- Fr. Athanasius Oweis
Calming the Storm of Fear - 8/22/2021
Gospel Reading: Matthew 14:22-34
Link to Reading: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
both now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.
We cannot begin to understand what happened in this night with the disciples, without going back to what happened during the day before it. Right before the disciples went into the boat, they experienced the miracle of the five loaves and two fish. In this great and magnificent miracle, there were five thousand men, other than the women and the children, which means there were at least about fifteen to twenty thousand people, the size of a big stadium, who were all hungry and weary, as they were walking for days without food. It was the disciples who passed the thousands of loaves to the people. When it was all done, the disciples took twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. That means that each one of them carried a basket and took it with him into the boat. The remainder of the miracle was still with each of them in the boat. Then Jesus went to pray and asked them to leave by themselves. Then the storm hit. This was not the first time that the disciples faced a storm while they were in the boat. In the first time Jesus was with them, but He was sleeping, and they woke him up and He calmed the sea. They have been there before, and saw His Power. They knew that no matter how strong the storm was if they called on Jesus, they would be safe. This time Jesus wasn't with them, but went to pray to be a model for them. He sent them with their stomachs filled with the food from the miracle and their hearts longing for Him. However, this time the storm was stronger, and He did not appear immediately; He allowed them to be rocked till the 4th watch of the night. What is baffling is that none of them thought of praying nor looked at the basket in front of them. They totally forgot Jesus. When we forget Jesus fear becomes part of our lives. We forget that it is the Lord Jesus who has calmed so many storms in our lives before. This is why we pray in Psalm 102 “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all that He hath done for thee …”. We humans forget! The word man in Arabic “إنسان” shares the root of the word forgetfulness “نسيان”..
Furthermore, God Allows himself to hide from our sight. He looks as if he is absent. But He's not. He's always there, and He always comes at the right time. But He allows himself to disappear so we can have greater endurance, and consequently, greater faith. Finally, at about 5 AM God appears. He doesn't show immediately. He appears from far. Which added to the disciples’ fear. They were already fearful from the storm and from the wind but now they are more afraid because of the apparent ghost. Jesus calms them at the perfect time and commands them to take heart. They now see him walking on water, something they haven't seen before. But which of Jesus miracles that they witnessed wasn’t new? Now when Peter heard Jesus he was immediately filled with boldness. Unfortunately, this boldness is grounded more on emotions rather than on faith. Peter started walking on water. But rather that this miraculous experience along with the sight of Jesus in front of his eyes fills him with more faith, here again we see that boldness disappears. Like it disappeared when he denied Jesus after he told him that he was ready to die with Him. Faith should never be based on our emotions. Our feelings are never a measure of our faith. Faith is like a rock, emotions are like the sand, any small breeze can take them away. When the Church always talks about the heart, She does not talk about feelings, but about the whole being, starting with the mind and its highest point which is our nous.
So Peter, even though the Lord Jesus was in front of him, and he was walking on water, takes his eyes off of Jesus and starts going down in the water. Isn’t that what we do every day in our lives? Isn't Jesus always in front of us, always holding us and keeping us afloat always against all odds every day? And yet we still take our eyes off Him and start drowning in fear. Isn't the whole world now drowning in the fear of a virus? If you watch closely all what the media tries to do is to tell us: “look at what's happening”, “look here”, “look there”, “keep looking” and we drown more and more in unfounded fear. The media tries to steal our eyes away from Jesus who has the power overall dominion and overall creation and is the only one capable of calming all storms of life. And we fall for that. We forget Jesus and we keep listening to those voices of fear. You will never hear the media tell you: “Take Heart, Jesus is here”. Unfortunately, and I say that with all sadness that we even hear some Orthodox priests, and even some Orthodox hierarchs send a message of fear. Since when was the message of the Church a message other than strength and peace? Isn’t the church the place where the Prince of peace dwelleth? Don't we don't we start our divine liturgy with “In peace let us pray to the Lord”, “for the peace from above and the salvation of our souls”? Don’t we repeat three times: “Holy Mighty”? Don't we pray in vespers that “The Lord is King, and hath clothed Himself with majesty. The Lord is robed; He is girded with strength.” Doesn't the Psalm say that Your hand or Lord has shattered all thine enemies? The church never feared sickness, nor humiliation, nor beating, nor torture, not even death itself! All the martyrs with all their tribulations had “the peace from above” in their hearts. Saint Stephen the protomartyr was being stoned and yet he was experiencing that utter divine peace. His face was glowing as the sun, and he was praying for those who were stoning him. All of those who were martyred for Christ never feared death itself. If they had fear we would not be Christians today. And now, we are afraid of a virus? Don’t we trust God with all of our lives?
If God sees that sickness is good for your salvation and humility, He would allow it even if you were isolating on a different planet! If He saw that it is not sickness but rather something else that you need for your salvation, then He would allow what He sees best for your salvation. Our purpose of life is to be healed from spiritual sickness much more than the physical one. So what is the solution? Turn off the TV, Turn off the Media, and open your Bible, look at the Lord Jesus the Mighty one, come to Church, take the Holy Sacraments, take the real medicine of incorruption. Be united with your creator. This is the real healing that we all need. Do exactly what Peter did when he started drowning: He cried: “Lord Save Me”, and immediately He saw the hand of Jesus holding him, and the Lord rebuked him gently, “You of little faith”, he did not say of “of No faith”, but “of little faith” because Peter did have faith, but needed yet to grow more. And the storm immediately disappeared when Jesus came to the boat. You need Jesus in your boat for all the storms in your life to disappear. People who are currently fully vaccinated are running to take the third shot, two shots of the vaccine didn’t calm them, nor healed their fear. Because the sickness isn’t the virus, it is the anxiety! There is nothing that can heal the real sickness of fear except for the Lord Himself. No amount of vaccine or medication can help us overcome our fears.
May God heal us from all spiritual illness, and may He help us to keep our eyes fixed on Him, and Him only, to sing with David in Psalm 89:8-9
O Lord God of hosts,
Who is mighty like You, O Lord? Your faithfulness also surrounds You. You rule the raging of the sea; When its waves rise, You still them.