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March 8, 2023

Fifth Homily on the Sunday of Orthodoxy (St. Luke of Simferopol)

On Iconoclasm

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on March 26, 1950)

Holy Orthodoxy, having conquered all heresies, was established forever.

Many false teachers and schismatic or heretical teachers have risen since ancient times. There were heresies that shook the Church for centuries, such as the heresies of Arius, Macedonius, Eutychius, Dioscorus, Nestorius, and the iconoclastic heresy. They brought an innumerable, the gravest sufferings to the Church, and there were many confessors and martyrs who shed their blood for true Orthodoxy in the struggle against these false teachers and heretics. Many great saints were exiled, some were even deprived of their office several times. Saint Flavian, Patriarch of Constantinople, at what was called a "robber synod", and headed by the heretic Dioscorus, was beaten so hard that he died three days later.

The iconoclastic heresy was one of the fiercest. It began under the emperor Leo the Isaurian, who came to the throne in 717. He was a protege of the army and completely dependent on them, and in the army there were many opponents of the veneration of holy icons. Wanting to please the army, he began a cruel persecution of the Orthodox.

This persecution was continued by his successor Constantine Copronymos. What does this name "Copronymos" mean? "Kopros" in Greek means "feces". The wicked one received this name because during Baptism he defiled the font. These two emperors reigned for a very long time and caused the Church the greatest suffering. They were followed by other iconoclast emperors who continued their evil work and tormented the Church for more than a hundred years.

The suffering that the Church then endured is indescribable, especially the monks, who stood most staunchly for the veneration of holy icons. Iconoclast emperors closed almost all monasteries and temples that had holy icons, turning them into warehouses and military bases. The monks were tortured and tormented, their eyes were gouged out, their noses were cut off, their heads were smashed with icons. Those who painted icons had their fingers burned on red-hot copper boards, until they were charred.

And only when the Empress Irene ascended the Byzantine throne, she managed - though only for a while - to stop this persecution, restore the veneration of holy icons and convene the Seventh Ecumenical Synod in 787, which restored the legality and correctness of icon veneration. After her, a new iconoclast, Emperor Theophilos, rose up, but the iconoclastic heresy was nevertheless cut off by the pious Empress Theodora, who in 842 convened a holy synod that finally approved the dogma of icon veneration. This synod pronounced an anathema on all those who dared to say that the veneration of icons is idolatry, and called us Christians idolaters.

But even today the sectarians continue their iconoclasm. Recently, in a Siberian city, two Baptists entered a church during a divine service and began to shout loudly, calling Christians idolaters and icons idols. Isn't this crazy?

Why do they dare to spew snake venom with their impious lips? After all, this is a deep misunderstanding of the second commandment of the Law of Moses: “You shall not make for yourself a graven image of any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; do not worship them and do not serve them, for I am the Lord your God” (Ex. 20:4). What does this commandment mean? Its meaning is quite clear. It forbids the creation of graven images, that is, idols, and forbids instead of giving honor to the True God to honor soulless idols, like those revered by the ancient Assyro-Babylonians, ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans and other pagan peoples.

The Egyptians revered the bull Apis; there were madmen who revered monkeys, crocodiles, various reptiles. They revered the sun and the moon and made their images. Images of their fictional, non-existent gods: Baal, Astarte, Zeus, Apollo, Hermes and others, images of animals and reptiles were worshiped as true gods in the belief that imaginary gods live in idols.

This is truly idolatry. Its essence is that people turn away from the True God and serve demons. From many stories about the lives of the saints of God, we know that in many of these idols, indeed, demons lived, whom the holy apostles and saints cast out by prayer to the Lord.

Does our veneration of holy icons have anything to do with this, does it even remotely resemble idolatry? Of course not. We do not deify holy icons, but, venerating the holy image, we honor the True God, or His Most Pure Mother, or the holy saint depicted on the icon. Looking at the holy image with bodily eyes, we turn our spiritual eyes to the archetype.

Holy icons, like Holy Scripture, remind us of real people and events. Did not our Lord and God Jesus Christ really incarnate and live on earth, among us, whose icon we give honor and praise? Did not the Most Holy Theotokos live on earth, whose image was painted by the holy Evangelist Luke? And She blessed this image and said: "With this image My grace will remain forever." Do the unreasonable sectarians know about this? Have they not heard how many miracles are performed from the icons of the Most Holy Theotokos?

And what about the icons of the saints of God, whom God Himself glorified? Isn't their image the strongest sermon of the greatness of their feat in life, glorifying the power of God? Have they not taught and are not teaching us to worship the one God and live according to His will? Are these idols? What wicked mouth dares to call them idols and us idolaters? Let the wicked be silent, for the holy Ecumenical Synod has pronounced an anathema on them. Remember this and be afraid, be afraid to be with those on whom the anathema was pronounced at the last Seventh Ecumenical Synod, which finally approved the Orthodox faith and trampled and shamed all heresies and all schisms.

Long ago was the last Ecumenical Synod, more than a thousand years ago. Since then there have been no such Synods in the Orthodox Church. Why? For political reasons, because of the impossibility of convening them. But is it necessary to grieve too much that there are no more Ecumenical Synods?s No, it is not necessary, for the first seven Synods did everything that had to be done to trample on all heresies and to fully establish the Orthodox faith.

Perhaps you will say: “But there are still many new heresies, schisms; an innumerable number of sects arise. Yes, this is true, but all these heresies and schisms do not bring anything new in comparison with the ancient heresies and schisms. They repeat and develop the thoughts of the ancient heretics, completely refuted and completely deposed by the Seven Ecumenical Synods. Therefore, it is enough that great wisdom that we have in their teaching.

That is why we say that Orthodoxy was finally established at the Seventh Ecumenical Synod, and today is a day of great triumph and joy, on which the Holy Church has established giving thanks to God for the strengthening of Orthodoxy. Let us also join this prayerful singing. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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