Metropolitan Moses - Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
- Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Todays gospel passage contains one of the most encouraging and hopeful messages for us all.
Our Saviour just completed feeding the five thousand and sent both the disciples and the multitudes away. He then went up onto a mountain to pray in solitude, not because he needed to separate Himself from the multitude to converse with the Father, since He is everywhere present and fills all things, but so as to show Himself as an example and a pattern for us all.
The disciples were in the ship rowing until the fourth watch of the night and wind was contrary. They were discouraged and anxious and our Savoir passed by, walking on the water. Upon seeing him, they thought He was a spirit. Our Saviour called out to them to them saying, Fear not, it is I. Saint Peter in his ardour and zeal said If it is Thou, bid me come on the water And our Saviour bade him to come. So Saint Peter undertook to approach our Saviour, and seeing the wind boisterous and the waves of the sea, thoughts began to enter his mind. He reasoned also concerning the great depth of the sea, which as a fisherman he knew so well. These things filled his mind and he became distracted even in the presence of our Saviour. His faith began to fail him and he started to sink, yet even in his failings he knew Who to turn to, and cried out, Lord save me!
Our Saviour replied, O ye of little faith, why didst thou doubt? Clearly warning us that lack of faith is an obstacle to any of the works of virtue and the grace of God.
It is good to reflect at this point on the character of Saint Peter. Saint Peter was a good man with many virtues. He demonstrated his humility when our Saviour worked the miracle of the great catch of fish and in astonishment Saint Peter humbly said, Lord depart from me for I am a sinful man. Saint Peter had zeal and lovebut his faith was not always as it should have been. Time went on, St Peter saw miracles, healed the sick and even experienced the Transfiguration. Then he endured another more grievous tempest than beforeour Saviours voluntary Passion.
At the Mystical Supper our Saviour warned Saint Peter that, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have made supplication for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou hast turned again, strengthen thy brethren.(Luke 22:31-32) St John Kronstant explains that by the term sifting our Saviour meant that Satan was going to distract Saint Peters mind and make him forgetful and cause him to fall.
The chief priests and the officers appeared at the Garden of Gethsemane to take our Saviour and in his ardour Saint Peter pulled out his sword and cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest. Saviour commanded him to put away his sword. Consternation and confusion set in, yet, when our Saviour was taken away, Saint Peter followed him out of love and devotion. Saint Peter was threatened and he was distracted and faltered in his forgetfulness. He was accused that he was a disciple of Jesus by one of the maids and he denied. Again he was accused and again he denied. Then, according to our Saviors prediction, the cock crowed and Saint Peter had to confront his sin. He had become distracted and that lead to confusion, which tempted his faith, which lead to denial. Yet he knew where to turn to and did not despair but wept bitterly before God. His faith failed him, but he did not lose faith in Gods mercy. These things are recorded for us that we keep the remembrance of this faith in Gods mercy for time of need. Saint Peter demonstrated what the Holy Fathers call praiseworthy audacity. We should always trust in Gods mercy and even be audacious in our pursuit of it. Yet, we have to act in order to find mercy. We have to find a way to repent.
How do we know that Saint Peter repented? There is a tradition that whenever Saint Peter heard a rooster crow, he remembered his denial and wept. That is an important lesson for us. If we fall into a sin and try and convince ourselves that we have repented, the only way to be sure is by the measure of our contrition and regret. It is easy for us to be lazy and complacent and not really repent. One indication that we have not repented is if someone were to bring the sin up and we become angry or try and justify ourselves, or trivialize our sin. Such and attitude is self-deception and not repentance.
Saint Peter had failings, but he loved God. The elder Ambrose of Optina once stated, You know, personalities are only significant in human judgement, and that is why they are praised or scorned. But in Gods judgement, personalities, like natural tendencies, are not approved or disapproved. The Lord looks at good intentions and struggle for the good, and values opposition to the passions
Yea, our God looks to the sincere disposition of the heart and struggle and effort. Saint Peter failed, yet because he loved and was sincere and did not justify or trivialize his actions, grace supported him even in his fall and eventually restored him.
This image of Saint Peter in the wind tossed depths of the sea is a powerful one. It reminds one of the many perils that the saints endured, and yet in the midst of perils the kept their eyes on Christ.
As Saint Paul described his spiritual journey of contending with the billows of life, in scourgings above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths often. From the Jews five times received I forty scourges save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep, in journeyings often, in perils of rivers, in perils of robbers, in perils from countrymen, in perils from heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren, in weariness and painfulness, in vigils often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside external matters, the tumult against me daily, the care of all the Churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is scandalized, and I am not inflamed? (1Cor 11)
Such is the Apostolic life. It is precisely because they were steadfast in similar perils the saints were glorified. Saint John Chrysostom lived during the golden age of Christianity. Yet, his life was filled with tumult from the time he became Archbishop of Constantinople. The Patriarch of Alexandria Theophilus did not want him as a candidate and continually intrigued against him after he was elected. The local clergy resented him because they thought he was too strict in some matters. He raised the ire of the Empress because he complained about immodest dress (including hers) and stood up to her when she took some land that had been part of a poor familys estate for generations. Whisperings and intrigues were continually used against him. These storms intrigue were against the Golden Mouth, the greatest preacher in the history of the Church. The empress and the patriarch of Alexandria conspired against him and he ended his life in exile ever looking to our Saviour and saying, Glory to God for all things.
Saint Herman of Alaska was part of that band of heroic men that came to Alaska to preach the world of God to the local natives. After Saint Juvenal was slain by a certain group of natives, Saint Herman and the others found willing converts to the word of God, but it was a corrupt leader of the Russian America Company that undermined all of their efforts. As it is written in the life, the others became demoralized, yet Saint Herman simply withdrew from the corrupt leader and redoubled his prayers, finding another location and way to help the Christian converts. Things were not as he wished, but he prayerfully kept the mind of his eye on Christ and made it through the storm.
These things are recorded in the lives of the saints in order to instruct us how we can set our gaze on Christ in the midst of storms in our own lives.
Today there is much confusion in the world. There may be a time when to do the right thing for yourselves and your families will be very unpopular with society and with those you interact with on a daily basis. When a Christian stands for what is right that person is many times vilified in the press and abandoned by fair weather friends.
It is precisely during these times we must remember the image of Saint Peter and the examples of the saints and more earnestly direct our gaze towards our Lord Jesus. Without our Christ we are nothing, with Him we can rise above the storms of life. In Christ we can find forgiveness of sins, if we truly repent. Let us seek the face of God at all times and be strengthened (Psalm 104) in the storms of life and find consolation both here and in the age to come, in Christ Jesus, to Whom be all glory honour and worship with His Unoriginate Father and all Holy and Good and Life Creating Spirit. AmenIn Christ,+Fr. Panagiotes
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