Aug. 15, 2021, Luke 10:28-42;11:27,28 ; Matt. 14:14-22 Feeding the Thousands / Dormition
With the Feast! Today is the glorious, blessed feast of the Dormition – the “falling asleep” of the Mother of God. It is also the 8th Sunday after Pentecost when we consider the feeding of the 5000 with only 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread. It is always a great joy to have one of the 12 major feast days arrive on a Sunday as we have more of us gathered to celebrate! Today’s 8th Sunday after Pentecost gospel reading of the feeding of the 5000 is also especially relevant as it is a type and foreshadows both the Eucharist and our Litiya service with the breaking of the 5 loaves which we served last night, and always serve at Vespers the evening before a major feast day.
This miracle of the feeding of the thousands is told by all 4 of the Gospel writers, and in the gospel of John Chapter 6, Christ explains the Eucharist in very clear and unambiguous terms. St. John starts with the feeding of the 5000, but ends with Christ scandalizing the Jews by saying, (John 6:48,51- 56) “I am the bread of life…I am the living bread which comes down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, which I give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves saying, ‘How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in You. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me and I in him.” Is that clear enough for you? I don’t find a lot of wiggle room in this passage, although there are certain branches of the “bible believing” non-sacramental Christian world that seem to have this passage written in invisible ink in their versions of the bible. Just to be completely clear Christ then finishes with (John 6:57,58) “As the living Father sent Me and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven – not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever,” and (John 6:66) “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.”
The Divine Liturgy is leading us in thanksgiving and worship to its climax, the receiving of the body and blood of Christ; to be united with Christ! The prayer that the Priest says at the Altar as he breaks the lamb into the 4 main pieces for communion is: “Divided and distributed is the Lamb of God: Who is divided, yet not disunited; Who is ever eaten, yet never consumed; but sanctifying those who partake thereof. “Who is ever eaten, yet never consumed, “just like the 2 fish and 5 loaves!
The prayers we pray during Divine Liturgy assume that we are here to be communicants, to partake, not to be spectators. We are being united with the entire Church, the Bride of Christ, both those here, and with the millions who have completed their earthly journey and are cheering us on from heaven. Millions more, all around the world today are sharing in the cup with us. We are joining in communion with the entire Church, both the visible and the invisible bodiless powers and saints. This is life, this is what is of eternal and ultimate importance and dwarfs all other activities in our lives. The holy fathers and mothers of the Church throughout all the ages have valued the receiving of the body and blood of Christ as the most important and life changing activity we can participate in.
Dormition: Of course, the central event of all human history, God taking on our human flesh and becoming man, could not have even started without the most holy Mother of God answering the Archangel Gabriel with the most blessed words, (Luke 1:38) “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” Christ took flesh from her, and He, whom all of creation can not contain was contained within her womb!Last night at Vespers we sang, “She who is higher than the heavens, and more glorious than the Cherubim, she who is held in greater honour than all creation, she who by reason of her surpassing purity became the vessel of everlasting Essence, today commends her most pure soul into the hands of her Son. With her all things are filled with joy, and she bestows great mercy on us.” (Vespers: Litya; Tone -2)
Today at the feast of the Dormition, we celebrate that she is the first fully transformed human to be taken bodily into heaven. Taken directly and tenderly by her Son Jesus Christ. We pray during the “prayers of preparation” of the communion bread, from Psalm (44:10) “The queen stood at Your right hand arrayed in golden robes all glorious.” She is truly our inspiration, our most loving mother and the best and most encouraging example of what is the potential and true calling of a human being, of what St. Athanasius said, “God became man that man might become god.” Never let anyone tell you that woman are somehow second-class members of the Church. She is our mother, the mother of the saints and most esteemed of all the saints.
After her death, the tradition of the Church tells us that her Son our Lord Jesus Christ came and took her most pure body and soul brought her up to be with Him bodily in heaven. The Apostles were gathered up by the Holy Spirit from all over the world where they were ministering and establishing the Church. They were brought together to join the saints living in Jerusalem at that time, to be with her as she completed her time here on earth. All of them were gathered except for Thomas, who was brought from India by the angels 3 days late to the gathering of the apostles. When he arrived amongst the gathered apostles, he asked to be taken to her tomb where they had laid her upon her death 3 days earlier. When they arrived and opened her casket, she was not there, and a wonderful fragrant smell enveloped them. We bless herbs and flowers today in remembrance!
Our dear mother of God is of course the first, the most precious and loved of all our human saints. She grew Christ her son’s humanity in her womb and gave birth to God. But she also has a very unique position in the Church being very much our mother as well. She is the first of our race to be bodily resurrected after her death. She was bodily taken into heaven, foreshadowing our own bodily resurrections at the end of the age. Our dear precious and loving mother of God is there in the heavens at the right hand of her Son, constantly looking out for us and interceding on our behalf with Him. This is what we celebrate today, the completion and fulfillment of the new Eve taking her place above the Cherubim and Seraphim in the throne room of God and present with her Son our Lord both spiritually, and in her transfigured human flesh. We have her Icon at the Apse, the top of the Altar area welcoming all of us to accept fully the Lordship of her Son as she was the first to do at the Annunciation, and welcoming us into the very kingdom of her Son. Her eternal council is, (John 2:5) “Whatever He says to you, do it!” With the feast!