- Fr. Athanasius Oweis
How to Leave Everything for Christ? June 26th 2022
Link to Gospel Reading: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
At that time, as Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left their boat and their father, and followed him. And he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
both now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.
The reading from the Gospel this morning has backdrop that is written in John 1.
The story first starts from Andrew, who was a disciple of Saint John the Baptist. Saint John the Baptist loved Christ immensely and was preparing the way for Christ. He was standing with two disciples, one of them is St. Andrew and told them “Behold, this is the Lamb of God”. He asked his disciples to follow Christ and so did from that day. He was the first one to follow Him that's why we call St. Andrew the 1st called.
Andrew was Peter's brother and Peter at that time was called Simon. Simon means “The one who listens”. He spent the night with the other disciple with Christ. So immediately he goes and tells his brother Simon “We have found the Messiah”. Simon being an older brother looks at his younger brother and he probably dismissed him saying “Oh that's just my younger brother he's always so excited about everything he's not mature yet”. But then Simon meets Christ who told him your name is Simon from now on you're going to be called Cephas/Petross which means the Little Rock.
After the first encounter between Peter and Christ Peter never moved. He was still cautious, he was still thinking, he didn't see the merit of following Christ because there wasn't yet a personal impression on him. Then his mother-in-law becomes sick and Christ went to his house to heal her. Usually wherever Christ comes there are hundreds and thousands following him because they are looking to be healed. So now Christ enters Peter's home and now Peter is the important man because he is the host of Christ. All of the people in town are coming to Peter’s house. Peter is very proud that this well-known man is standing next to him. He's was shaking hands with everyone who is coming and leaving his house with pride. If there was Facebook that time, and Saint Peter had a Facebook had a Facebook account we would see his pictures next to Christ all over the place. Still, Peter did not follow him. What Christ did wasn't yet touching him personally it was a relative of him but not himself.
When did Peter move?
Then we see the miracle where Christ enters to his boat. Now Saint Peter is in a place well he's tired, weary, frustrated, and scared because he did not catch any fish. If they didn't catch fish they probably wouldn't have any money to live that week. His life was on the line. and Christ comes and asks him to throw the net, in the morning, after they finished cleaning it. Against all common practice. Christ’s request did not make any sense to him . However, because now there was an experience but this man was holy then he obeyed him and then the miracle happens they catch all the fish that they couldn't even carrying their boots so they asked their friends to come and help them. At this moment Christ touched Peter and his heart changed and ask Christ to leave his boat because he was a sinful man. And this is where we hear today's gospel telling Peter come follow me and you will be fisherman of people. The Gospel says that Peter and Andrew left the boat and followed Him, while it mentions St. John and St. James leaving the boat and their father, and they followed Him.
So here again we see the development of spiritual life. Even though we might know Christ whether from afar or He is in our house, However we might not have enough love for him to leave everything for him. This love comes when we experience hardship and we come to Christ, and He shows His tenderness and mercy to us. As this experience with Christ grows, our love for Him grows, and our attachment to the world starts to fade away. The question is why the Church chose for us this Gospel? Is She expecting that we leave our jobs, our families, our duties, and become monks? The answer is a definite NO.
So what does the Church intend?
There are three answers to that question:
1. What does follow mean?
Imagine you are in a strange city and you don't have a map/GPS. You need to go from one place to another and there is a friend who lives in that city and knows it really well and knows the way. He told you to follow him. The only way to reach your destination is to follow him. What happens if you found an attraction on the way? a good restaurant? You should neglect it and keep your attention on him, no matter what distractions you are facing, if you don't follow your friend you'll never get to your destination and you would be totally lost. Following Christ is focusing all our attention on him, and dismissing all the distractions that will make us lose our way, our salvation, our eternity.
2. What does leave everything mean?
The Church in her wisdom means: Leave all of the connections that we have in our heart to the world. Disconnect your heart from the world. Your hands are in the world, but your eyes are on heaven. Your feet are on the ground, but your heart is dwelling on what’s above. Christ knows that we have to work and feed our children. Christ knows our earthly needs. Unfortunately, even though we come to church and we pray many of us get distracted from Christ and from our destination the eternal life, so we think and pray with this attitude: We are asking Christ to follow us. We are asking Christ to give us the earthly things and take care of our earthly concerns and give us what we want, the cheap things that we obsess about, rather than asking him to give us what we truly and only need: His Holy Spirit that is needed to guide us for our eternal life forgetting that he promised us that everything else is added to us. So the church reminding us today that it is us that we should follow Him rather than the other way round. And let our heart die from the world even though we are living in the world and keep our focus on Christ
3. Answer By St. Nikolai Velimirovic
I would like to share with your love an excerpt form St. Nikolai Velimirovic
Between _saintliness_ and _vice_ there is a bridge, not an abyss. The saintliest and the meanest men have still common ground for brotherhood. Your sins are my sins, my sins are your sins. That is the starting-point for a practical and lucid Christianity. I cannot be clean as long as you are not clean. I cannot be happy as long as you are unhappy. I cannot enter Heaven as long as you are in Hell. What does that mean? It means that you and I are blended together for eternity, and that your effort to separate yourselves from me is disastrous for you and for me. As long as you look to the greatest sinner in the world and say: "God, I thank thee that I am not as that man," you are far from Christ and the Kingdom of God. God wants not one good man only, He wants a Kingdom of good men. If ninety-nine of us are good and saintly but one of our brothers is far from our solace and support, in sin and darkness, be sure God is not among us ninety-nine, but He has gone to find our brother whom we have lost and forgotten. Will you follow him or will you stand self-sufficient? Never has there existed in the world such a social power binding man to man and commanding each to take and bear the other's sorrows as Christianity did. Your sins are my sins, my sins are your sins.
St. Nikoli is telling us: if we follow Christ, other will follow us and will follow Christ as well.
I will conclude with this thought from St. Nikoli: Have confidence in Christ and follow him even into the house of the Devil, because He knows the way out.
May the Mother of God and all the Saints help us and guide us in being true followers of the Lord, all the days of our life. Amen.