Sermon on Saturday of the First Week of Great Lent

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Dear brothers and sisters! The first week of Great Lent is over. During this week each of us has abstained as much as he could from non-fasting food and mastered our sinful passions. And the Lord has heard our prayers and had mercy on us, just as He had mercy on the Ninevites who had once sinned against Him and fasted for only three days, but austerely—without food and water—and forced their dumb animals to fast in the same way.

Today the Angels of God are rejoicing in Heaven, seeing so many repentant sinners whom our Heavenly Father is receiving into His loving arms. These ministering spirits are clothing us in bright robes of purity and virtue and putting the ring of sonship on our finger. On this day we have received fire, clothing ourselves in the radiance of the Son of God’s glory, partaking of His Body and Blood, and have been vouchsafed to participate in the Heavenly Banquet. Can we return to the “carob pods” of sin (which do not satiate the soul) after this?!

Today is a particularly solemn day, when all Christians take Communion, uniting with their Head—Jesus Christ. The Church Militant on earth partakes in the joy of the Church Triumphant in Heaven. Truly, today there is a gift from God for everyone. And this is exactly how (“gift of God”) the name of the saint whom we are commemorating today translates. This is Great-Martyr Theodore the Tyro (“the Recruit”).

As you know, the holy Great-Martyr Theodore was executed by burning at the very beginning of the fourth century for refusing to offer sacrifices to idols. As we sing in the beautiful troparion to him, “The holy Martyr Theodore rejoiced in the fount of flames as though at the waters of rest; for having been made a whole burnt offering in the fire, he was offered as a sweet bread to the Trinity.”1 And half a century after his martyrdom he came to the aid of the Christians of Antioch, when Emperor Julian the Apostate, desiring to mock the Church, ordered the governor of Antioch to sprinkle all the food in the markets secretly with blood from sacrifices to idols every day of the first week of Great Lent. St. Theodore appeared to the Archbishop of Antioch and commanded him to tell the Christians not to buy anything on Sunday at the marketplaces, but rather eat their own reserve supplies of boiled wheat with honey (koliva).

Once again we see how the small flock of the Church overcame intrigues of an emperor who had great power on earth. Later, when Julian himself was mortally wounded in the war with the Persians by an invisible hand, admitted his defeat, saying to Christ: “Thou hast won, O Galilean!” Indeed, it is difficult for a person to kick against the pricks (Acts 9:5), as the Apostle Paul was once told. A temporary and vain person, no matter how powerful he may be on earth, can never defeat the eternal King of Truth—Christ.

But the Church wins not by power, but by love. If the Christians of Antioch had consumed the food sprinkled with blood from sacrifices to idols, would they have become spiritually defiled? Certainly not! The Apostle Paul says that an idol is nothing and we can eat any food sold at the market, for The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof (Ps. 23:1). But if you are told that the food you are going to eat was sacrificed to idols, then don’t eat it lest that become a stumbling block to the one who has told you this (cf. 1 Cor. 8:9).

If the Christians of Antioch had consumed that food, the pagans would have made a laughingstock of the Church, and the weak Christians would have been misled and confused. But the Christians of Antioch abstained, limiting themselves to the boiled wheat after a week of fasting, showing great love for the mass of people who soon returned to the Church.

Thus, the feast of Triumph of Orthodoxy, which we are celebrating this Sunday, has been marked since the late fourth century on the first Sunday of Great Lent in commemoration of the intercession of the holy Great-Martyr Theodore the Tyro. And from the ninth century onwards the Orthodox began to associate this feast with the victory of Orthodoxy over all the heresies and iconoclasm.

In today's epistle, showing how much the Son of God surpasses the angels, the holy Apostle Paul says in the words of the Prophet David: But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of Thy Kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows (Heb. 1:8-9).

Christ is the eternal King of Glory, and the power of His Kingdom is in the truth because only the truth lasts forever as one of the Divine attributes. And all of us Christians are co-partakers of His victory and glory provided that we strive for the truth and turn away from iniquity. The name “Christ” translates as “Anointed One”, and, according to St. John Damascene, “He anointed Himself; as God anointing His body with His own divinity, and as Man being anointed.”2

And today all of us, dear brothers and sisters, have become partakers of His Divine nature, have received this anointing of joy and grace and united with Christ Who fills our hearts with gladness. So let us try never to grieve our Savior and never to return to sin, but to be worthy of the title of “children of God”, anointed with Him for the everlasting Kingdom. According to the Apostle Peter, we are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation (1 Pet. 2:9). And so, by our pious lives let us shew forth the praises of Him Who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light (1 Pet. 2:9) to others. Amen.

1 The citation source:

2 The citation source:

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