Every year on the first Sunday of Great Lent we celebrate differently because we are invited to bring icons to church. Children are invited to process with clergy showing icons of the patron saints, Christ or the Holy Virgin Mary and general celebratory state of joy radiates among the people. Truly, we joyfully celebrate an event that brought about great joy to faithful Christians many centuries ago.
The Vespers of Sunday evening celebrates the event when iconography was fully restored once and for all as good and useful in our churches and homes. The event took place in the year 843 AD in Constantinople, when a procession with icons took place in the city headed by Patriarch Methodios and Empress Theodora along with her son Emperor Michael III. At the Hagia Sofia Cathedral in Constantinople clergy and laity together proclaimed the honor and veneration of icons as true Christian teaching. All rejoiced then but this proclamation had come with great turmoil and strife which lasted more than a century.
In the year 787 AD in the city of Nicaea, the Seventh Ecumenical Council convened by the Empress Irene already proclaimed the doctrine of veneration of iconography as true Christian doctrine but the debate which began earlier in 726 AD continued even after the Ecumenical Council until the glorious event of 843 in Constantinople. Repeatedly icons were removed from churches by iconoclasts and returned to churches by iconodules.
We do not worship icons, as worship is only due to God, but we venerate them as items which express the teachings of the Holy Church offering honor and veneration to the saints and events which they depict. May our forefathers and foremothers, especially the Holy Mothers Irene and Theodora, strengthen us to keep the teachings of the faith with piety and holiness!