Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
The scene put before us in today’s Holy Gospel is one of the most indelible images from the life of our Lord and his disciples and it is an icon for us of the spiritual life and our relationship with God.
Our Lord had sent the disciples ahead of Him in a boat while He took time to be alone with God, His Father. While the disciples were in the midst of the sea, a storm began to rage and they were tossed about and began to fear for their lives. In the midst of this, imagine the fear and awe that grips the disciples as they see our Lord walking toward them upon the waters – and the relief and joy they experience as He tells them the reassuring words: ‘Be of good cheer! It is I, do not be afraid’. And then we have the incredible image of Apostle Peter stepping out of the boat onto the waters to walk toward our Lord – initially stepping forth in enthusiasm and great faith, and then beginning to fear and waver as the waters toss all around him. He begins to sink and calls out to the Lord to save him and immediately our Lord is there to stretch forth His hand and lead him back into the boat. Today’s Gospel reading concludes with the disciples all safely in the boat with our Lord - the seas have been calmed and they prostrate themselves before Him proclaiming ‘Truly, Thou art the Son of God!’
When our Lord summoned Apostle Peter to come to Him, Apostle Peter demonstrates in this moment a self-forgetting, Christ-focused faith in God. As long as he kept his eyes on Christ he walked upon the water as if it were dry land. But what happened?... We read that, “when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out ‘Lord save me!’ And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O ye of little faith, why did you doubt?’” The moment Apostle Peter took his eyes off of Christ and began to concern himself with the turbulent waters all around him, with his fears and doubts, this is when he began to sink. Thanks be to God, our Lord was close at hand and when Peter cried out, ‘Lord save me!’ Jesus stretched out His hand and brought him safely back into the boat.
Brothers and sisters in Christ… what a powerful image this places before us as we find ourselves being buffeted on all sides by the turbulent times we are living in!
As the American patriot Thomas Paine once said: ‘These are times which try men’s souls.’ It is deeply concerning to hear of all the things going on in the world today: fires raging in Greece, Siberia, and here in our own country and state; the devastation of the recent earthquake in Haiti which killed hundreds and has left thousands homeless – including our priest Fr Pierre Laguerre and four families, whose houses collapsed in the quake; the tragic situation in Afghanistan, where so many people have been left like sheep thrown to the wolves, where Christians are being hunted down by the Taliban; and of course the animosity and fear and division we see being perpetuated over the politicization of just about everything … right vs left, vaxers vs antivaxers, etc., etc..
The waves of chaos are rising high all around us these days.
And what does today’s Gospel account have to teach us about all this? I believe it has a very important message for us…
The waves of these disasters – both natural and man-made – may rage all around us. It is all-too-natural for us to react to these things and for us to become preoccupied… becoming anxious, attempting to gain some semblance of control by making sense of things through endless exposure to the news and forming our theories and explanations, allowing our passions to be ignited in anger, frustration, or fear.
But if our response to the many negative and demonic things happening in the world is to heap our anger or our fear or our despair upon the already existing turbulence of the waves of this world… If our reaction to all this is to keep vigil in front of our computers rather than before our icons - we will lose sight of the Only One Who can calm the storm. We will inevitably become like the Apostle Peter – terrified by the waves crashing all around him as he begins to sink into their watery depths.
The call to keep your gaze fixed upon Christ is not a call to stick your head in the sand. Many of the crises which rage around us require a response. And the first and foremost response of a Christian is to fall on his knees in prayer! This is something we all must do!
And, depending upon our capabilities and circumstances, we may also be more directly engaged in doing what we can to combat the waves of chaos splashing against us. We must stand for our Christian brothers and sisters who are being persecuted around the world. We should do what we can to support those who have been devastated by disasters both natural and man-made. And regarding the divisive issues confronting us, we should avoid hysteria on the right or on the left… and instead, through prayer and fasting, we must listen to our conscience and discern what seems best for others and for ourselves.
In all these things, as the Gospel illustrates for us, the most important thing is that we keep our eyes fixed upon Christ.
Our Christian calling is to a life in Christ. It means a life which is already experiencing eternity – and therefore has perspective upon the temporal things of this world. It means a life filled with hope, with joy and with peace. That optimism is not wishful thinking… it must be grounded in a growing level of experience of the reality of the transfiguring grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We celebrate today the Afterfeast of the Transfiguration of our Lord. That otherworldly light, which shone forth from Christ atop Mt Tabor, can and should shine upon this troubled world. That light finds its reflection in the hearts of those who will pray… of those who, with resolve and determination, will stand fast and be Orthodox Christians amid these troubled times.
May that transfiguring light of Christ shine brightly upon you… filling you with His radiance. And may our dark and troubled world then be brightened by your reflecting forth that light of Christ.