Encyclical of SCOBA for the Sunday of Orthodoxy
“The honor rendered to the icon ascends to the Prototype.” St. Basil the Great, ‘On the Holy Spirit’
March 16, 2008
The Sunday of Orthodoxy
The Hierarchs of the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) to all the Clergy and the Laity of the Holy Orthodox Church in the Americas
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
We, the Hierarchs of the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas, greet you with one voice and with one heart on this great and grace-filled Feast of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the first Sunday of our yearly sojourn to the Holy Pascha. We stand together with you, who are the living icons of God, holding in our hands the icons whose very existence confirms that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (St. John 1:14).
We celebrate this day as a day of victory, as a day of triumph for the Orthodox Faith of Christ and restoration of the Sacred Icons to the Churches of the Faithful Christian People. Over eleven hundred years have passed since the generations of those Orthodox Christians who surrendered their liberties and their lives to save images composed of wood and paint. The controversy known as Iconoclasm, a period of 150 convulsive years, was truly a proving-ground for our Orthodox Faith. Against those who treated the Sacred Icons as idols, the Church of Christ emerged victorious.
As we affirm in the Synodikon of Orthodoxy, the Church has never worshipped idols. Such an accusation would be absurd, especially in view of the injunction of St. John, the Beloved Disciple: "Little children, guard yourselves against the idols." (I John 5:21). Rather, it has always been understood, as St. Basil the Great states so eloquently: "The honor rendered to the icon ascends to the Prototype." Thus the icons become points of entry to the Divine Presence – windows and doors opening onto Heaven itself. The honor, love and veneration that we render, is not rendered to the material elements from which the icon is composed.
By the grace and power of God, they ascend to the prototype, the one who is represented. And inasmuch as every Saint of the Church reflects, as it were, the light of Christ Himself, the Prototype of every icon is Christ Himself, Who is " the Icon of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature" (Colossians 1:15). Or to put it more simply, every icon is an icon of Christ, the real and momentous presence of God in our Midst, the God Who is with us, Emmanuel (cf. St. Matthew 1:23).
This is our way of venerating the Icons that adorn our homes and the Temples of our Church Communities. Let us then, regardless of the material nature of the icons – whether they are hand-painted or printed, on wood or paper, covered in silver and gold or presented in a simple frame – let us venerate them with love and with spiritual ardor. And let us not forget that we too are “temples” as the Apostle Paul has said: "Do you not know that you are the Temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (I Corinthians 3:16). So let us also give due respect to the icon within each one of us, the image of the Living God, as well as to all our brothers and sisters who bear the same image, and who dwell in the same Church.
With paternal blessings and love in Christ,
+Archbishop DEMETRIOS Chairman
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
+Metropolitan PHILIP, Vice Chairman
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
+Metropolitan CHRISTOPHER, Secretary
Serbian Orthodox Church in the USA and Canada
+Metropolitan NICHOLAS of Amissos, Treasurer
American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese in the USA
Orthodox Church in America
Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America and Canada
Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA
+Bishop ILIA of Philomelion
Albanian Orthodox Diocese of America