Why doubt ? Why fear ?

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Why doubt ? Why fear ?
9th Sunday after Pentecost
25 July, 2010
1 Corinthians 3:9-17 ; Matthew 14:22-34


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

When the Apostle Paul is saying today that we are co-labourers with God, co-workers with the Saviour, that we are “God’s field” and “God’s building”, he is very serious about our co-operation and participation in Him. In other words, our true Christian understanding is that the Lord is not doing something apart and aside from us, and we are not doing anything apart and aside from Him. We and He are completely involved in each other. It is He who is working through us and in us in everything. The Apostle Paul is constantly reminding us that we are all bound together one with another in the love of Jesus Christ. We are, each one of us, bound in love to Jesus Christ. He continues to work in us, live in us, give us life, and direct us by the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

I would like to take this opportunity to talk about the entry of the bishop into the Temple and his vesting, because this portion of the Divine Liturgy is often completely misunderstood and misrepresented. It has to do with the nature of our service. If we are truly Christian, we are, and always have been, servants.

The bishop, in his monastic habit, comes to the Temple to pray with the faithful. He is greeted at the door, and then he is escorted into the Temple and led up to the iconostas where he says the entrance prayers. These entrance prayers, by the way, belong to everyone and not just to the clergy. We all may and ought to say these entrance prayers every time we come into the Temple to pray. They are found right at the front of the Divine Liturgy book. These prayers are yours, too. The bishop is brought back into the middle of the nave after the entrance prayers. His exterior monastic clothes are removed, and other vestments are put on him by the faithful (represented by the subdeacons). In doing this the faithful are, as it were, saying : “You are our bishop, and it is your responsibility to lead us in this Divine Liturgy”. There is an amusing anecdote about how easily all this is misunderstood. The bishop of Alaska speaks of a visit of a previous bishop to a village, at which time all this was done. Afterwards, the bishop wanted to give an opportunity to the people to ask him questions. No question was forthcoming no matter what he said or did. Finally, when he asked a chief why there were no questions, the chief replied that the people would certainly not consider asking him anything, since he did not seem to be able even to dress himself. Alaskan villagers are not alone in such a misapprehension.

Why is the bishop dressed up the way he is ? It is a long story which has layers, as do most things in our Church. However, the essence of it is that the bishop is dressed in a particular way so that he can be seen to be the “high priest”, which is the right title for a bishop. If we say “bishop”, it sounds as though the bishop is somehow separate, far away, and very different. In fact, in our usual Orthodox languages, bishops are mostly and properly called “high priests”. In Greek it is archiereos, which means “high priest” in English. In Slavonic, Russian, or Ukrainian, the word is archierei, and it has the same meaning. The bishop is dressed to be a high priest because it is his responsibility to present and re-present Christ in the diocese, as the holy Bishop Ignatius of Antioch says. However, it is useful to know that another word used in Greek for a bishop is episcopos, which means “overseer”. This word carries first the meaning which indicates the ”chief household manager”. Our English word “bishop” comes from this word. The third word used for a bishop is “arch-pastor”, which means “chief-shepherd”. The bishop is the leader of Christ’s rational flock of sheep.

It is his responsibility to give to the people the Grace of the Holy Spirit. He does this through offering each and all the sacraments. Through this work, it is Christ Himself who bestows this Grace. This does not have anything to do with his “rights”, because the bishop does not, in fact, have any “rights”. However, he does have responsibilities. In the Divine Liturgy, especially when it comes to giving Holy Communion, the bishop is praying, as it were : “Please, Lord, give us, the clergy, Holy Communion, and through us to all Your people”. The clergy are recognising that it is He, the Saviour, who is the Distributor of His own Body and Blood. The high priest, the archpriest, the priest and the deacons are only agents of that.

There are additional important words for us today in the Gospel reading. The experience of the Apostle Peter on the water in the middle of that big wind-storm on the Sea of Galilee is very parallel to your life and to my life. As the apostles are approached today by our Saviour, who is walking calmly on the water, He is also approaching you and me, walking calmly in the midst of the storm. After our Saviour reassures them that He is not a ghost, the Apostle Peter says : “‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water’”. The Saviour asks him to come. The apostle is able to walk on the water because at that moment his heart, in love with Jesus Christ, is in complete harmony and trust with Him. Everything inside him is focussed on Jesus Christ, standing on the waves. He walks on the waves himself, because his heart and the Saviour’s heart are in harmony and in communion.

Seeing that the wind is blustery (which is actually a mild term for this sort of windstorm), the apostle takes his concentration and his focus off Jesus Christ standing before him on the water. His awareness shifts from his heart to his head. What is in the head, especially when it is disconnected from the heart ? Confused and conflicting thoughts. The Apostle Peter immediately begins to sink. However, he remembers to do the right thing and he cries out : “‘Lord, save me!’” Our Saviour immediately saves him by reaching out His hand and pulling him up. Once again, we understand that the Apostle Peter is standing on the water, and that his heart is reconnected and refocussed.

Our Saviour says these important words to him that we always need to hear : “‘Why did you doubt ?’” Where is doubt found ? Doubt is found in the thoughts in the head. I am reading a book just now about the heart by a psychologist who is completely accurate as far as I can see. His analysis is that our first parents, Adam and Eve, fell because they listened to the questions of the serpent who sowed doubt in their minds. Once they started to ask these questions in their minds apart from the Lord, without consulting Him in their hearts, they disconnected their heads from their hearts. Completely irrational things immediately occurred. Immediately, they forgot who they were, and they forgot Who is God. They forgot all about their communion of love and their life in Him. They forgot about their brilliant appearance and glorious reflection of Him (which was like the Transfiguration, in fact). Instead, they became covered with fear, and they tried to hide. The Apostles Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration experienced that glory similar to what Adam and Eve had when they were unfallen. The apostles felt that they should stay there forever. Many of us have had experiences in the Lord that are similar to that. However, like everyone else, we get distracted, and we forget.

Adam and Eve were truly alive. They were glorious in appearance, and they were like God. However, the Tempter suggested that they were not already like God, and that God was not telling them everything. He suggested to them that God was not “playing fair”. They became distorted when they listened to the Interloper and Usurper, and they listened to questioning and dividing thoughts. Questions are not bad – it is not that we should never ask questions. However, where do you look for answers to those questions ? Our first parents could just as well have listened to their hearts. They could have listened to the Lord speaking constantly in their hearts, and have asked : “What is this ?” The Lord would have revealed the Tempter to them for what he truly is. However, they did not do this. Our first parents also did not have the presence of mind to say : “I am sorry”. Rather, they immediately accused each other. One blamed the serpent. The other blamed his wife, and even blamed God for giving him such a wife. They each blamed someone else. In the examination of our own daily lives, how are we any different from them to this day ? With conflicting and confused thoughts in our minds, we forget to ask the Lord : “What do You want me to do ?” “What is right ?” We generally do not ask Him what to do until we are desperate. We too often put Him at the lower end of our daily priorities. We say : “I have to squeeze in my prayers, and because I am so tired, maybe it is good enough simply to make the sign of the Cross before I flop into bed”. Is this truly enough for you and me on a daily basis when we are living our lives in Christ, and trying to serve Him ? He is our Life. He is our Protector. He is our Saviour.

Today, seeing the experience of the Apostle Peter, and his true, sincere desire to serve the Lord, let us ask him to pray for us. Let us also ask the mother of the Mother of God to pray for us, since today we are celebrating the Falling Asleep of Saint Anna. Let us ask many saints (especially those who are already our friends) to pray for us so that we will be able to have the heart of the apostles, and the heart of our first parents, Adam and Eve, before the Fall. May we be enabled to have a heart of love and concentration in our Saviour, Jesus Christ, so that in everything people around us will be able to see Him, and encounter Him and His love, and not pay attention to our slips and slides and distractions. May we all together glorify our Saviour, Jesus Christ, in everything, always, everywhere and at all times, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.