It happens every year, but it never comes as a surprise. Indeed, the Church does such a good job of preparing us for Lent that by the time Forgiveness Sunday rolls around, we’ve learned all about our spiritual life. We’ve desired the Lord with Zacchaeus. We’ve fallen before God with the Publican. We’ve returned to the Father with the Prodigal, and we’ve stood before the King with the sheep…or goats (but hopefully not the goats).
The Church knows that without preparation for Lent, we would not be ready to experience Lent, and without Lent, we would not be ready to experience the life-giving Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord. It seems that the Lord and His Church are on to something about being human: we need to be prepared.
This coming Sunday is the First Sunday of Lent: the Triumph of Orthodoxy. It is the day that we take icons in our hands and proudly confess, “This is the faith of the apostles. This is the faith of the fathers. This is the faith of Orthodox.”
I always love that part.
But it also the day that we will hear these words in the Gospel reading:
Philip found Nathanael, and he said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him and said of him, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
In this reading, we see that God’s people, the Israelites, had also undergone a great deal of preparation, waiting to encounter “him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth.” The entire Old Testament, we learn from this, points to Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of all that God has been seeking to do from the beginning.
In the beginning, Moses tells us, God sets out to complete a work, namely, to create a human being in His own image, after His own likeness (Gen. 1:26). This work of God begun in Genesis is ultimately and only completed in Christ, who is Himself “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). Or, as Christ says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). Or, to put it another way, “Jesus’ human face is the face of God.”
The invisible, immaterial, unlimited Son of God (God Himself!) was pleased to take on flesh and become incarnate. Jesus Christ’s human face is the face of the Son of God, the face of divinity. Moreover, we who share in the same humanity that Christ Himself bore (and continues to bear), who become truly human by being incorporated into Christ as members of His Body, also share in that same image of God, the Image that Jesus Christ Himself is. As St. Athanasius writes, “The Word of God came in His own person, because it was He alone, the Image [Icon] of the Father, Who could recreate man after the Image [of God].”2
We are his icons, as He is the Icon, the perfect Image and Likeness of God the Father.
In Jesus Christ, the thousands of years of preparation that God’s people had been given through Moses and the Prophets reach their fulfillment. And it is in us that the work of God, that is, the formation of human beings in His own image, the creation of His new icons, continues today. And so this Sunday, we rightly celebrate the use and veneration of icons of Jesus Christ and his Saints, his completed icons, and this is truly the Triumph of Orthodoxy.
But most especially, it is Christ Himself who is the Triumph of Orthodoxy, for it is He Himself who is truly the fulfillment of all that was written in Moses and the prophets. For it is in Him, the perfect Icon of the Father, that we see everything that it is to be a human being in God’s very image, and it is in Him that we, too, become truly human as we share in God’s own image. So let us bear this in mind as we, icons of the Icon, bear icons in our hands, proudly confessing that this is truly the “faith that has established the universe.”
1 Andrew Root, The Relational Pastor: Sharing in Christ by Sharing Ourselves (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove: 2013), p. 157.
2 St Athanasius, On the Incarnation (St. Vladimir Seminary Press, Crestwood: 1993), p. 41.
Christian is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, and occasional CrossFitter. He works full-time as a child and adolescent therapist, and in his off-time likes to devote his mental energy to the Church and the Church's ministry in and to the world. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.
For more on the Gospel reading for the Sunday of Orthodoxy, please see our annotations of the passage at our annotated Gospel project, ExeGenius.