On Sunday evening, March 9, 2014—the first Sunday of Great Lent—Orthodox Christians will gather in churches around the world to commemorate the restoration of icons to their proper use in the Church in 843 AD, thereby ending the 100-plus year iconoclast controversy.
The spiritual theme of the day is first of all the victory of the True Faith. “This is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith” [1 John 5:4]. Secondly, the icons of the saints bear witness that man, “created in the image and likeness of God” [Genesis 1:26], becomes holy and godlike through the purification of himself as God’s living image.
Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America
Sunday of Orthodoxy 2014
The grace of truth has shone out; the things prefigured in shadows in times of old have now been openly fulfilled in words…in writings, in thoughts, in sacrifices, in churches, and in icons [From the Vespers of the Sunday of Orthodoxy]
To the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of Parish Councils, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Members of Philanthropic Organizations, the Youth and Youth Workers, and the entire Orthodox Christian Family in North and Central America
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Gathering in our Churches as members of the undivided Body of Christ to celebrate the Sunday of Orthodoxy, we call to mind the holy men and women who defended holy icons, succeeded in restoring them, and pronounced the authentic faith and worship of the Church. Among these heroes of our faith, we commemorate the blessed emperors: Michael, Theodora, and Irene, the holy patriarchs and confessors: Germanos, Nikephoros, and Methodius, and the holy ascetics: John Damaskenos and Theodore the Studite.
The reading from the Holy Gospel on this feast recounts Philip’s invitation to his friend Nathanael to “come and see” Jesus [John 1:46]. During his encounter with Christ, Nathanael addresses Him, saying, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!} [John 1:49]. This declaration indicates that Nathanael recognized Who stood before him; he understood that the man before him was God, was once prefigured in shadows, now having become human. This particular moment as well as the entire three-year ministry of Jesus Christ helps us understand why the Church uses holy icons in Her worship. Because “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” we can depict the Son of God, His Most-Holy Mother, and other saints in icons, and through these holy images we extend honor and worship to the archetype. In this light, the effort of the Iconoclasts to remove and destroy holy icons seriously jeopardized humanity’s ability to encounter God. Their efforts, were they successful, would have deprived believers of a window through which we could communicate with God. By contrast, the restoration of the holy icons, which we celebrate today, is the triumph of genuine faith and worship in Christ and the assurance that God maintains a profound and immediate connection with the world.
Our beloved brothers and sisters, for us Orthodox Christians the presence of icons in our churches and in our homes bears witness to the Incarnation of God and His presence in our lives. Icons also remind us of His invitation to draw closer to Him. Sunday of Orthodoxy and the weeks that follow in Holy and Great Lent help facilitate our effort to become united to Jesus Christ, our Lord. It is our heartfelt prayer that through the veneration of holy icons a doorway to Christ will be opened unto us, permitting us to enter into “the fullness of God” [Ephesians 3:19].
The Members of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America.
Photo galleries of the numerous Sunday of Orthodoxy celebrations slated to be held on the first Sunday of Great Lent, March 9, 2014, will again be featured on the web site of the Orthodox Church in America.
Photos of regional, deanery and parish celebrations should be sent to email@example.com. Photos should be sent in high resolution, at least 600 pixels in width or larger. No more than three  photos from any given celebration should be sent. Please do not send links to on-line galleries, Vimeo postings, etc. Only photos sent as attachments will be posted.
Include the name and location of the host parish, the celebration sponsor [deanery, diocese, clergy association, etc.], the name of the hierarch or main celebrant, and the name of the guest preacher within the body of the e-mail to which the photos are attached. Brief captions, especially for parish celebrations, are acceptable as well.
The deadline for submissions is Wednesday, March 19, 2014.
Gift of the Heart Kits assembly line at St. Luke-McLean, VA
During our common journey through the Lenten season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, many parishes undertake charitable ministries and projects in Christ-like outreach to others. The Orthodox Church in America’s Department of Christian Service and Humanitarian Aid suggests two well-established programs for parish consideration.
The first is the Gift of the Heart Kit program initiated by Church World Service (CWS) and strongly supported by International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC). These humanitarian organizations respond to disasters and all manner of human distress, large and small, working along with other aid partners. In the US last year, they aided those who were victims of fires in Colorado and Arizona, floods in Texas and Kentucky, tornadoes in the Midwest, and Superstorm Sandy on Long Island in 2012. Aid continues worldwide, e.g. in Syria, in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan, and most recently in the East Java, Indonesia volcano eruption. In addition to financial support, they count on our faith communities to keep the warehouses filled with thousands of Gift of the Heart Kits—school kits, hygiene kits, baby kits and emergency cleanup buckets. At this time, IOCC says, “The need for emergency hygiene kits continues to grow.” CWS issued a new appeal at the end of February “to help replenish the supply of school kits.” All types of kits are needed and greatly appreciated.
The second humanitarian program recommended for parishes is the Church World Service CROP Walk. One-day sponsorship walks are organized locally every spring and fall in cities and towns throughout the US to “fight hunger one step at a time.” Join an existing walk or organize a new one. Arlene Kallaur’s Resource Handbook article about the CROP Walk experience at Holy Trinity Church, East Meadow, NY, can provide guidance.