45 Feeding of the Five Thousand - July 22, 2007

I Corinthians 1:10-18

Matthew 14:14-22


This morning’s Gospel about the feeding of the 5,000 comes as the conclusion of a week of reading from St Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians in which he speaks in a very puzzling way about women and men. St Paul sets forth the biblical teaching that woman comes from the man, not man from the woman; that man is the ‘icon’ and glory of God and woman is the glory of man; that the man was not created for the woman but the woman for man; that the head of the man is Christ, the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is the Father. At the same time, he says that in the Lord neither woman nor man is independent of one another. The woman originates from man – he is talking, of course, about Eve coming from the side of Adam – but man also originates from the woman; he is talking here, of course, or so it would seem, about natural parturition.

St Paul’s words about man and woman are especially odious to our age of equal rights because they are about hierarchical authority and submitting in obedience to those placed by God in authority over us. As St Paul says in our reading for Friday, “Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.” And in Romans 13:2, which we read yesterday: “He who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God.” St Paul is the apostle feminists most love to hate. And since the Orthodox Church is unabashedly biblical, not picking and choosing from the Scriptures only those passages that they like or that agree with the wisdom of their own ideas as so many so-called Christian groups do nowadays, they use St Paul’s teaching on men and women as a reason for dismissing the Church as chauvinistic.

This morning, our assigned reading takes us again to St Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians. There, St Paul exhorts us all: “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to agree, and that there be no division among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.” Some time ago, I heard of a parishioner who complained to her priest: “What this parish needs is more people speaking their own mind!” Not according to St Paul. According to St Paul, what a parish needs is submission in obedience to the authority of the Church hierarchy that the faithful may be of the same mind and the same judgment in the Lord Jesus Christ. I was speaking with Mother Macrina from Holy Dormition monastery at the summer camp a few weeks ago. “Obedience,” she said with force, “is what our people do not understand. But obedience is at the heart of Christian spirituality.”

Do I need to explain that this teaching of Holy Scripture and of the Orthodox Christian Faith is contrary to the mind of our modern age? I don’t think so. No doubt, your own rising blood pressure as you listen with rising indignation to these words from Holy Scripture (these are not my words!) is all the proof we need on that point.

Understand that no one forces us; we choose to be received into the Orthodox Christian Faith. In that choice, we are choosing to die to the mind of this age and to take on a different mind: the mind that was in Christ who was obedient to the Father even to the point of death on the Cross. When we lay aside our worldly clothes to enter the baptismal font, we are laying aside the mind of this world that doesn’t want to be in obedience to anyone but to one’s own opinions, that wants to be its own master, even its own spiritual guide, its own arbiter of truth. And, when we are raised from the font and are clothed in the garment of light, we are clothing ourselves with this mind that was in Christ, the mind of submission in obedience to the Father.

The hierarchy of the Church that St Paul sets before us in his letter to the Corinthians, beginning from the bottom and moving upward is: woman, man, Christ, God the Father. Perhaps now your blood pressure has reached the boiling point because woman is at the bottom of the hierarchy. But before you rush forward to crucify the preacher – who is only the messenger! – let’s review some things.

Hierarchy means sacred root. Now, look closely at the hierarchy of the Church. The hierarchy of the Church is not rooted in the laity, but neither is it rooted in the priest or bishop (or pope) – i.e., in the man – but in God the Father. This is why the hierarchy is sacred.

But now, there is this puzzling detail in St Paul’s delineation of the Church’s hierarchy. He says on the one hand that the man is not from woman but woman from the man. In other words, the woman is rooted in the male. But then he turns around and he says that in the Lord, neither is the woman independent of the male nor the male of the woman; for the woman originates from the male and the male originates from the woman.

Now, in his epistle to the Ephesians, St Paul talks about the roles of man and woman in marriage. He begins that passage with this exhortation: “Let us all submit to one another.” Then he goes on to talk about the man being the head of the wife, and the wife being subject to her husband. But then he concludes by saying: “This is a great mystery; and I’m not speaking about man and woman. I’m speaking about Christ and the Church.”

In a sermon from the end of the first century that has gone under the name of 2 Clement, which I shared with you in part several weeks ago, the unknown preacher of that sermon says: “The living Church is the body of Christ, for the Scripture says, ‘God created man male and female.’ The male is Christ, the female is the Church.” (This doesn’t mean that God is male; it means that the male, as the one who plants the seed in the woman, is an icon of Christ, the Heavenly Bridegroom who plants the seed of his Holy Spirit in the womb of the Church, the baptismal font, the icon of whom is the female.)

From these early sources, I am led to wonder if St Paul is speaking in this week’s Scripture lessons not of man and woman but of Christ and the Church. When he says that man is not from the woman but the woman from man, he means that God was not created by the Church, but the Church was created by God. And when he says that the man is from the woman, he is talking about Christ coming forth from the Holy Virgin in the mystery of the Incarnation.

Now, let’s turn again to look at the hierarchy of the Church in these new terms of the Church’s theology. Our liturgical texts speak of the Blessed Virgin as the root of our life. It turns out, then, that the woman on the bottom of the hierarchy is the Holy Theotokos, the sacred root of our life. She is an icon of the Church and from the womb of the Church, the baptismal font, we are brought forth as children of God. The Church’s sacred texts also say that the Virgin, in her nativity, comes forth from God as the daughter of God. In other words, the woman, who is the Blessed Virgin, icon of the Church, comes forth from the man, or God the Father. In the Church, we are rooted in Christ through our birth from the Virgin, the Church. And Christ is rooted in the Father. Rooted in the Virgin, we are rooted in her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Lord, through his Spirit, we are rooted in God the Father. This hierarchy of the Church, in which we are rooted in the Blessed Virgin, and through her, rooted in her Son, Christ our God, and through him rooted in the Father, now shows itself to be the structure of the spiritual marriage of Christ and the Church. Rooted in this hierarchy, we are born from above as children of God with God as our Father and the Church as our Mother.

Among other things, this is a revelation of a kind of procreation in the mystical life of the Church that is deeper than that procreation rooted in the carnal sexuality of the belly. The Church’s procreation originates in the Spirit from the heart. It is a union not of two carnal bodies in lust but of two persons in love, heart to heart. Of this life the Proverbs speak: “Guard your heart, for from it flow the issues of life.”[1] Each kind of procreation has its own kind of union and its own kind of hierarchy. The hierarchy of carnal procreation is rooted in the belly. In this hierarchy, either the male or the female dominate in a strife-torn contest of power and authority. The union of the belly brings forth sons of men. The hierarchy of the Church is rooted in the heart. In this hierarchy, all submit to one another in the mind of Christ: the mind of obedience to the Father, the Cause of all things. The Church’s union of the heart brings forth children of God. The hierarchy of the belly generates division and strife; each person serving himself as his own guide and arbiter of truth, murdering those who get in his way oftentimes in deed as well as in word. The hierarchy of the heart generates oneness of mind in the love of Christ for his Father and his Mother, the Church, in which the woman, i.e. the Church and her children, the beloved faithful, love to do the will of their lover, Christ God, because he loved to empty himself and to give himself in love for the Church even to the point of dying for her on the Cross in obedience to God the Father.

What has all this to do with the feeding of the five thousand? From St Matthew’s Gospel, we read on Monday about Jesus warning his disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. By leaven of the Pharisees he means the doctrine of the Pharisees. It must be, then, that the five loaves and two fish in the feeding of the five thousand have something to do with Christ’s doctrine and the doctrine of the Church, which is his body.

That doctrine of the Church is a many-faceted icon of the spiritual marriage of Christ and his bride, the Church. The feeding of the five thousand is the wedding feast celebrating the marriage of Christ and the Church, in which the faithful – those born from above of water and the Spirit, i.e. of the baptismal font or Holy Church and of the Spirit of Christ, the Heavenly Bridegroom – partake of the divine nature in Holy Eucharist and in heeding the doctrine of Christ and his holy Church, which is his body, the fullness of Him who is all in all. The marriage of Christ and the Church is the result of woman coming forth from the man – the Church coming forth from God; and the man coming forth from the woman – Christ God coming forth from the Blessed Virgin. In this spiritual marriage of the Church, man and woman, as icons of Christ and his Church, are one in the love of God the Father. In that love, they are of one mind, of one will. This one will and mind is not the will and mind of the male or of the female. It is the will and mind of Christ whose Spirit, dwelling in them both, makes them of one mind and one will in the love of Christ. In the Church’s hierarchy, therefore, to obey those who are in authority over us is to submit to the love of the Blessed Virgin, from whose blessed womb we have come forth, and to the love of God the Father who has graciously raised us up in his Son through his Holy Spirit. To submit in obedience to the hierarchy, the sacred root, of the Church is to practice the commandments of Christ – that you love one another as I have loved you – by which we express our love for our Mother, the Church, and for God, our Father in Christ who from the womb, the baptismal font of his bride, the Church, brought us forth from darkness into light and in our Chrismation breathed out his Holy Spirit upon us.

The bread of the Church, the doctrine of the marriage feast of Christ and his Bride, the Church, is in stark contrast to the bread of the Pharisees. Their bread is leavened with hypocrisy that comes from the fruit of the tree of good and evil, i.e. rooted in the lusts of the belly. It is the leaven of self-esteem that makes each person want to be his own master. It gives rise to an inner dissatisfaction and emptiness that expresses itself in conflict and strife in an angry contest for control and dominance over one’s fellow human beings. St Paul described this meal of the Pharisees in our reading for Tuesday. He rebukes the Corinthians for the divisions and schisms in their community, in other words, for their partaking of the leaven of the Pharisees, by setting before them a meal of sinful Israel that is recorded in the book of Numbers. “They sat down to eat and drink, and then they rose up to play, some of them giving themselves to sexual perversions. And 23,000 fell in one day.”[2]

On the mount, all those who partook of the bread, the doctrine of Christ, which is the way of life rooted in the heart, were fulfilled. Indeed, so much goodness abounded that there was a surplus of twelve full baskets. Those who partook of this meal did not fall. They rose up and went home satisfied, praising God in a sacred gladness.

So, choose your bread. Choose your hierarchical authority: your own will and mind, i.e. the hierarchy rooted in the belly, or the will and mind of the Church, the hierarchy rooted in the heart. Choose the Church’s hierarchy and when you cross the threshold of the Church and immerse yourself in her baptismal waters, you enter upon the way of love in obedience to the will of the Father that leads to the partaking in Holy Eucharist of the goodness of the divine nature. May there be with those who choose the way of obedience to the Church in the love of her Lord the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Prov 4:23

[2]  I Cor 10:7-8