|04 - Calling of First Disciples, Sept 23, 2012|
Galatians 4:22-31 (Forerunner)
Luke 1:5-25 (Forerunner)
II Corinthians 6:1-10
Hidden from the frenetic movement of the world, in the cave of the Church, is the world of God’s Heavenly Kingdom that opens onto the Garden of Eden. Those in the world who have not seen this heavenly world in the cave of the Church dismiss the Garden of Eden as a myth. But, Simon Peter, one of our first-called disciples in this morning’s Gospel, says in his 2nd epistle that he and his fellow disciples did not follow cleverly devised myths when they proclaimed the glory of Christ. They proclaimed what they heard and saw on the mountain. St Peter is referring to their witness of Christ’s Transfiguration on Mt Tabor. St John, another of this morning’s first-called disciples, also insists that they are proclaiming “what we have seen with our eyes and heard with our ears, and handled with our hands, even the Word of Life that was from the beginning.” That is Christ, and He is the fruit of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden.
When the priest prepares the Holy Gifts at the Proskomedia, he begins with this prayer: “Make ready, O Bethlehem, for Eden has been opened to all. Prepare, O Ephratha, for the Tree of Life has blossomed forth in the cave from the Virgin.” The Church proclaims that the Garden of Eden is real; for indeed, the Lord whom she proclaims is the New Adam who blossoms forth from the Blessed Virgin in the cave. She is the New Eve; truly so, because she is Theotokos, Mother of God and so the “Mother of Life”. The Church is the body of Christ; and Christ identifies Himself as the Vine. What vine would that be but the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden? The Cross is identified in the hymns of the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross as the Tree of Life. When, therefore, we become members of the Church through Holy Baptism, and we unite ourselves to Him, we are nailed with Him to His Cross. We become branches grafted onto the Tree of Life, the vine of Christ’s body. So that as we die in Christ, as we lose our souls and come out of ourselves in love for Christ, we are received into Christ and we live in Christ. We live in the Garden of Eden, for we live in Christ; and the life of Eden lives in us, for it is no longer we who live but Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life of Eden, who lives in us. This is the mystery of “Christ in you!” that St Paul speaks of, the mystery that was hidden in God from before the ages. The world of God’s Heavenly Kingdom that is hidden in the cave of the Church, veiled even as it is made visible in the liturgical worship of the Church, is therefore the same mystery of God that is hidden in you, the mystery of Christ in you, Eden in you!
Step into the living rhythm of this heavenly world hidden in the cave of the Church and you can feel an excitement, a joyful anticipation bubbling up from deep in the soul of nature as the “ark” of the Church pulls out of the harbor of the Feast of the Cross and with the faithful holding the Cross high as a flaming pillar that burns with the love of Christ, the ark begins to wend its way to the cave of Bethlehem and beyond, to the cave of Golgotha. For, with the birth of the most blessed Panagia, a radiant glory begins to dawn on the horizon of nature’s hidden heart, and the heart begins to tremble, as did the disciples in this morning’s Gospel, with a holy fear and joy! For, the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God, Theotokos. At her nativity, the radiant effulgence of the divine glory (Heb 1:3) begins to rise on the world. And with the Feast of the conception of St John the Baptist, the Forerunner now joins us in the ark, soon to be joined by shepherds and wise men, who stand at the bow, pointing the way to the cave where the Heavenly Bridegroom, the mystery hidden in God from before the ages, will come at Midnight!
I want to show you from this morning’s Gospel how the heavenly world of Eden has been opened to all here in the cave of the Church. And, I want to show you how I believe this morning’s Gospel reveals to us the door that opens onto the heavenly world of Eden, and we open that door in order to pass over into the Kingdom of Heaven hidden in you and here in the cave of the Church, and how to step onto the path that ascends in the ark of the Church from the depths of the soul to the Garden of Eden at the top of the mountain.
I believe that this event in the life of Our Lord was recorded in this morning’s Gospel because the disciples, looking back on it in the light of the Holy Spirit they received on Pentecost, saw that it announced the fulfillment of the vision of Ezekiel the prophet. In the 47th chapter of Ezekiel, we read of a temple whose layout and topography are that of Eden – and also of the temple in the Revelation of St John, the temple, i.e. of Heaven. From the doors of that temple flowing toward the east is a mighty river that gets deeper the farther out it goes until it comes into Galilee (N.B. where Jesus spent most of His time) and down into the great sea of Arabia. Of that river, Ezekiel is told by the Lord God (i.e., by Christ) that “every living thing that moves, wherever the river goes, will live.” (47:9) St John will tell us that the river is the Holy Spirit when he records the cry of Jesus on the Last Day of the Feast (Pentecost). (Jn 7:39) Ezekiel’s prophecy goes on to say that there will be a very great multitude of fish in that river, and they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes. (47:9) Fishermen will stand by it, he says, to spread their nets. And, along the banks of the river will grow all kinds of trees, whose leaves will not wither and whose fruit will not fail, and who will bear fruit every month, and whose leaves will be for healing. (47:10-12)
So, the Lord calling the fishermen this morning to be His disciples, and the great catch of fish, shows that the salvation of the Lord prophesied by Ezekiel has come. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! It is here! It tells us that this Jesus is the Lord whose train filled the temple of heaven in Isaiah’s vision (Isa 6:1); and that He has appeared on earth. Since He is the Christ, the One Anointed by the Holy Spirit, it means that the healing waters of the Holy Spirit have flowed out onto the world from the bosom of the Father in heaven. Ezekiel speaks of trees lining the banks of the river, trees whose fruit does not fail and whose leaves are for healing. This is the Garden of Eden, Paradise, that has been opened to all with the birth of Christ from the Virgin in the cave of Bethlehem, and with the victory of His Cross on Holy Pascha.
The prophet Jeremiah and the Psalmist say: “The heart is deep beyond all things, and it is the man. Who can know him?” (Jer 17:9 LXX; cf. Ps 63:7 LXX) The Lord says to Simon Peter: “Go out into the deep and cast your net for a catch.” (v. 4) The biblical connection between “the deep” and the “heart”, tells us, I think, that the deep that Simon Peter goes out into represents the “hidden man” of the heart, as St Peter calls it in his epistle (I Pt 3:4). It is the depths of the human soul where, as St Paul says, we are dead in our sins and trespasses. St Peter answers: “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing.” That’s because until Christ comes into the world, the “hidden man of the heart” opens onto the darkness of hell. It is from those depths, is it not, that the Psalmist cries out: “Lord, I cry out to Thee, hear me!” (Ps 129:1 LXX)
But, St Peter goes on to say: “Nevertheless, by your word I will cast the net.” In essence, then, when St Peter casts his net into the depths, he is casting the Word of Christ into the depths of the human heart. This is the preaching of the apostles, the word of Christ, that flows out from the altar of Paradise and “pierces the depths of the soul, even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb 4:12) And what is that word of the Church’s preaching but the word of the Cross that is foolishness to those who are perishing, but the power of God to those who are being saved? (I Cor 1:18) The “multitude of fish” that Simon Peter brings up from the depths with the net of Christ’s Word – the net of the Holy Spirit, as the troparion of Pentecost tells us – is the multitude of fish that are healed according to Ezekiel’s prophecy.
The catch of Simon Peter, obviously, was not an ordinary catch. It was an “incarnation” of the mystery of Christ hidden in God from before the ages, that has now appeared on earth and is revealed in the cave of the Church. It is a catch that has happened countless times since in all those souls who have been drawn up from the depths by the Word of Christ and healed. It means that the night has come to an end. The Light of the world has risen; the healing waters of the Holy Spirit are flowing out from the heavenly altar on all flesh and into the depths of those hearts that receive Him (Jn 1:13) to heal them and to make them children of God. I think this is why fear and trembling may have seized Simon Peter and those with him, and why they fell to their knees and worshipped Christ. This is the Lord who judges the earth. Who can stand in His presence? And yet, the catch of the great multitude of fish, according to Ezekiel’s prophecy, means that He has come not to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved. He has come to heal us and to give us life. Who can stand and not tremble at the magnitude of the Lord’s loving kindness by which He has become flesh and dwelt among us, that He might become one with us in our death so that He can make us one with Him in His life?
The door that opens onto the goodness of the Savior and to the glory of the other world that hides in the Church, that hides even in you, is your heart. And the net by which we are drawn out of the world and into the depths of our heart is the Cross. Take up your cross at the command of Christ – these are the ascetic disciplines of the Church – and descend into the depths of your heart and to the path that ascends to Paradise at the top of the mountain. Amen.