The celebration of the “Sunday of Orthodoxy” dates back to 843 when icons were returned to the churches and monasteries on the first Sunday of Paschal Lent. The battle over the icons, how high they were positioned on the walls or the iconostasis of the churches, lasted over 100 years until Patriarch Saint Methodios the Confessor and the pious Empress Theodora called the Church Synod on March 11, 843. For a long period of time the Church was divided over the question of the icons. “Iconodules” defended the icons and supported their place in churches and monasteries, while the opponents, known as “iconoclasts”, were against the icons which believers kissed and venerated. The iconoclasts referred to them as idol worshippers who, they said, believed in the icon more than in the saint which it represented. In this battle many churches and monasteries were set aflame and many iconodules were killed. In the course of the battle icons were sometimes hung high so that believers could not venerate them and then they were thrown out of the churches and monasteries. At the special Church Synod in 843, on the first Sunday of Great Lent, this conflict was brought to an end and the icons were triumphantly brought back into the Orthodox churches. In celebration and remembrance of the victory of the iconodules, the first Sunday of Great Lent became known as the “Sunday of Orthodoxy” and since then it has been celebrated in Orthodox churches worldwide.
This year Canadian Bishop Dr. Mitrofan, together with our priests, was the host of the celebration in the Cathedral Church in Mississauga where bishops, priests and the faithful of all Orthodox Churches in the Toronto vicinity gathered. Beside Bishop Dr. Mitrofan the clergy who co-celebrated were Bishop Andriy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Vicar Bishop Christoforos representing the bishop of the Greek Orthodox Church, and 31 priests from the Orthodox Churches of Toronto, Mississauga and vicinity. Each priest carried an icon during the procession from the altar, symbolizing the moment when the icons were triumphantly returned to the churches more than one thousand years ago!
A group of Greek priests sang at the beginning of the Vesper service. Then the choirs in attendance participated in the service – the Russian choir shone under the direction of Elena Eremeeva, followed by the young Ukrainian choir and cantors from the Georgian Orthodox Church. At the conclusion of the evening Vesper service the host St. Sava Choir, with close to 30 singers under the direction of Jovan Lukich, sang an excellent interpretation of the prayer “Now lettest Thou” (Ninje otpuščaješi), the prayer of the blind Simeon when the Blessed Theotokos brought Christ into the Temple for the first time.
Bishop Dr. Mitrofan delivered the solemn and enlightening homily in English about the significance of the Sunday of Orthodoxy. At the end of the evening worship Archpriest Stavrofor Mihajlo Doder, who for years had organized this ceremony on behalf of the Serbian Orthodox Church, summarized the celebration, and senior Archpriest Stavrofor Prvoslav Purić expressed thanks to the bishops, priests, singers and the faithful and invited everyone to the Serbian Centre for a Lenten meal prepared by the Circle of Serbian Sisters in Mississauga.
The celebration of the Sunday of Orthodoxy is a tradition which will be celebrated next year in another Orthodox Church. God willing, all Orthodox Christians will come together in large numbers to help the Christians of Kosovo, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and other countries who are subjected to suffering simply because they are Orthodox and whose churches are desecrated and set aflame. All Christians should combine their efforts in their defense. That should be the responsibility of all humanity from the United Nations and the world’s powerful to the smallest country in the world. God grant that the suffering Orthodox faithful will find protection. That is our prayer to the Lord during this Paschal Lenten season.
Voice of Canadian Serbs, March 2017