A sermon of His Reverence, Archimandrite Parthenius, on the second Sunday after Pentecost spoken in the monastery refectory on the 30-th of June, 2019.
My dear ones, from today’s Holy Gospel we have heard about the way our Saviour, Lord Jesus Christ, summoned his first Apostles, the fishermen. First, He called upon the two brothers- Peter and Andrew and then the other two brothers Jacob and John. The evangelical account seems short at first instance: Follow me, said our Lord to the fishermen, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him (Matthew 4, 19). Although short and simple, this evangelical account tells us about something great and magnificent. The first brothers, Peter and Andrew left their nets and followed Him immediately, while the other brothers Jacob and John, beside the nets left also their fishing boat and their father Zebedee, as well. Still, pay attention, the Evangelist Matthew stresses that both the first and the second brothers left everything behind and followed their unusual Teacher.
What have these first Disciples of Christ left behind? Everything they depended on in this world, and which they were inseparably connected with. The fishing trade, they supported themselves on, all their tools and means of survival, all their property, even their parents, they literally abandoned everything they had in this life, and immediately followed Christ. Which means even the things necessary and blessed by God. From the moment of his birth in this world, man enters a whole network of connections and relations. First of all, he is dependent of time and space, then as a child he is dependent of his parents, etc. – all these are some kind of biological, natural dependencies. Everything around us is in some kind of dependency. Even the planet we live on belongs to a very special system of planets, created and blessed by God. The planet Earth depends on the Sun and the Sun is dependent of its galaxy. But, man besides being biological, is also a social being, so he is inevitably subjected to social dependency as well. Therefore, all our natural and social dependencies and connection with the surroundings are blessed only and only if we use them in the right way, as means and not as a goal. For example, we depend on work. A man has to work to survive. But if we allow our job to turn into a goal, then our natural connection to it becomes unnatural and transforms into slavery. Another blessed connection is marriage. Without marriage, humankind could not exist, that is why marriage in the Church is a great and a holy Mystery and is blessed by the wedding ritual. But it does not represent a goal by itself, it is rather a means for continuation of our kind and a blessed journey of a family towards eternity, through mutual dependence of love and carrying the cross of one another.
Thus, man has many connections and dependencies in this world, which is very understandable. Great deal of them are blessed and necessary. But, pay attention – today our Lord invited the common fishermen to leave behind even the blessed connections and dependencies and they responded to Him immediately! What an apparent paradox! It seems like God denies the very order he has established Himself… But it’s not like that. With His invocation of the Apostles and their quick reply, our Lord shows us that He came to invite us to real freedom.
The Apostles left behind all the dependencies of this world, and became dependent of Him, Who is the only independent One by nature. This means that they, by connecting with Him, achieved real freedom in Him, reached the perfection of freedom and love. And we all know how much the Apostles improved, when they gave in to Christ.
Released from the connections of this world, and connected only to Him, they planted the seed of His Divine teaching all around the world, the teaching of the One Who liberated the world.
We call Christ the Savior, the Redeemer, the Liberator. But what exactly did He liberate us from? Above all, from the unnatural dependencies and connections. So far, we spoke only about the natural dependencies and connections, which are many and are blessed by God. But, beside them, there are also many unnatural dependencies, which have brought man to the most horrible slavery – death. These dependencies are called passions, addictions, sins. One is considered addicted to a sin, when he constantly repeats the sin. Because when a person repeats a sin, it turns into a habit, a chronic disease, and becomes an addiction, passion, suffering. Our Lord came to save us from those sufferings and passions, through His passions on the Cross. The Redeemer came to break us free from the chains of addictions which lead us to death
With today’s example and the invocation to which the Apostles responded immediately, God shows us the path to perfect freedom. Namely, although there are many dependencies in this world, which are blessed by Him, all these things are only temporary and one day will stop to exist. Therefore, with this example He teaches us not to get too attached to the things we consider necessary today, but tomorrow, in the next life, will not exist. For example, food is necessary for the survival. But through fasting, restrain from some foods, God teaches us to free ourselves from addiction to food, which is here today, but one day it will be gone. For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost (Romans 14, 17). Also, God has blessed marriage, but virginity is also blessed. You see, monks are invited to restrain from marriage, which certainly requires a long and hard spiritual battle. But why some of us are given this invocation for a restrain from marriage? Because one day even marriage would not exist. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven (Matthew 22, 30). Of course, this doesn’t mean that everybody should restrain from marriage, but rather that we should simply not get too attached to something temporary, and instead only use it in a blessed way, for the salvation of our souls.
God wants to elevate us to a greater dignity, a higher spiritual level, to make us really be free, and not slaves. Because the person who constantly surrenders himself to some sin, he becomes a slave of this sin. You all know what awful kind of slavery is alcoholism, drug – addictions, gambling, lust and every other passion which enslaves man. Yes, the spiritual slavery is really horrible. Although maybe the person enslaved by sin is aware that his captivity is something fatal, still he cannot free himself from it and repeats that same harmful thing over and over again. For instance – a drug addict. He sees that others like him go down, he sees his friends covered with wounds, destroyed, he sees his miserable condition, knows that his future is on the edge, that every day he could die as a suicide, but in spite of all this, he seems as if affected by some kind of inner blindness and goes straight to death. This is like when someone sees a group of people going to the slaughter or throwing themselves off a high cliff to get drowned, and goes after them, follows their example. Such blindness of the inner sight is typical of an addiction to sin, of slavery to passions.
But that’s why, my dear ones, God came to Earth – to liberate us from this tyranny of passions. Let us, therefore, hear His voice, appealing to us to free ourselves from the earthly connections, which should never become a goal of our life. The only goal, the center of all our desires should only be God. If a parent doesn’t put God as a goal in his life, if he doesn’t place Him above everything, what good would he teach his children? He will only teach them of passions, of the egoism that he possesses, without even being aware of it. These children would grow in an unhealthy way, educated in the wrong ideologies. Parents make mistakes when they treat children with possessive “love” when their children become their idols in some way, when the “love” in the family is more idolatry than true love. Therefore, God says: He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (Matthew 10, 37). This doesn’t mean that God is egotistical and wants us to love only Him. On the contrary, He is the source of love, and only if we put Him above everything we could truly love, free from slavery to passions. Then we can love our children the right way and give them what they need, for the salvation of their souls. We would teach them of restrain, self-control, good judgement, so that they wouldn’t fall in the net of false pleasures, which later turns into slavery to passions.
It’s natural for humans to want pleasure. This is something the devil knows well, so he prepares his net from this world’s small, short-lived pleasures, which he uses to capture our souls. Just like the spider which makes a net in order to catch the insects in it. When the insects fall into the net, he slowly, slowly wraps them in it and then drinks their blood. It’s the same thing with the pleasures of this world. If man surrenders to them completely and wouldn’t even try to free himself from the attachment to them, in the end he will be completely enslaved. Thus, marriage is blessed, but not fornication and lust; food is blessed, but not gluttony. Even morphine is blessed when the doctors use it to relive the pain of their patients, or for surgeries. But it’s not blessed if you abuse it, and unfortunately this is now a habit of many young people in their search for temporary pleasures.
Not while ago, from the sermon of Bishop Nicholas, among the other things we learned why today people are always rushing somewhere. People nowadays want to achieve everything immediately, to satisfy their appetites for pleasures, but tend to miss the most important thing – care for the soul. Unlike them, God works slowly, carefully and in a redemptive way for the soul. He has chosen twelve Apostles, different in characters and personalities and began building His Empire with them. He did not choose twelve emperors who could establish up His Kingdom right away. They could have done that easily, because they would have used great force, army, and authority. But if God did so, this Empire would have ended just like all the other earthly empires of this world. Therefore, He established an eternal spiritual Kingdom, founded not on the base of earthly force, but rather on the strength and the power of human kind to release themselves from passions, from slavery to sin, from the tyranny of contemporary pleasures.
Let us not forget: It was the pleasure that caused the first fall of Adam and Eve. In a chant we sing: “The fruit that mortified me, was appealing to the eye and very tasty…” The pleasure could easily wrap us in the net of passions, of sin, which later inevitably brings us to sadness and pain. Therefore, God calls us to rejoice in the blessed relations, in the freedom which is in Him. The young people who are overcoming their drug – addiction here, maybe know best what it is like to be a slave of passion, especially of drug – addiction. What a terrible tyrant it is and how much it depersonalizes man! And don’t you think that this is the only passion which destroys man. No, all the passions are devastating for him. I have seen some greedy persons, totally obsessed with the material wealth, who have so much money, all the luxury and pleasures, but have become inhuman, have lost God’s image in themselves. They have no true love, not even for their own children, much less for the others around them. Still one can say that drug – addiction is most obvious captivity and destroys man in the fastest way. When, however, someone manages, with the help of Divine redemptive grace, to free himself from this evil, he truly becomes a new person. Today, before the communion, I asked for one of the boys who lives here and fights drug – addiction, just so that I could see his face. I see his progress every day and I rejoice with him. You know, their success is my food. I summoned him to the altar to ask him if he is going to take communion, although I knew that he would, because he asked for a blessing the previous day. I pretended to have forgotten, just so that I could see his face and rejoice.
Follow me! – says Christ to us all, my dear ones, just like he told Peter and Andrew, Jacob and John, by the Sea of Galilee. He invites us to follow Him and be Apostles of the joy that comes from the freedom in Him, to convey this joy to our neighbors.
May you all be well!