We have to renounce iconoclasm. In so doing, we inherently set ourselves against certain forces within modernity. The truth is eschatological, that is, it lies in the future, but we also believe that this eschatological reality was incarnate in Christ, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. We do not oppose the future in embracing the Tradition we have received. We embrace the future that is coming in Truth, rather than the false utopias of modern man’s imagination.
Iconoclasm isn’t “just” the destruction of icons that took place in the 9th century and was ended with the Triumph of Orthodoxy, proclaimed by Empress Theodora in 843. Iconoclasm also involves rejecting and destroying accepted social norms, mores, and those examples we hold up for younger generations to follow.
It seems that each new generation is more iconoclastic than the one before – less respectful, less willing even to try to understand why certain polite actions are appropriate. A quote attributed to Socrates shows how ancient such problems are:
The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.
~SOCRATES (469–399 B.C.)
This quote may or may not be accurate, and may or may not actually be from Socrates. But it reflects the ongoing problem of dealing with the younger generation. They need limits, but, especially as they grow older, they need explanations. This means that parenting is really, really, REALLY hard work! We have a lot of responsibility – to our children, to the people around us, and to the future generations.
When we speak of the Church, we should be especially careful. There is a “slippery slope” that can lead to iconoclasm and the entire spectrum of heresy that follows. And, using the Church as an example, it begins with small breakings of the old “icons” of tradition.
The first to go usually is FASTING. It is too hard. It isn’t “healthy” for growing children. I can’t eat soy products. I’m traveling. I was invited somewhere and served non-fasting foods. The excuses go on and on and on. But when you come right down to it, avoiding fasting, not doing it, is purely and simply destruction of an Icon – an image that teaches us how to become closer to God.
It may be that the first to go is regular PRAYER and then Fasting follows. But a regular prayer life is necessary to lead us to God. Avoiding Prayer, forgetting Prayer, procrastinating about Prayer – all lead us down the slippery slope to iconoclasm. It is the destruction of another icon – an image that teaches us how to grow closer to God.
Without the support of Fasting and Prayer, it becomes too hard to ATTEND SERVICES. For Orthodox, attendance is not enough. One must partake of the Sacraments regularly. The Sacraments provide us the Food of Life and the Medicine of Immortality. Without them, we begin to die inside. When we destroy the Icon of the Services, we have then lost one of the last things that sustain our Faith.
Similarly, when we lose the small amenities of politeness, we begin to lose the structure that supports our society. Iconoclasm. Breaking Icons. It starts a slide down a slippery slope. Ask the Roman Empire about it. Ask the Episcopal Church about it.
Now you know why the Orthodox Church is so strict about not changing traditions.
Now you know why the older generation is – or should be – strict about adhering to etiquette and politeness, to industry, moderation, patience, self-reliance, and independence; patriotism and modern republicanism; the civic virtues of vigilance and spirited participation; the Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation transcribed by George Washington – all those virtues so beloved of and upheld by the founders of our country. In our own generation, William Bennett, in his Book of Virtues, listed Self-Discipline, Compassion, Responsibility, Friendship, Work, Courage, Perseverance, Honesty, Loyalty, and Faith as those things we need to preserve in our everyday life. The Orthodox would say that Faith requires the support of Fasting, Prayer, Almsgiving and the Divine Services in order to maintain it as a living part of ourselves.
So just maybe we need to look back as well as forward and teach or children civil behavior in social situations and to respect the Icons – both of Church and of society.