There’s no dead-end where Christ is

Sermon of His Reverence, Archimandrite Parthenius, on the eighth Sunday after Pentecost, delivered in the monastery Refectory

Today, my dear ones, we’ve heard from the Gospel of this, eighth Sunday after Pentecost, about the miracle that Lord Jesus Christ performed in the desert – namely, He fed over five thousand men with five loaves and two fish (Matthew 14,14-22).

This miracle took place just after Saint John the Baptist’s martyrdom, ordered by king Herod. Christ, mournful, went with His disciples to a lonely place in order to pray. But people, thirsty for His words, eager for His profound teaching, learned where He was and went towards Him in multitudes, walking.

And Jesus went forth and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and He healed their sick – this is the opening of today’s Gospel reading.  Was moved with compassion toward them … When God saw the multitudes arriving there, having left their villages and towns, He was moved with compassion toward them and because of their endeavor, love and their zeal, He healed their diseased. We have seen from the previous Gospel readings that God, in many occasions tests the faith of people before performing a miracle, demanding a confirmation that they believe in His Divine supremacy. In this case however, without being asked for, He Himself healed their diseased and weak. For Him, the fact that they’ve crossed such a long way and came to that lonely place where He was, just to listen to His words, was a sufficient indicator of their faith. Nothing was more important to them, but to delight in the teachings of His Divine mouth. Many of them must have left their families, friends, their work or rest – in a word – left behind every aspect of their everyday life and stayed with God throughout the day till late that night. They were so eager to listen to Christ, that they forgot to take food with them, forgot they’re hungry, forgot about themselves altogether… That’s why, when the disciples realized this, they said to Christ: This is a desert place and the time is now past. Send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves victuals.

God’s reply is very interesting: They need not depart. Give ye them to eat! Of course, He knew that there wasn’t food enough; but He said so for a few reasons. First, He wanted to test their obedience and faith, to see just how much they trust Him. Also, with this event He taught them to serve people, to be good stewards of the manifold grace of God (1. Peter. 4,10). In the end, He asked them to take care of the hungry people themselves, in order for them to realize their weakness, unless they rely on Him. We have here but five loaves and two fish – the disciples replied. And He said, “Bring them hither to Me” … and looking up to Heaven, He blessed and broke the loaves and gave them to His disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.

God, my dear ones, deliberately waited for the evening to come in that desert place, before He performed His miracle. With this He wanted to show us that He is the only way out of any dead – end; that when the Provider is present, there can be no poverty; when the Treasurer is here, even the desert turns into abundance. Remember that a similar thing happened in the Old Testament, when the Jewish people were leaving Egypt. Namely, as God took pity on His people oppressed by the Pharaoh, He commanded the prophet Moses to carry them out of Egypt, and through him He guided them to the promised land. So, all the people fled and soon came to the Red Sea. Meanwhile, the Pharaoh changed his mind about letting the Israelites go and enraged, pursued them with his army and almost caught up with them. All of a sudden, the children of Israel found themselves in a trap – the sea was in front of them, and the Pharaoh’s army behind their back. They thought: “Did we take the wrong turn? Where should we go now? There is no other way! Why did this happen to us? We didn’t need such a thing! Moses brought us here, it’s his guilt: Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? (Exodus 14,11). And then, when the people started to disapprove, to reprimand, to cry out to Moses, when they were so afraid and desperate – God performed a miracle. Sometimes, God lets us feel frightened, for us to realize our own weakness, to realize that we can’t be without Him, to humble ourselves and then He intervenes.  Because we, as humans, very often put our trust in ourselves and in our own strength; we rely more on our feeble mind and meagerness rather than placing our hopes in Him. Thus, when it seemed like there was no way out, God said to Moses: Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward. But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea and divide it; and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea (Exodus 14,15-16). Moses did so and the sea got divided, so the Israeli people passed through as if upon dry ground. The Pharaoh and his chariots followed and pursued them; but, as it is known from the history of the Holy Scripture, the waters returned and all the Pharaoh’s army got drowned. This is asserted by the archeology as well, so whoever wants to know more can do additional reading on this topic.

But what comes to our attention now is the fact that even regarding the miracle with the loaves and two fishes, the situation is equally a dead-end – a desert place, nowhere to buy food from, no way out. From a human point of view, there was really no way out. But, how could The One Who gives food to all this world and Who created the whole Universe, provides for all the live beings; not be able to feed more than five thousand people? What’s that for the Creator of everything?! And, indeed, the Lord performed such a miracle and provided the necessary material food for the people who were primarily hungry for the Word of God, who were longing for the Heavenly Kingdom. The Gospel doesn’t say anywhere that they asked Christ to heal their diseased. No, He Himself showed mercy upon them and first healed their diseased in the end of the day fed them, too. What else does this miracle tell us? Before performing it, God looked up to Heaven, indicating that all the food, even the carnal one, comes from above, from God. That’s why He wants us to be grateful for everything He gives us. Saint John the Chrysostom says: He who always begins his meal with a prayer and thanksgiving to God and finishes it in the same manner, his table will never be empty”. We have somehow forgotten to be grateful to God for the gifts He provides us with. Often, we preoccupy too much with overloading our homes with food and all the other material wealth; with making provisions for a safe future. Or, we have this bad habit of saving money throughout the year so that we could go somewhere on a vacation and there indulge into abundant food and drinks, allow ourselves every luxury, without even noticing around us those who are in need of food or clothes.

In this regard, the miracle also brings us to the conclusion that God wants us is to be plain, modest, be content with what we have. He fed the people with the things available at the moment. The apostles had five loaves and two fish – the simplest food at that time. Fish could be found nearby; they were fishing it at the lake and used it for food. And the loaf is a synonym for a basic meal. Thus we say in the “Lord’s prayer”: “Give us this day our daily bread”. We ask for the simplest thing. The Lord teaches us to be plain everywhere, in each place, to be economical. The Gospel shows us that after everyone was fed, apostles didn’t throw the remaining food although it was so easily obtained, it was God’s gift; but rather collected all the remains in twelve baskets. Hence, we should not throw food but be grateful to God instead and save up. I remember when I was young, as a child, if we accidently drop the slice of bread we held on our hands, my grandmother would pick it up and say: “Now, kiss it!”. So, we would kiss the bread and say: “Lord, forgive us for treating the bread without due respect”. That’s how they taught us to be modest and thankful, to respect every gift from God. Can you see that somewhere nowadays? We came to the point where enormous amount of food is thrown away, while many people are starving to death…

Let’s get back to the evangelic story.  Both events – breaking of the loaves in a desert place and crossing the Red Sea, I would say, are hopeless situations – yet God performed a miracle, offered a solution, a way out. So, when we are with Christ, there is no hopeless situation. That’s why one should never be desperate. Seek from God. Seek first the Kingdom of God, wish eagerly to be with Him, tell Him you love Him. These people from today’s Gospel went to seek God in the desert place. They had hope, and most important – they Loved Christ; in order to seek Him, you should love Him. That’s exactly what prayer is: love and longing for God. To pray to God means to love and to seek Him. I go to a monastery because I love Him and I seek Him. Look how many people came to the monastery today, came from all around the country. They drove miles to come here. That’s why God helps them constantly. Many of those who come here often are aware that God rewards them for their feat, receives their prayers and helps them according to their faith. And the faithful, on their part, help us. Thus, we have never been left without bread. There’s always food on the table. I remember, a year before I started my monastic feat at the Bigorski monastery, I came here for the feast of Saint John the Baptist. There I entered a conversation with some people preset, among which with our respected Metropolitan Timothy too, as to how beautiful the monastery was and yet so sad there were no monks in it. We concluded with regret that there were no conditions for monasticism: no Orthodox population around, the monastery couldn’t have its own economy, so consequently it would be hard to endure. But, behold, by God’s mercy and blessing, not only our brotherhood – there’s thirty of us, but so many other people have been fed here, many diseased were healed. What’s all that? That’s what God said to the Apostles: Give ye them to eat! He gave to the Apostles; and they distributed to the people. And it has always been so: today God gives to his servants, the Archbishops, clergy, monks; and they convey to the faithful. Behold, monks went to a desert place; they left everything of this world behind and went to seek God. And we have already said that where He is, there you will find spiritual abundance. That’s why people come to monasteries, to drink from His spring. Of course, God is everywhere and fills everything, He is present in the cities as well, in the homes, in people; and anyone who seeks Him, will find Him. Yet, in the monasteries, in the cenobitic monastic communions, His mercy abundantly flows and nourishes everybody.

In the end, I would like to appeal to you again: be always thankful to God and believe, He will never leave us empty. The table of the grateful man is always rich. I’ve seen it many times in my life. Place hope in God and don’t say: “This is impossible, I’m in a dead – end, it’s hopeless”. That’s what the Israeli people said standing before the Red Sea, and the disciples who were aware that there was not enough food to feed the multitudes. But God took care of both. For Him everything is possible – what we need is just to love Him and to seek Him.

May God give us love and a zeal to constantly seek Him, just as these people from today’s reading sought Him in the desert and were fed both spiritually and materially and were healed from diseases!

May you all be safe and sound and in love with God!