God’s Abundance!

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8th Sun after Pent. July 30, 2023; Matt. 14:14-22 “God’s abundance”     Fr. Andrew

Today’s Gospel from Matthew 14 tells us about Christ feeding the multitudes – 5000 men plus the women and children, from 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread. This is the passage par excellent that reveals the #1 gift for growing into Christ – the Eucharist! The Fathers teach that the formula is always the same, Christ gives thanks to His Father – representing the Anaphora prayers; breaks the bread – representing His body; gives it to His disciples to distribute – representing the Priests distributing communion at the Chalice at each Liturgy – and the people are filled – unto eternal life! Twelve full baskets of abundant leftovers are collected, one for each apostle, and they have been passed, through every generation from the apostles down to us today.

When told the crowds must be fed Christ starts with, “You give them something to eat.” – He is the head, and we are His body here on earth. The 5 loaves and 2 fish fed more than 5000. The lesson is clear, we offer whatever we have to God, and trust that He will provide what is needed to carry out what He has prepared for us to walk in. We are presently walking in this kingdom reality as we complete our new church addition and renovation! We do however have to offer the little that we have to God fully. The crowd would have likely stayed hungry if the apostles had held back 2 loafs and a fish, just in case, for insurance you know.

The apostles cannot conceive of a way they can feed more than 5000 hungry men plus the women and children, it is incomprehensible. Of course, what do we say about our God every Liturgy at the very first Litany, “O Lord our God, Your power is incomparable. Your glory is incomprehensible. Your mercy is immeasurable. Your love for man is inexpressible.” Our human logic simply doesn’t apply when talking of God’s work. The bishop prays when he ordains a deacon or priest to serve, “May God complete that which is lacking, and heal that which is infirm.” This is a great comfort to us weak unqualified clergy. Things in Christ are done not in our strength, but rather in our weakness. God then completes what is needed. Without God, we can never hope to accomplish anything of lasting value. St. Paul says, (1Cor. 1:25,27) “…the foolishness of God is wiser than men. And the weakness of God is stronger than men…God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are.” (2 Cor 12:9) “My grace is sufficient for you for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

God’s abundance is never more clearly revealed than in the Eucharist. The Priest prays at the Altar as he breaks the lamb into the 4 main pieces for communion: “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.” We gather for Divine Liturgy today as every generation of believers has from the beginning, to partake of the greatest miracle of all, the miracle of the undivided body and blood of Christ God, “ever eaten yet never consumed.” We join millions of our brothers and sisters all around the world each week and are united with them, and with all whom have gone before us. There is nothing we could ever accomplish that would be more important than our receiving Christ’s body and blood here at the chalice. We receive life itself, and not just life, but everlasting life that continues to grow, bringing us ever increasingly into the fullness of God’s kingdom. The fathers call this the “Medicine of Immortality.”

This miracle of the feeding of thousands is told by all 4 of the Gospel writers, and in Chapter 6, in the gospel of John, Christ explains the true significance in very clear and unambiguous terms. John Chapter 6 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. There was certainly no misunderstanding amongst those listening to Christ as to how literally Christ was speaking. St. John reports even His disciples saying, (John 6:60,65) “…This is a hard saying; who can understand it? And …From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” We need to comprehend this truth with our spiritual eyes, our intellect is a clumsy organ to attempt to interpret such spiritual truth.

We need to be coming to the cup at every opportunity, this is life! If there is anything standing between us going to receive communion, we should waste no time in coming for confession and receiving forgiveness. Never stay away from the chalice twice in a row unless specifically instructed to do so by your Priest. Come to confession and deal with the reason you never came the first time. Do not let your guilt, grudges, unforgiveness, fear, or intellectual pride deprive you of such valuable transformative life changing growth in Christ. The most serious penalty that can be imposed upon an Orthodox Christian is to be cut off from communion – to be ex-communicated. Why would you deliberately choose to ex-communicate yourself, cut yourself off from life, from the body of Christ, from your family, from your brothers and sisters, from the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, from God’s most saving and life transforming gift of grace?

The Divine Liturgy itself is leading us in thanksgiving and worship to be able to properly receive the gift of the body and blood of Christ; to be united with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The prayers 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, are today sharing in the cup with us. We are joining in communion with the entire Church, uniting with the visible and with the invisible bodiless powers and saints. This is life and is of eternal and ultimate importance, dwarfing 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. St. Mary of Egypt, transformed into a saint in the desert, begged St. Zosimus to grant her last and most heart felt desire, to bring her communion that she might depart in peace.

Of course we need to prepare, this is always the most important activity we will do. Nothing else that we humans can participate in comes close to this. We need to “make peace with those who have grieved us. Only then may we dare to eat the Mystical Food.” Saint Porphyrios famously answered when asked by an Orthodox visitor if they should come to receive communion “Do you hate anyone? No, then come!” We should begin to shift our focus on Saturday evening. Coming to Great Vespers is the best way to start, but even when you can’t come to Vespers, avoid getting into party mode with the rest of our society. Keep yourself from movies, TV, or books with violence or bad morals. Read or watch something spiritually healthy or visit with good friends. Fast from at least midnight unless you have a health concern. (Our very young children are obviously exempt).  In the morning, prepare by praying or listening to at least some of the pre-communion prayers given us by the Church. Our preparations will instill in our children that this is a most special and sacred event, and they too will appreciate this great blessing. When communion is being served, it is the very presence of Christ. We should remain standing in reverence, just as we do during the Lord’s Prayer and the saying of the Creed.

But we also need to be aware that our preparation our “rule” we receive from our priest or “spiritual father,” while important and helpful for our spiritual growth, is not what makes us worthy to partake of the body and blood of our Lord. It is a gift! Nothing we can do can make us worthy. I sometimes hear  people tell me they can’t come to the cup because they didn’t prepare properly. They are “unworthy.” They are troubled by 1 Cor. 11:27-30 “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord….but let a man examine himself and so let him eat of the body and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgement to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you and many sleep.” Note: What makes us “unworthy” is “not discerning the Lord’s body.” Once you come to the Church and prepare by fully participating in the Divine Liturgy, you are blessed to come to the cup. If you didn’t do your usual rule fully, repent and resolve to do better next week, but come to the cup. If your “worthiness” depends on how well you prayed and fasted and gave alms, you are earning the right, and there is no end to what you might need to do to become “worthy.”

Communing with Christ and His Church, drawing ever closer to our Lord is the most important work we can do, not just for ourselves, but for our entire world. St. Seraphim of Sarov is famous for saying, “Save yourself and 1000 around you will be saved.” We come to unite with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ Who gave Himself up “for the life of the world.” May He ever lead us into all that He has prepared for each one of us, as we partake of His very Body and Blood.