The Sunday of Orthodoxy: Embrace the Fullness of the Faith

If you are offended when priests and preachers talk about politics and rail against the government, then close your ears: I’m going to talk about the government and its policies, and I am going to evaluate them based on the unchanging Truth of Christ, the standard of perfection that is preserved and shared within holy Orthodoxy.

Every morning we join together and pray:

Lord, save and have mercy on our civil authorities; protect our nation with peace, subduing our every foe and adversary. Fill the hearts of our leaders with peaceful, benevolent thoughts for your Holy Church and for all your people so that we, in their tranquility, may lead a peaceful and quiet life in true faith and in all godliness and purity.

This same attitude is found amongst the most solemn intercessor prayers in all of Orthodoxy: those that occur during the Anaphora. In the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the prayer is;

We also offer You this spiritual worship for the whole world, for the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and for all those who live in purity and holiness. And for all those in public service, permit them Lord, to serve and govern in peace, that in their tranquility we may lead a calm and quiet life in all Godliness and purity.

This is our approach to politics, and this is the basis of our theology of church and state.

We are expected to pray for our government, that it provides a safe place for us to pursue perfection. And don’t forget that pursuing perfection is what we are all about. We are learning to radiate peace and joy and unity so strongly, to be transformed by the grace and mercy of Christ so completely, that the people and world around us are themselves transformed. That when people see us on the streets, they recognize us as something different because of our love; that when they see us together as a church they are awed by the love that radiates among us and warmed by the Spirit that burns within our hearts.

It is wonderful when the government respects this and gives us a safe space to make it happen. But sometimes the government goes beyond this. Sometimes it wants to get more involved. Orthodoxy is a way of life – we do not simply pursue holiness in our minds and before the icons in our prayer corners or in our houses of worship: we do it 24/7, with an approach to life that is complete and holistic. The way we eat, the way we talk, everything we do – it’s all designed to further this one goal: the healing and perfection of us and of this world. When the government sees it as its own responsibility to guide us towards a certain way of thinking and living – rather than as simply the force that protects us as we think and live – we quickly run into problems.

On previous Sundays of Orthodoxy, I have preached about the transformative power of beauty, of the fact that icons are not only allowed by Christianity but required by it, I have explained the findings of the councils and why they are true. These are very important lessons, and I will, no doubt return to them in future years. But certainly one of the lessons to be learned from the whole nasty history of iconoclasm – when they came into our churches and destroyed our icons and told us we were wicked for having them – is just how dangerous it is for the government to get involved in the substance of theological disputes. And it gets even worse when it seeks to enforce its version.

[expound on iconoclasm; compare it to the destruction of the icons in our church]

But thank God we are free from such things now. Thank God the first amendment [and the rest of the Constitution] encourages our government to protect us rather than change us. This, combined with the melting pot of cultures and religions here has created a widespread respect for the ideal of diversity, even when the disparate opinions are held with fervor.

But here’s the thing. There was a time when people hid their icons because they were being confiscated. Here, don’t just think of when the iconoclasts ruled in Constantinople in parts of the first millennium; the iconoclasts destroyed plenty of icons in the 20th . You don’t have to go any further than modern Kosovo or Communist Ukraine to see such wickedness.

But in America we are free. No one is taking our icons. And yet the iconoclasts are winning, not just in our broader American culture (which we are called to sanctify), but amongst us, in our homes.

When strangers come into our homes, are they greeted with an image of that which is central to our identity? The thing that drives and draws us toward peace and perfection? Are our wedding and patronal icons central to the “feng shui” of our living rooms and bedrooms? Do we have reminders in our kitchens and hallways that there is a Christian manner of eating and living? Is there an icon near our television to remind us that our every thought should be pure and chaste, that it is better to pluck our our eye than allow it to pull us off the path of righteousness?

And remember, it’s not just about icons. All our life is to be transformed by our life in Christ. It is a holistic way of life that informs and blessed everything. The way we eat, the way we think, the way we love.

If we have not sanctified our homes with icons, I wonder if we have sanctified them with prayer. If we have not sanctified them with prayer, then we cannot sanctify them with love. And if we have no love, our lives are full of noise and confusion, we are wasted potential, wasted skin and mind and soul.

The world believes that icons are unnecessary. We know that to be a lie.

St. John of Damascus lived in a time when icons were being attacked, both by the Muslim authorities who governed over him and his flock and by heretical religious authorities that shared their vision. He was a theologian, so he defended icons with theological arguments, but his strongest advice was pastoral:

He wanted to see his people free. He wanted to see them healed. He wanted to see them holy. He knew that Orthodoxy – the fullness of the faith (and not some compromised, watered down version) was essential to that purpose.

So he told them to embrace their icons.

I want you to be free. I want you to be healed. I want to see you holy. I know that Orthodoxy – the fullness of the faith (and not some compromised, watered-down version), is essential to that purpose.

So I encourage you to embrace your icons. And not just icons. Resist every temptation and encouragement to water down your faith; not by attacking the forces that try to destroy your faith, but by committing yourself to a life in Christ. To prayer. To fasting. To sacrificial giving. To chastity.

These are all part of the program designed to bring you joy, so that you can bring that joy to a world that suffers in despondency.


  1. It’s funny – I have a problem with numbers. The get mixed up pretty much whenever I try to write or say them. I probably raised a few eyebrows when I gave this homily, saying something like “thank God we live in a country where our freedom of religion is protected by the second amendment”. Now granted, there are folks who point out that the second amendment is the bottom line guarantor of all our freedoms… but I wasn’t trying to be provocative, I was being thankful (and, to be honest, quite a bit ironic).

    I meant to say “*First* Amendment.”