A Sermon: Eight Sunday after Pentecost
Beloved of God in the Scripture readings today we see two opposing dispositions of the followers of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Gospel we hear of the miracle of our Lord feeding the five thousand with five loaves of bread. This happened after He hears of the death of St. John the Baptist; the Gospel says that our Lord withdraws from the location where He was by a boat to a lonely place apart. And it continues to say: “But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.” The people were so desirous to hear a word from our Lord that when He left them with His disciples by boat “they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them”. This extra detail is how the Evangelist Mark describes the event.
When our Lord came out of the boat, the Gospels say, He had compassion on them, He healed their sick and because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. So they remained with our Lord the whole day. They were so absorbed in hearing the word of God that they even forgot their bodily needs; evening came and they had not eaten. It was the apostles that came to our Lord and asked Him to send the crowds away so they could get food for themselves. So then, our Lord feeds the five thousand with five loaves of bread. I repeat, the crowd was so intent on following our Lord Jesus Christ that they neglected their bodily needs and it should be apparent that they were united in Christ.
Unfortunately we see something quite different in the epistle. There was a lack of harmony among the Corinthians. The Apostle Paul critiques them in a very fatherly way, he does not rebuke, rather he makes an appeal, and so he writes: “I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Is Christ divided?” They lacked unity in Christ. Such a sectarian attitude is displeasing to God for we are all one in Christ. We must be united in Christ and the fruit of this is to be united with each other.
So let us try explain this today: our unity in Christ. Bishop Basil Rodzianko once gave a nice explanation of this in the context of speaking about Orthodox spirituality. He pointed out that the exact form spirituality or spiritual the root of which is spirit was not used in the Church until more recent centuries. He stated that it actually had its introduction to the Church from the Protestant Reformation. The Protestants declared themselves to be saved by faith alone and to describe the atmosphere they now found themselves in they employed the term spiritual. He continues to make a response to this and establish the Orthodox thought on the idea of spirituality. He brought forward St. Theophan the Recluse and mentioned his book, “The Way of Salvation”. He emphasized that we need to be in harmony with the life of the Church and that salvation does not come by any particular single method or path but one must take the whole of what the Church teaches and make it a part of their lives. One must be in harmony with the Church and united with or immersed in the life of the Church.
Next he brought forward two ancient writers of the Church. First St. Clement, Pope of Rome and his epistle to the Corinthians. In this letter St. Clement, in expressing what Christians are, made use of the Greek term “sumponia”. It is a compound word, “sum” together and “ponia” air or to breathe. This was a term used by the medical world of St. Clement’s time designating the breathing together of all the parts of an organism which gives life to the whole. Then Bishop Basil turns to St. Ignatius the God-bearer. In his epistles he speaks of the Church as catholic. And here we have another compound Greek term: “Katholiki” comprised of the words, “kata” which means “according to” and “holos” which is “whole”.
So, Bishop Basil combined these two terms “sumponia” and “katholiki” along with the thought of St. Theophan of the need to be in harmony with the whole of the tradition of the Church in order to describe Orthodox spirituality. He said’ “We breathe together the one Holy Spirit of God according to the whole Body of Christ.” This is what unites us: “to breathe together the one Holy Spirit of God according to the whole Body of Christ.” May God grant us this, there are so many splinters and factions in the Church, may God grant us this. Amen.