The Holy Gospel has preserved for us the words of the Savior, which the Lord spoke to His apostles at the Mystical Supper as He bade them farewell, before going to His holy sufferings. Before Him lay the whole awful spectacle, the whole immeasurable abyss of sufferings, which we can neither comprehend nor imagine, and He said to them: " In the world ye shall have tribulation: but TAKE HEART, for I HAVE CONQUERED THE WORLD" (John 16:33). Not for nothing did Fr. John of Kronstadt, as he wrote in his journal, love to gaze upon the image, the icon of Christ the Giver of Life, bearing in His hands the standard of victory after His Resurrection! "What a Glorious Victor!," wrote Fr. John. "What an evil and terrible enemy has He conquered!" And the apostle of love writes, "This is the victory that has conquered the world – our faith!" (1 John 5:4).
And so the Orthodox Church triumphs in this victory of Her Orthodox faith, celebrating it on the first Sunday of Great Lent, which is named in its honor: "The Triumph of Orthodoxy." The Church, as though looking back on the path She has walked, see that path’s trials and sorrows. Persecuted from the beginning by the enemies of Christ – the Jews, then persecuted by the pagan rulers of Rome, and then battling various heresies, the Church walked a sorrowful path, but overcame and CONQUERED!
Perhaps it was not so difficult for the Church when She was subjected to bloody persecutions, for in them the true path is reinforced; more dangerous were the heresies that appeared, threatening to undermine the truth of Orthodoxy. The heretic Arius arose and claimed that the Son of God was not equal to God, not begotten of Him and equal to Him in nature, but only created by Him. And an Ecumenical Council was needed to condemn this heretic, and overturn this heresy. After him followed many heresies; and the first heresies focuses exclusively on the Most Holy Person of our Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, and only later did they fixate on other dogmas.
And now in our time, all manner of distortion and fraud – even outright rejection – have been leveled against one of the chief dogmas of the Church – the DOGMA OF THE CHURCH. You yourselves know that in our Symbol of Faith we say: "I believe in one holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church." Blessed is the man who abides in this Church, for the Lord gave His promise: "I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). This means that, if you are within the Church, you will reap that joyous and comforting promise, but if you are without, beware! Once St. Seraphim of Sarov said to an Old Believer who came to him and began to offer him his thoughts and opinions: "Drop your nonsense! The ship of the Church has as its Captain Christ the Savior, and as its Helmsman the Holy Spirit, and it traverses the sea of life which tosses us to and fro. And what storms must it overcome! And you think you will cross the sea of life in the little boat of your own opinions? Drop your nonsense!"
And so, a Christian, if he wishes to celebrate the Triumph of Orthodoxy as his own, as an Orthodox Christian, let him examine his orthodoxy. Our Orthodox faith is holy, eminent, and irreproachable, for the Incarnate Son of God brought it to us from the heavens Himself, and the Church preserves it. Whether any individual follows it faithfully is a matter for his own conscience. According to his loyalty or disloyalty, let him properly celebrate the feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. Indeed, often a man may consider himself faithful, a loyal son of the Church, but at the same time, God knows what he harbors in his thoughts.
Here I will employ an example: once in Moscow there lived a wealthy merchant, whom many – and even he himself – considered nothing short of a pillar of Orthodoxy – so Orthodox was he. So much a man of the Church! Out of his own pocket, he kept a lamp always lit in the famous Iberian Chapel, and whenever anyone would praise him for it, he would say, "Yes, of course – perhaps there is something on that side after all!" Just like that, by the way! There you have your pious Orthodox Christian, who doesn’t even believe in life after death. But if there is no life after death, then the Gospel is a fiction and a fallacy… And so it is with many articles of our faith, which people dispute, even those who are strong in faith, and even more those who refuse to keep the fasts.
From antiquity we know of the holy example of the Maccabean Martyrs, who refused to eat food forbidden by the rules of the Church in force at the time, and for that they suffered and became holy martyrs. But how do modern-day Orthodox Christians treat this rule? The Orthodox Church tells us specifically what days are fasting days and what we can or cannot eat, but no! Not only do they eat what they like, but they maintain that these are ancient prejudices not to be bothered with, and they consider themselves Orthodox. A man can examine his orthodoxy as follows: when he sees that something in his life does not correlate with the teachings of the Church, then he takes care and drops it. If you will hold on and cling to that something, then the Church will not recognize you as Her own, and from there is it not far to that dreaded anathema, which will be proclaimed tomorrow, and in which NO ONE condemns anyone else, but in which the Church says: these ones are no longer ours, they are not within the aegis of our Church.
And so, again I repeat: examine your orthodoxy, you Orthodox Christian, you Russian Orthodox soul! And only if you truly believe all that our Church teaches, then the Triumph of Orthodoxy will be your own triumph, and will be for you a great feast.
Translated from the original Russian by Rdr. Gregory Levitsky
Media Office of the Eastern American Diocese