The Miraculous Catch of Fish

Gospel: Luke 5:1-11

1 While the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret. 2 And he saw two boats by the lake; but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, 7 they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zeb’edee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

When I was a young monastic in the Podvorie of St Seraphim in Birmingham, Igumen Seraphim and I very much liked the simple homilies of Archbishop Andrei of Rockland (1893-1973), of blessed memory – a vicar-bishop of the Eastern-American Diocese of our Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

Returning home tired from work and confession last night, I turned to his homily for today’s Gospel and was glad that I did so.

I will let Vladyka Andrei set the scene:

“Christ was preaching on the lake of Gennesaret. Now the sermon has finished. There were two boats at the shore, and Christ had been preaching from one of them. Here He addressed the Apostle Peter and said: “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets.” Peter answered: “Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing” (Lk. 5:4-5). And the Apostles were experienced fishermen; they knew the laws of the sea. If at night-time no fish were caught, then during the day a catch was out of the question. And Peter said this to Christ. But he added: “Nevertheless at Thy word I will let down the nets” (Lk. 5:5). And they let them down. And a miracle happened. The boats were so filled with fish that they started to sink. Then the Apostle Peter fell at the feet of the Saviour and said: “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk. 5:8).”

Someone else may have said to Jesus – do I teach you about carpentry? Do I instruct you or show you what to do? No. Well, it might be better if your stick to carpentry and I stick to fishing. You do what you know about, and I’ll do what I know about.

Archbishop Andrei observes, “In spite of all his experience as a fisherman, he listened to Christ and let down the nets.”

We should remember that Peter was no novice fisherman. He knew about fish, he knew how to fish, and he knew that after a night’s fruitless fishing, there was no chance of remedy… yet despite all of his knowledge and expertise, he was humble enough, and obedient enough to do exactly as Christ requested.

In the words of Blessed Theophylact of Ochrid,

“When the Lord tells him to launch out into the deep, Peter does not become exasperated and leave Him, nor does he reply, “I have toiled the whole night and gained nothing, and now I should obey you and do it all again?” Peter said nothing like this, but instead, At Thy word I will let down the net. Such was the warmth of his trust even before he had faith.”

The Gospel tells us of the miraculous reward for Peter’s obedience to the unlikely request.

To return to the words of Vladyka Andrei:

“This is the process of faith. The Apostle knew that fish could not be caught. But he accepted the word of Christ within himself, within his will; and this will, which by now was Christ’s, he fulfilled.”

This is the alignment and marriage of our will and that of Christ of which I spoke in last week’s homily on the mystery of the Cross.

“And what happened? A miracle? Yes, a miracle. But the main miracle was not in the abundance of fish, although this catch was a miracle. The main miracle was the change of soul which occurred in Peter. He saw himself, he saw his essence. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Here is the process of faith: to accept in your heart the word of Christ, to fulfil it. And then to us will be revealed the thing which is most important for our salvation, for our inner life.”

We see this miracle throughout the Gospels.

When Zacchaeus reorientated himself to Christ, a miracle happened within him, and he was transformed and became new.

The Samaritan women – St Photina – likewise received the transformation with her leap of faith at Jacob’s Well in Nablus, running to bring others to experience the change so quickly wrought in her.

At the Cross this miracle was seen in the remaining minutes of the life of the Good Thief, who reached out to the Saviour in humble confession with those ever-memorable words –“Lord, Remember me in your Kingdom” – receiving the wonderful promise: “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”

Conversely, not all who were requested by Christ to cast out into the uncertainty and unknown of the deep were able to do so.

The disciples left behind trades, livelihoods, families, incomes and homes, as we hear at the end of the Gospel reading – “And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.”

In so doing – like Peter – they were spiritually transformed and were miraculously changed to be the preachers of Grace filled with the Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues at Pentecost. However, the ‘rich young man’ who had so assiduously and faithfully kept the Law of Moses, was unable to face the uncertainty of the deep, by selling all that he had to follow Christ, and the inner miracle of new birth and newness of life was denied him.

His attachment to security and the world kept him at the shore, like the multitudes who seemed so eager to listen to Christ and pressed so close, hearing his words, but not committing themselves to living the Gospel and being willing to take the plunge of Faith by following Christ into the unknown and seemingly impossible deep that is Faith.

Archbishop Andrei continues,

“Listen to the word of Christ. But where do we find this word? In the Gospel – that is where. If we know the Gospel and apply it to our life, then our life in Christ will be revealed to us.”

Here we might pause and reflect that it is not enough to simply know the Gospel, no matter how detailed this knowledge. We hear that it is by labouring for Christ that His Gospel becomes real and transformational in our lives. We are not interested in theory, but in putting the Gospel into action – to repeat the words of Vladyka Andrei – “If we know the Gospel and apply it to our life, then our life in Christ will be revealed to us.”

In matins we sing, “God is the Lord, and hath revealed Himself to us…” Christ the God-Man was revealed in the incarnation and His earthly life, and He continues to reveal Himself in the Gospel, but this revelation is not to be something that is exterior to us, but a revelation within us, as the Gospel is made the living reality of our lives. We become part of this revelation, by living with Christ within our hearts. This is the mystery of our life in Christ and Christ in our lives.

The internal miracle within the Apostle Peter, and his understanding of his own unworthiness and sinfulness in the light of Christ is something which Archbishop Andrei perceives even when a Christian only tried to fulfil a single commandment of the Lord –

“…if you would only attempt to fulfil the word of Christ, at least one commandment of Christ, then the essence of your life would be revealed to you, too.”

Even in the conscientious fulfilment of one commandment, a miracle has happened, and a human being has been changed by uniting his/her heart with Christ and uniting his/her will to that of the Saviour, who has been revealed within that action, no matter how small.

Progressing from this small beginning, the more we embrace the Gospel and live it, the clearer Christ will be revealed to us, the clearer Christ will be reflected in us, and we will reveal Him to the world with ever-growing clarity. Like Peter, as this happens, we shall simply not begin to see Him as He is, but to see ourselves as we really are – both in terms of what needs to change in us, and how the grace of God is changing and transforming us, as we are reformed and remoulded by His love, according to our constant prayer: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

The fulfilment of the Gospel of Christ, and its realisation in our lives is the essence of this recreation and renewal, as it was for Peter, realising his unworthiness in the light of Christ’s miracle. The more we appreciate our unworthiness, the more we are able to appreciate the magnitude of God’s love, and our life in Chris is where He will be revealed to us –

“And (in the words of Archbishop Andrei) His Resurrection will become for us more real than the physical world surrounding us. And He will fill our heart with an unspeakable joy, with the joy of Eternal Life; and this joy will have no end.

Only take the Gospel in your hands, only try to apply it in your life. Take everything which the Holy Church gives us. Then a miracle will happen to you, too – a greater miracle than the wonderful catch. Christ Himself will be revealed to you as He was revealed to Peter. Then you too will say deep in your heart: “I am a sinful man, O Lord!” And if you are a sinner, it means that you are sick and need a physician. And if a physician, then who is the Physician of the heart? Christ alone!”

Amen!

The Exaltation of the Honourable and Life-Giving Cross

Dear brothers and sisters,

Greetings to you all, as we celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Honourable and Life-Giving Cross of the Lord.

Yesterday, we celebrated the forefeast in Cardiff, hence the red vestments of the clergy, and Sunday also marked the Dedication of the Church of the Resurrection (the Holy Sepulchre) in Jerusalem, within whose sacred complex the topography of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection have been enshrined – though much altered by excavation and the clearance of rock and earth.

As on other feasts of the Cross, we combine celebration and fasting, as we contemplate the Saviour’s transformation of the wood of execution and shame into the Tree of Life, shattering the gates of death and hell and opening the doors of Paradise to all believers through His obedience to the way of the Cross, embracing it in love.

The Church Fathers contemplated and hymned this wonder with awe, as Christ’s humility, obedience, selflessness and love overturned the curse of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and the disobedience of the first-parents, and the Cross became not only the Tree of Life, but the key to the Gates of Paradise.

St John of Damascus wrote that, “For by nothing else except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, has death been brought low, the sin of our first parents destroyed, hell plundered, resurrection bestowed, the power given us to despise the things of this world and even death itself, the road back to the former blessedness made smooth, the gates of paradise opened, our nature seated at the right hand of God, and we made children and heirs of God.”

Let us all celebrate this wonder, and though I have to work throughout the coming nights and am unable to celebrate the feast with parishioners, I look forward to us celebrating the afterfeast before the Precious Cross this coming Sunday, and remind you that in our homes we should all be celebrating the Exaltation.

In every Christian home, the Cross may be honoured and adorned with flowers, as we offer our prayers and celebrate the feast.

May God bless you on this feast, and may the Cross, as the Invincible Trophy and the Tree of Life be at the centre of your homes and families, and the axis of your spiritual life.

With love in Christ – Hieromonk Mark

Synaxarion for the Exaltation

Of the Honorable and Life-Creating Cross1

Constantine the Great and Equal to the Apostles, first among the emperors of ancient Rome, accepted Christianity. While in the midst of battle, according to some against Magnentius in Rome, or according to others against the Scythians at the Danube River,2 he saw that the armies of the enemy were greater in number than his own, and this caused distress and fear. Finding himself in this situation, there appeared in the afternoon the form of the Cross in the sky, marked by stars. And encircling the Cross were letters, also inscribed by stars in Roman, namely Latin letters,3 which said the following: “Conquer by this.”

Straightway there was fashioned a Cross,4 like the one that appeared in the sky, and he ordered for it to go before the army. Engaging the enemy, they mightily conquered, to the point that most of them were killed. The others left in fear. The power of the Crucified One was therefore understood by this miracle, and he believed that He was the true God, and he was baptized with his mother.5

He then sent his mother Helen to Jerusalem, first of all, to venerate and honour with more brilliance the life-giving Tomb of the Lord, and the rest of the Holy Land. Also, to hastily seek and find the honourable Cross of the God-man Savior. For this she investigated with fervent longing, and she found it hidden. Likewise, she found the two crosses on which the thieves were crucified. She also found the nails.6 The empress was confused, however, as to which of three was the Cross of the Lord. She discovered which it was by a miracle, when it raised a dead widow woman after the Cross of the Lord touched her. The other two crosses of the thieves did not perform the miracle.7

Then she kissed and venerated the honourable Cross with great reverence and faith, not only the empress Helen, but also all the officials with her. Because all the Christians sought to kiss and venerate it, it was not possible to fulfil their desire due to the large crowd, so they sought alternatively to merely see the sweet vision of the honourable Cross, and so by this vision their longing would be satisfied. Wherefore the then blessed Patriarch of Jerusalem Makarios went up onto the ambon, and lifted high with his two hands the honourable Cross, showing it to all the Christians found below. Straightway when they saw it, together they cried out from their heart: “Lord have mercy.” From then on it was established by the most divine and God-inspired Fathers of the Church, for all Christians to celebrate on this day, this honourable and universal Exaltation of the divine Cross, to the glory of Christ our true God for Whom they gather.

Notes:

1. This synaxarion is from the 10th century Synaxarion of Constantinople. Translation and notes by John Sanidopoulos.

2. The most reliable research indicates that this battle was neither against Magnentius or the Scythians, but against Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge. Also, sources indicate that Constantine became a Christian before this battle through his son Crispus, who was a Christian, after presenting him with certain books of his father who was a Christian.

3. Some sources say the letters were in Latin, while others, like Emperor Leo the Wise and Paisios of Gaza, say they were in Greek.

4. After the vision of the Cross in the sky, that night Constantine saw Christ in a vision, Who told him to place the form of the Cross he saw on his spear.

5. There used to be a false opinion that Pope Sylvester of Rome catechized and baptized Constantine, but these documents were proved to be papal forgeries. Rather, it is believed Helen was already a Christian, while Constantine put off his baptism in order to be baptized in the Jordan River, which he was never able to accomplish, therefore he was baptized by Eusebius of Nicomedia before his repose in Constantinople.

6. These nails were brought by Helen to Constantinople, as a gift to her son. One was placed in the bridle of his horse, to fulfil the prophecy of Zachariah 14:20, “On that day Holy to the Lord Almighty will be inscribed on the bridle of the horses.” The second was placed in his battle helmet. The third, according to Ambrose, was thrown by Helen into the Adriatic Sea in order to calm a storm, though Dositheos of Jerusalem does not believe this story. Socrates says that the Cross and Nails were placed in the pillar of the statue of Constantine in Constantinople, to protect the City. Some say there were only three nails, while others say they were four, with two nails used for each foot rather than one nail for both feet.

7. Euthymios Zygabenos says that the true Cross of the Lord was distinguished by the inscription of Pilate over one of the crosses that said Christ was King of the Jews. Also, some say that the woman was near death and immediately healed, while others say fragrant basil grew over the location of the actual Cross of Christ. The finding of the Cross is celebrated on March 6th. The two crosses of the thieves were brought to Constantinople and placed in a porphyry pillar in the forum, with other relics.

Greetings on the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God

“Today the living ladder, through whom the Most High descended and was seen on earth, and conversed with men, was assumed into heaven by death. Today the heavenly table, she, who contained the bread of life, the fire of the Godhead, without knowing man, was assumed from earth to heaven, and the gates of heaven opened wide to receive the gate of God from the East. Today the living city of God is transferred from the earthly to the heavenly Jerusalem, and she, who, conceived her first-born and only Son, the first-born of all creation, the only begotten of the Father, rests in the Church of the first-born: the true and living Ark of the Lord is taken to the peace of her Son.”  

St John of Damascus: Third homily on the Dormition of the Mother of God 

Dear brothers and sisters,

Greetings as we celebrate the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, and her translation from earth to heaven.

I am only able to write a brief greeting for the feast, having worked yesterday afternoon/evening, and having returned to work to work until 14:30, today.

Belatedly, when we gather in St John’s, later, we will hear the words of the encomia, based on those which we sing before the plashchanitsa / shroud on Good Friday, hearing the joyful nature of the verses, which balances the mourning of the apostles, as we celebrate the translation of the Mother of God from death to life.

“Overcome with wonder, in awe, in beholding thee Pure Maiden laid out as dead, for from Thee has Light beamed forth to all the world.”

From the first stasis of the Greek encomia

The fact that she fell asleep in the slumber of death is essential to the glory and triumph of the feast, as we celebrate not a deathless Assumption, but a Dormition and Assumption that realises true and full participation in the Resurrection, as the Theotokos shares in her Son’s victory over death, as is raised and ascends in the flesh, to sit at His right hand.

It is the reality of her death and the sojourn of her body in her tomb in Gethsemane, together her physical resurrection, that makes this feast a second Pascha, which manifests Christ’s victory on the Cross and the empty tomb.

In his first homily for the feast St John of Damascus says, “O wonder surpassing nature and creating wonder! Death, which of, old was feared and hated, is a matter of praise and blessing. Of old, it was the harbinger of grief, dejection, tears, and sadness, and now it is shown forth as the cause of joy and rejoicing.” 

He stresses the reality of her burial, saying,

“This truly happened, and she was held by the tomb… so now that holy, undefiled, and divine body, filled with heavenly fragrance, the rich source of grace, is laid in the tomb that it may be translated to a higher and better place.”

And, in his second homily, he writes of her burial by the apostles:

“Then they reached the most sacred Gethsemane, and once more there were embracings and prayers and panegyrics, hymns and tears, poured forth by sorrowful and loving hearts. They mingled a flood of weeping and sweating. And thus the immaculate body was laid in the tomb.” 

As her death becomes the gate through which she is raised and translated to heaven, she is recognised as the Gate of Life through which the God-Man and Saviour passed in the Divine Incarnation, and in the words of the Akathist Hymn, “the Heavenly Ladder, by which God came down…”

“We had shut the door of paradise; thou didst find entrance to the tree of life. Through us sorrow came out of good; through thee good from sorrow. How canst thou who art all fair taste of death? Thou art the gate of life and the ladder to heaven.” 

St John of Damascus: Second homily on the Dormition of the Mother of God 

As the Gate and the Ladder, she shows the way, as represented by her most ancient iconographic prototype: the Hodegetria – ‘She who shows the Way”.

Through her Dormition and Assumption, enthroned in the Kingdom of Heaven, she becomes the Hodegetria in an even greater and more profound way. Her earthly mission in showing the way is transformed, as the Way, the Truth and the Life – her Son – translates her into eternity, from whence she continues to guide us, now freed from earthly constraints and the limitations of time and space, in the ultimate and eternal reality of the Kingdom of Heaven, from whence her “countenance appeareth now as paradise, breathing forth to all believers grace and life.”

But, the glory of the Mother of God, is rather the Lord’s Glory, for as the moon reflects the light of the sun, so the Theotokos reflects the glory of her Son. As St John of Damascus peaches in his first homily for the feast, “Neither human tongue nor angelic mind is able worthily to praise her through whom it is given to us to look clearly upon the Lord’s glory.”

St Gregory Palamas contemplates the beauty of the Mother of God, translated from earth to heaven, as he asks her,

“Who can describe in words thy divinely resplendent beauty, O Virgin Mother of God? Thoughts and words are inadequate to define thine attributes, since they surpass mind and speech. Yet it is meet to chant hymns of praise to thee, for thou art a vessel containing every grace, the fulness of all things good and beautiful, the tablet and living icon of every good and all uprightness, since thou alone hast been deemed worthy to receive the fulness of every gift of the Spirit.” 

Thus, we too approach with hymns as we celebrate the Dormition, and the Assumption of the Mother of God, a spiritual translation through which she truly receives this fulness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Heaven, “From thence thou ever carest diligently for thine inheritance and by thine unsleeping intercessions with Him, thou showest mercy to all.” 

On this glorious feast, with its Paschal echoes, we join St Gregory, as we entrust ourselves to this diligent care, and say to the Mother of God,

“O divine, and now heavenly, Virgin, how can I express all things which pertain to thee? How can I glorify the treasury of all glory? Merely thy memory sanctifies whoever keeps it, and a mere movement towards thee makes the mind more translucent, and thou dost exalt it straightway to the Divine. The eye of the intellect is through thee made limpid, and through thee the spirit of a man is illumined by the sojourning of the Spirit of God, since thou hast become the steward of the treasury of divine gifts and their vault, and this, not in order to keep them for thyself, but so that thou mightest make created nature replete with grace. Indeed, the steward of those inexhaustible treasuries watches over them so that the riches may be dispensed; and what could confine that wealth which wanes not? Richly, therefore, bestow thy mercy and thy graces upon all thy people, this thine inheritance, O Lady! Dispel the perils which menace us. See how greatly we are expended by our own and by aliens, by those without and by those within. Uplift all by thy might: mollify our fellow citizens one with another and scatter those who assault us from without-like savage beasts. Measure out thy succour and healing in proportion to our passions, apportioning abundant grace to our souls and bodies, sufficient for every necessity. And although we may prove incapable of containing thy bounties, augment our capacity and in this manner bestow them upon us, so that being both saved and fortified by thy grace, we may glorify the pre-eternal Word Who was incarnate of thee for our sakes, together with His unoriginate Father and the life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto the endless ages. Amen.”

 

Happy Feast of the Transfiguration

“Taking the disciples up, upon the lofty mountain before Thy crucifixion, O Lord, Thou wast transfigured before them, illumining them with effulgence of power, desiring both in Thy love for mankind and in Thine authority to show them the splendour of the resurrection, which do Thou vouchsafe unto us in peace, in that Thou art merciful and lovest mankind.” 

Dear brothers and sisters, Continue reading

08/08/2021 – Homily for todays Gospel The healing of the blind men

Following todays Liturgy Father Mark reflects on the Gospel reading.

The blind men are asked – Do you believe that I can Heal you ?

A firm reminder that when our faith is challenged we should remember that Christ came with love to heal us all.

You are also able to watch it and all our past videos on our youtube channel. If you want to be alerted when new videos are uploaded click subscribe.

Video Homily on Sunday of All Saints of the British Isles

“Britain will become an Orthodox country again when its people rediscover their Saints”

Following todays Liturgy Father Mark talks on the rich history of the Saints of the British Isles. In Wales there are many clues and signs leading us to the lives of the Saints, how do we learn more and how do we incorporate Holiness into our lives.

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