The first Sunday of Great Lent is dedicated to the restoration of the holy icons.  During the turbulent years of the late 7th and early 8th centuries, the Church faced a division and crisis of faith.  On one side, were the iconoclasts, literally the icon destroyers, who found all images of Christ, The Theotokos, and the saints to be idolatrous demanding their destruction.  This group had the backing of the emperor, some bishops and clergy, and the army.  On the other side of this division were the iconophiles, the icon lovers-composed of bishops, clergy, and the faithful, who defended the veneration of icons of Christ, The Theotokos, and the saints.  This group rightly incorporated the veneration of icons into their spiritual life offering the honor and devotion to the prototype, not to the wood and pigment which depicted the image.  The iconophiles claimed that God took on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, and so it is proper that we, the faithful, depict Christ, His Mother, and the saints in ways that assist us in drawing closer to God. 

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After 150 years of civil war and strife, the iconophiles emerged triumphant.  The clergy and faithful restored the holy icons to the churches, public buildings and their homes with great solemnity.  As the icons reentered daily life, our faith and understanding increased with the daily use of icons as a means toward holiness.  St. Athanasius the Great said, “God became man so man could become like God.”  This statement reinforces the scriptural teaching that Jesus Christ was truly God and truly man-He was not a phantom or demiurge.  Christ took on human flesh and lived a real existence.  Christ felt hunger and pain.  He expressed love and joy.  Our Savior died and rose again.  All of this becomes integrated into our lives through the words of Holy Scripture and the colors of an icon.  Each medium presents the truth of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. 

As we celebrate the restoration of the holy icons, let us focus on restoring the image of the divine found in each of us.  We are created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1.7).  We possess the grace and gift of the Holy Spirit.  Let us take time during the season of Great Lent and use the gifts of fasting, prayer, and philanthropy to remove the layers of sin that blur the image of the divine within us and allow Christ’s light to illume our souls.  St. Seraphim of Sarov reminds each of us how we can achieve salvation and share it with others: “Acquire the Holy Spirit, and a thousand around you will be saved.”