The Sunday of Orthodoxy, also known as the Feast of Orthodoxy or the Triumph of Orthodoxy has a backstory which should be remembered by all Orthodox Christians. Whether they know it or not, it impacts their daily life.
If you are thinking that this is merely the author exaggerating and being overly zealous, think again. Do you pray in front of an icon? Do you venerate icons? Do you follow the traditions handed down to us from Christ through the Apostles and the Fathers? If your answer to all of these is yes, and as Orthodox Christians the answer should be yes to all three, then you have something to celebrate on the Sunday of Orthodoxy.
Before coming to why we celebrate the Sunday of Orthodoxy, a brief history of the icon is needed. The word icon comes from the Greek word eikona, which can be translated as 'image'. The first icon ever made was Adam, made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26).
Icons were made of Christ, with one made by Christ himself by placing His head on a cloth which according to the ancient tradition of the Church and Eusebius of Caesarea was sent to King Abgar of Edessa. This icon is known as the Icon Not Made With Hands (Acheiropoietos in Greek) and is believed by some to be the well-known Shroud of Turin. Another icon of the apostolic era was the one painted by St Luke the Evangelist of Panagia called the Directress (Hodegetria). The painting of icons continued through the Roman persecutions with icons found in the catacombs.
During the Byzantine era, there arose problems with the use of icons because of the way they were treated by some of the people. Some icons became godparents. Some people ate the splinters of icons and the paint. This provoked a reaction, but this reaction went too far. Inspired by the ban on painting images of people from Islam and also by the Commandment not to worship graven images, icons were banned in the Byzantine Empire.
This provoked clashes within the Empire with the weight of the civil authorities on the side of the iconoclasts ('icon-destroyers'). On the other side were the monks and the faithful. St Maximos the Confessor and St Stephen the New were among those who fought and sacrificed themselves for the icons. After a hundered years, much blood and the destruction of ancient icons, the Seventh Ecumenical Council was convened.
It was decided there that the correct approach was to follow the formula of St John of Damascus, who wrote three treatises on icons from the safety of the Muslim Caliphate. Icons were not to be worshipped as they had been previously, nor were they to be destroyed. They were instead to be venerated, shown honour for what was depicted on them.
The decision of the Council did not stop the heresy of the iconoclasts, and it was only after a Synod in 843, called because of the Empress and later Saint Theodora, that the issue was resolved. A triumphal procession was made from the Church of Blachernae to Hagia Sophia with the people carrying icons. This was on the First Sunday of Lent, and we commemorate our icons on this day with a special service and procession with icons each year.
We remember the struggle to have icons, as well as the other struggles overcome by the Church in its preservation of Tradition on this First Sunday of Lent each year.