This is the third in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about that particular Sunday’s focus. We will share each blog early, so that you have time to read it before the forthcoming Sunday, in case you find any of those ideas helpful for your particular class.
Here’s a meditation on the Sunday of Orthodoxy for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:
On this first Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the return of icons into the life of the Church. In 726, the Iconoclastic Controversy began. The iconoclasts were people who were convinced that icons did not belong in the church. They considered the icons to be heresy, because they believed that the Orthodox were worshipping the icons, and God commanded us not to worship graven images.
But Orthodoxy has always clearly taught that we worship God, and no one – and nothing – else. We venerate icons, because we respect and honor these people who have loved God so completely, and we also honor Christ as we see Him reflected in their life. And that is not the only reason that it is proper to have and venerate icons. More importantly, since Christ took on human flesh, He has become visible and tangible. As a result, we can make an icon of Him, because we know how He looks. (In fact, He Himself made the first icon, the “Icon-not-made-with-hands”!) Icons help to solidify for us the incarnation of Christ.
But unfortunately, the zealous iconoclasts did not (or refused to) understand all of this. Much blood was shed as they removed and ruined icons from the churches, then persecuted and killed their Orthodox neighbors. Many Orthodox Christians hid the icons in their homes in order to protect them.
The iconoclast struggle went on for more than a century. It began to come to an end when the seventh ecumenical council met and declared once and for all that icons should be allowed in churches, and given the same veneration as is given to the Cross and the Gospel book. It finally ended on the first Sunday of Great Lent in 843, when the Empress Theodora (acting as regent for her son Michael) proclaimed that icons should be returned to their proper place in the churches, and they were! Every year since then, on the first Sunday of Great Lent, the Orthodox Church has celebrated the return of the icons to the Church. This Sunday has come to be called the “Triumph of Orthodoxy” or the “Sunday of Orthodoxy.”
It is no accident that, on this Sunday, our Epistle reading is from St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews 11:24-26, 32-40, where we read of the faithfulness of the patriarchs, and the pain that which they endured, in order to maintain that faithfulness. The epistle encourages all of us to fight on for what is right, as did both the patriarchs and the iconophiles. The Gospel reading, John 1:43-51, is also not accidental. It tells of when Christ first called Philip, who called Nathaniel and told him to “come and see!”
The icons in our churches and our homes are a beautiful way for us to “come and see” God and what He has done in the life of others. They simultaneously tell us stories and point us to Christ, who is alive and at work through His saints. We venerate icons because we love Him and how He has worked in the lives of those who have fought the good fight and finished the race before us. Glory to God, who is great in His saints!
Thy pure image do we venerate, O good One, asking forgiveness of our sins, O Christ our God; for by Thine own will Thou didst ascend the Cross in Thy body, to save Thy creatures from the bondage of the enemy. Thou hast verily filled all with joy, since Thou didst come, O our Savior, to save the world.
Here are a variety of ideas that may be helpful to you, should you plan to teach your students about the Sunday of Orthodoxy:
Check out the Orthodox Christian Network’s weekly children’s bulletin, “The Children’s Word,” found here: http://myocn.net/orthodox-christian-childrens-newsletter/. Each week’s bulletin features something related to the life of the church that week.
You may be able to use parts or all of last year’s Sunday of Orthodoxy bulletin in your church school class, in a lesson about the Triumph of Orthodoxy. Find it here: http://myocn.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Childrens-Word-263.pdf
Find a printable line art version of the icon of the Restoration of Icons here: http://dce.oca.org/resources/tag/lent/
This video episode of “Be the Bee” discusses icons, their importance, the difference between worship and veneration, and some of the background which led to the triumph over iconoclasm which we celebrate on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8iFOgppS6Y
There are many different beautiful icon craft ideas that you may wish to add to a lesson on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Find some of them here:
Teachers of students in the middle grades or higher will want to take a look at the way the Sunday of Orthodoxy’s origin is explained in a way that can be read to (or by) your students, here: http://otftd.blogspot.com/2013/03/a-lesson-on-sunday-of-orthodoxy.html
Middle school, high school, or even adult students will find this video about the Triumph of Orthodoxy to be a good launching pad for a discussion about this Sunday. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2ZMK7XlhRU It ties in the Gospel and Epistle readings with the theme of the day!