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600homily for 8/10/14 - P9 - self will

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  • David
    Aug 10, 2014
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      Matt. 14:22-34

      “Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before
      Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He
      had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to
      pray.” These few words are the transition between the miracle of the
      feeding of the 5,000 and the miracle of Jesus walking on the water; they
      “set the stage” as it were, finishing off one account and leading into
      another. We might assume that since this is only the transition between
      two great miracles these words might have little meaning on their own
      and yet this is not the case. St Nicholas of Ochrid tells us that these
      words describe four stages of prayer: the dismissal of the disciples and
      the people being withdrawal from the world, ascending the mountain being
      the lifting of the heart and mind to God, then the word “alone”
      emphasizes the solitude so beneficial to prayer and finally the darkness
      reminds us that the light of this world fails before the divine light of
      heaven that we encounter when we are in the presence of God. This is a
      great lesson – but it is not all. St Gregory Palamas uses these same
      words to show the future history of the Church, how our Lord, having
      taught and provided for the disciples and people in His presence, then
      withdraws, ascending to the Father. He has sent the disciples out into
      the sea of life in a boat – that is the “ark of salvation” which is the
      Church; the sea of life is stormy but while the disciples remain within
      the ark of salvation they are safe and at the “last hour of the night”
      that is near the end of the night, the Lord comes again to them and is
      made manifest as the ruler of all creation reminding us of the second
      coming of our Lord at the end of this world. There are no words wasted
      in the Gospel, nothing that we can just skip over to get to the “high
      points”. Everything that the evangelists recorded is filled with meaning
      and is the record of our Lord’s self-revelation to us. It is therefore
      necessary that we “search the scripture” diligently and pay attention to
      what we are being taught and not just ignore that which we think has
      little meaning or import.

      We must remember that we are all children in the Kingdom of God and as
      such we are all constantly being taught in many ways by God. We are
      being taught by every word of the Gospel which is our constant source of
      food. The Gospel, that is the whole of Scripture, however, is not the
      sole repository of our Lord’s teaching; there is much more given to us
      in the Holy Tradition of the Church of which the Scripture is but a
      part. The services of the Church themselves are filled with the teaching
      of Christ – the cycle of services recall the whole history of man from
      the creation and fall to the future coming of our Lord. The Divine
      Liturgy is the life of Christ played out before our eyes while at the
      same time we are fed with the most holy Body and most precious Blood of
      our Lord. The other practices of the Church, our sacraments, feasting,
      fasting, blessings, hymns, customs, prayers, disciplines and our very
      way of life are all means by which God communicates Himself to us. He
      speaks to us not only in the words written in the Gospel, but also by
      the lives and sayings of the saints, the words of the Holy Fathers and
      Mothers of the Church, and He has provided for us living guides and
      teachers in our hierarchs. There is no aspect of our lives that is not
      touched by the gentle hand of the Lord, instructing us and guiding us
      into the Kingdom of Heaven. There is nothing that we can ignore or
      dismiss, but all is of value to us as we work out our salvation.

      The sea of Tiberius, or Galilee as it is also called, is an image here
      for the life of this world. At times, it is calm and sunny, but quite
      suddenly it can become dark and stormy. The only safe haven in the midst
      of the sea is a sturdy boat. If a person remains in the boat, he remains
      safe as long as the boat itself is preserved. But if he ventures outside
      the boat, at any moment he can be overwhelmed by the violence of the
      waves and drown. A very common and ancient icon of the Church going back
      even to the dawn of our history with the account of the salvation of
      Noah in the great flood is that of a great ship, the “ark of salvation”.
      If we wish to remain safe throughout this life, protected from the wind,
      the waves and the darkness of the night of all the evils of this life,
      then we must remain in the boat, in the “ark of salvation” which is the
      Church. That means we must go not where we will, but where the master of
      the boat takes us. The Master of the Church is Christ and He steers the
      ship by using the rudder of the law of God, the sails of the breath of
      the Holy Spirit and the keel of His love for us. If we remain with Him,
      He brings us safely through this life into His heavenly Kingdom.

      The disciples were in the ship in the midst of the storm. They were
      blown about by the strength of the wind and were tossed by the violence
      of the waves. They were afraid, but remained safe within the haven of
      their ark of salvation. Towards the end of the night, in the midst of
      the storm, they saw Jesus coming to them, walking upon the surface of
      the water as though it were dry land. At first they thought that they
      had seen a ghost, but then realized that it was indeed the Lord coming
      to their aid. At this point, the Holy Apostle Peter called out and asked
      to come to the Lord walking on the water. Note that our Lord did not
      call Peter to Himself, but that this desire originated with Peter – it
      was an act of his own will, not of the will of God. While Jesus did not
      call Peter out of the boat, neither did He forbid Peter for here was a
      valuable lesson for Peter (and by extension the other disciples and for
      us) to learn. Peter, acting out of his own exuberance, his own desire
      and his own will then steps out of the boat – out of the ark of
      salvation which had kept him safe this whole time. As long as he
      remained focused solely on the Lord Jesus, he was safe, but the moment
      his strength failed, the moment his attention wavered even in the
      slightest, the moment he weakened, he began to sink. Jesus then,
      responded to his call for help, lifted Peter and did not set him back on
      the surface of the water, but placed him back in the boat, back in the
      ark of salvation where he belonged.

      What Peter does is no different than what we ourselves do. Having been
      preserved by the ark of salvation, we become filled with the idea that:
      now I have grown, now I am strong and wise and mature and I don’t need
      to stay within the walls of the Church. I can strike out on my own –
      just me and Jesus. I don’t need the Church (at least not all the time)
      because now I can go to Christ directly. But we forget that we are
      indeed still children and while such bravado might carry us a step or
      two on our own, soon we will fail and begin to sink into the waves. Then
      we call out to Christ who comes to us, lifts us up and puts us right
      back where we started, within the protective walls of the Church.

      Our self-will causes us to do foolish things – just as Peter acting out
      of his own self-will foolishly left behind the safety of the boat in the
      storm. Our self-will makes us ignore the teaching of the Church (at
      least those parts which don’t make sense or with which we disagree). Or
      it makes us dispute and argue with the teaching of the Church, insisting
      that the Church has to fit our ideas of what is good or necessary rather
      than setting aside our own wills, desires, ideas and reasonings for the
      will of God. We forget that we are children and that we are still being
      taught and that there is much left to learn. We act like the prodigal
      son and leave our Father’s house prematurely, thereby losing all that we
      think we had and returning to Him with nothing. Our self-will pushes us
      to act rashly on what we want rather than to submit to the shape and
      limits of the Church. Our self-will is our enemy that prompts us to jump
      out of the safety of the boat and, at the mercy of the violence of the
      wind and waves of this life, to sink into the depths of the sea and
      there perish.

      But our Lord is merciful – He loves us as a father loves his own
      children. When He sees that we do foolish things, He waits for our
      repentance and our cry for help. Then He is there, not to judge and
      punish, but with an open and willing hand lifting us up out of the
      depths of our foolishness and placing us again in the safe haven of the
      ark of salvation, the Church.

      Brothers and sisters, let us never forget that we are all but children
      together in the household of our Lord. He teaches us and instructs us
      and guides us on the path of salvation. He provides for us many means of
      instruction – the Scripture, the lives and teachings of the saints, the
      services of the Church, the practices of our Holy Tradition and the
      living example and words of our hierarches and pastors who bear the
      grace of God given for this very purpose. Let us not ignore or dispute
      or set aside even the smallest of the instruction that we are given, but
      rather let us set aside our own will and instead embrace all these
      things as the word of God given to us for our salvation.

      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org