Church is clothed in a beauty that surpasses all things earthly,
through the icon of the incarnate Christ
that was foreshadowed by the ark of testimony.
This is the safeguard of the orthodox faith;
for as we hold fast to the icon of the Saviour whom we worship,
we shall not go astray.
Let all who do not share this faith be covered with shame;
but we shall glory in the icon of the Word made flesh,
which we venerate but worship not as an idol.
So let us kiss it, and with all the faithful cry aloud:
O God, save Your people
and bless Your inheritance.
In Tone 1, Glory… Now…
Let us sing a hymn of praise to the Virgin Mary,
glory of the whole world!
She was herself formed by human seed,
yet she became the Mother of the Master, the Gate of heaven,
the theme of the angels’ hymn and beauty of the faithful.
She was seen as being heavenly
and the Tabernacle of the Godhead.
She indeed tore down the wall of enmity between God and man,
and brought peace in its place, she opened up the kingdom of heaven.
Let us therefore cling fast to her for she is the anchor of faith,
and let us receive as our stronghold the Lord Who was born of her.
Be of good cheer, then, and have confidence, O people of God,
for He will fight our enemies for us, He is all-powerful!
In Tone 1
O Christ, by Your Passion we have been freed from suffering;
and by Your Resurrection we have been delivered from corruption.
O Lord, glory to You!
The Lord reigns, He is clothed in majesty. Robed is the Lord, and girt about with strength.
Let all creation rejoice, let the heavens be glad,
let the nations clap their hands with joy.
For Christ our Saviour, in His love for mankind,
has nailed our sins to the Cross;
He has put Death to death,
and by raising our fallen forefather, Adam,
He has given life to all mankind.
For He has made the world firm, which shall not be moved.
O God, You are above all understanding;
You are King and Lord of heaven and earth.
Yet of Your own free will,
You allowed Yourself to be crucified because of Your love for mankind.
When You descended below,
Hades was filled with bitterness as You confronted it;
but the souls of the just received You with great joy.
Adam arose when he saw You, his Creator, down in the depths.
What a wonder this is!
You are the life of all and have tasted death
in order to dispel the darkness of the world with Your light.
O Lord, risen from the dead, glory to You!
Holiness befits Your house, O Lord, for length of days.
The myrrh-bearing women were filled with grief
as they hastened with spices to Your tomb;
but they did not find Your most pure body.
Instead, they found an angel
who proclaimed Your unique and glorious Resurrection,
and commanded them to announce to Your Apostles:
The Lord is risen, granting great mercy to the world.
In Tone 2, Glory…
Advancing from ungodliness to the true faith,
and illumined with the light of knowledge,
let us clap our hands and sing aloud,
offering praise and thanksgiving to God;
and with due honour
let us venerate the holy icons of Christ;
of the all-pure Virgin and the saints,
whether depicted on walls, on wooden panels or on holy vessels,
rejecting the impious teachings of the heretics.
For, as Basil says,
the honour shown the icon passes to the prototype it represents.
At the prayers of Your undefiled Mother and of all the Saints,
we beseech You, Christ our God,
to bestow upon us Your great mercy.
We now behold a new wonder,
greater than the wonders of old.
For who has ever known a mother to bear a child without the help of man?
Who has known a mother to hold in her arms the Source of all Creation?
It was God’s own will to be born in this manner;
and you, O most pure Virgin, carried Him as an infant in your arms.
Because of this, you can approach God with the boldness of a mother.
Therefore, we venerate you, and ask you to always beseech Him
to have mercy on us and save our souls.
In Tone 1
Though the stone was sealed by the Judeans* and soldiers guarded Your most pure body,* You arose, O Saviour, on the third day* and gave life to the world.* And so the heavenly powers cried out You, O Giver of Life:* Glory to Your Resurrection, O Christ!* Glory to Your Kingdom!* Glory to Your saving plan!** O only Lover of Mankind.
In Tone 2, Glory…
We bow before Your most pure image, O kind Lord,* and we beg pardon for our sins, O Christ our God.* Of Your own will You consented to ascend the Cross in the flesh* to free Your handiwork from enslavement to the enemy.* In thanksgiving we cry aloud to You:** by coming to save the world, our Saviour, You filled all thing with joy.
O Mother of God, the mysteries which surround you are exceedingly glorious,* and beyond the power of understanding.* For you retained the seal of purity,* and your virginity remained inviolate;* yet you are acknowledged, without doubt,* to be the Mother who gave birth to the true God.* We beg you, therefore, to entreat Him to save our souls.
The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is celebrated today.
Troparia and Kontakia
Troparion, Tone 1: Though the stone was sealed by the Judeans,* and soldiers guarded Your most pure body,* You arose, O Saviour, on the third day,* and gave life to the world.* And so the heavenly powers cried out to You, O Giver of Life:* Glory to Your resurrection, O Christ!* Glory to Your kingdom!* Glory to Your saving plan,* O only Lover of mankind.
Troparion, Tone 2: We bow before Your most pure image, O kind Lord,* and beg pardon for our sins, O Christ our God.* Of Your own will You consented to ascend the Cross in the flesh to free Your handiwork from enslavement to the enemy.* In thanksgiving we cry aloud to You:* by coming to save the world, our Saviour, You filled all things with joy.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and for ever and ever. Amen.
Kontakion, Tone 8: The uncircumscribed Word of the Father* became circumscribed when He took flesh of you, O Mother of God,* and when He restored the divine image to its ancient glory,* He suffused it with the beauty of God.* Therefore, confessing our salvation in deed and word,* we portray it in images.
Prokeimenon, Tone 4
Blessed are You, Lord God of our fathers,* and praised and glorified is Your Name for ever.
verse: For You are righteous in everything You have done to us. (Daniel 3:26,27)
Hebrews 11:24-26,32-40; 12:1-2
Alleluia, Tone 4
verse: Moses and Aaron are among His priests and Samuel among those who call upon His name.
verse: They called on the Lord, and He heard them. (Psalm 98:6)
Hymn to the Mother of God
In you, O Full of Grace, all creation rejoices: the angelic ranks and all the human race. Sanctified temple and spiritual paradise, virgins’ pride and boast, from whom God is made flesh and became a little Child; and He who is our God before all ages, He made your womb a throne, and He made it wider that all the heavens. In you, O Full of Grace, all creation rejoices. Glory be to you.
Praise the Lord from the heavens;* praise Him in the highest. (Psalm 148:1)* Rejoice in the Lord, O you just;* praise befits the righteous.* Alleluia, alleluia,* alleluia. (Psalm 32:1)