The Triumph of Truth and the New Zealand Tragedy
What is truth?
Do you remember when Jesus was arrested and stood in front of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate? Pilate questioned him, trying to understand what and who He is. At one point he asks Jesus, “Are You a king then?” To which Jesus replies, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” And then Pilate asked Him, “What is truth?”
The Truth stood in front of Pilate, and yet the governor didn’t recognize truth, he didn’t want to understand it, and thus, he crucified the Truth. Before this encounter, Jesus told His followers, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
How often do we not recognize Jesus Christ as the Truth of God, or maybe we don’t understand Him or His teachings of truth, or worse yet, we choose to ignore Him or remain deaf to His teachings. Since the truth of God sometimes goes against certain of our own ideas or beliefs or desires or passions, we choose to crucify it!
Well, today on the First Sunday of Lent, which is often called the Sunday of Orthodoxy, we highlight the restoration of truth. For more than 100 years, there was a conflict going on about the role of icons in the church. Although the Church used iconography and various art forms from the first century onward – in more primitive forms in the catacombs in Rome to more developed forms in the following centuries – some people started to question the use of icons as an authentic and healthy part of Church worship and reverence in the 8th and 9th centuries.
Maybe these new concerns arose partly from the growing influence of the new religion of Islam which popped up in the 7th century with its extreme iconoclastic views. And maybe there were other factors in play. Whatever the reason, some people, included many bishops and priests, condemned the use of icons in worship, and began desecrating and destroying icons in every Church. A 120-year battle ensued, until finally in the year 843, the Empress St. Theodora and the Patriarch St. Methodios oversaw the end of the debate in favor of icons. Afterwards, they declared the first Sunday in Lent as the Sunday of Orthodoxy and the Triumph of Orthodoxy.
In the end, the importance of the battle wasn’t solely over icons themselves, however, but more so was over Truth. Icons are appropriate in worship because of the Incarnation – God Himself became human and therefore can be portrayed in an icon as a human! Thus, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom once stated “The Triumph of Orthodoxy … is the Triumph of Divine Truth in the hearts of those who belong to the Orthodox Church and who proclaim this Truth revealed by God in its integrity and directness.”
The triumph of truth! This is what we celebrate today, and this is what we want to strive to highlight in our lives. Can we be people who live by the truth of Jesus Christ and His Church? Can we follow the truth, even when the truth may seem inconvenient or difficult to accept in our world today? Pontius Pilate stood before the Truth incarnate and didn’t recognize Him. Instead, He rejected Him and crucified Him. How often do we do the same today with the truth of Christ?
Well, we could talk about many aspects of God’s truth, but I want to highlight what should be an obvious truth, especially in like of the recent tragedy that occurred in New Zealand. Once again we are confronted by a horrible reality of hatred and evil. We all have read about the confused and possessed neo-nazi white supremacist, who goes into two mosques and kills 50 people while they are praying, injuring another 36 others as well. Why? Because they were Muslim. Because they were immigrants. Because they were different then himself. Because he allowed himself to be influenced and seduced by the great lie of hatred and violence towards those who are different than himself.
The unequivocal truth of God, however, is that God is Love. He loves all people unconditionally. God loves Christians AND Muslims. He loves believers AND atheists. God loves those who have grown up in this country AND He loves immigrants, whether legal or illegal. God loves even white supremacists, even though their actions are utterly against His ways. He longs for such lost, dark souls to find the light and turn away from the hell they are living in. God is love and loves all people unconditionally, and He has taught us that the two greatest commandments of life are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor.
What is truth? The truth of God is that life is all about loving others, all others without exception!
And that also includes those we perceive to be our enemies. “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven… Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Mt 5:44, 45, 48)
Jesus showed through His teachings and with His life how great His divine love is for those who were foreigners, for those who were of a different faith, for even those who were corrupt, or impure, or sinful in any way. At times He would praise the faith of a foreigner over the faith of His own people. Christ never taught His followers to hate anyone, but instead to choose the path of love! Even on the cross as He is crucified by the Romans and His own people, He says, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.” He died on the cross to take upon Himself the sins of the ENTIRE world, all people everywhere!
God is love. Christ is love. And Jesus calls His followers to become people of divine love.
This truth should be so obvious, but when we are confronted with the evil and dark hatred we saw in New Zealand, we need to look at ourselves and see whether we allow the seeds of such hatred to take root within our own hearts? Be honest with yourself when we ask, "What do we think of others who are different from ourselves? How do we think of those who believe differently? What do we think of the immigrants in our country, whether legal or illegal immigrants? What do we think of those from other religions and countries, whether Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Sikh? Those who are Hispanic or Black or of another color?"
As God’s people of love, we need to take care of how we view the “other,” as well as how we talk about them. Do we speak about those different from ourselves with respect, with kindness, with dignity, with love? Or do we carelessly accept certain caricatures of “those people?” How do we respond when others flippantly judge millions of people we don’t know with certain stereotypes and offensive labels?
To love our neighbor means to be respectful in every way, with the way we speak about them, the words we use for them, the attitudes we hold towards them.
To love the other, as God loves us. Unconditionally.
Today this is the truth of God I want to highlight and challenge us all to live with each and every day of our lives
Holy Father John the Righteous, disciple of St. Gregory of Decapolis; Euthemios the Enlightener of Karelia; Cosmas, Bishop of Calcydon; John the New Martyr of Epiros; Athanasia the Wonderworker of Aegina
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