The evangelical reading for the eighteenth week after Pentecost is an invitation to all of us to delve more deeply and widely into our faith.
The story that delivers this invitation to us is as follows. The Lord happened to pass by the shores of Gennesaret Lake, “and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets. Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat. When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for the catch.’” (Luke 5:2-4) Simon then said to Him that they had labored the whole night and had caught nothing. “Nevertheless, at Your word I will let down the net. And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking.” (Luke 5:5-6)
The Lord is telling us, too, to abandon the shallow and dirty waters of our faith and launch into the deep, for only in the deep is to be found the fullness of the fruits of our labor. This is the place of clear and cool water, and an abundance of gifts. By wallowing in the shallow waters, the fishermen were not able to catch anything. But when they moved away to the deep, their nets were bursting with the weight of the catch.
Whether we want to admit it or not, the truth is that we have really allowed ourselves to become soft. Our faith has become weak, limp and diluted. All of our philosophy is reduced to “eat, drink and sleep.” Life has placed many challenges before us and has forced us to struggle with them. Not one among us, and I speak for the generation born in the first half of the twentieth century, was born with the wonders of today’s technology. When we started school we carried slates and chalk in our satchels. Much later, and very suddenly, technology and computers caught up with us. In a relatively short time we had to learn computer literacy and how to use all kinds of gadgets. It is only in matters of our Orthodox faith and practice that we seem to be going nowhere or, even worse, we seem to be moving backwards.
I dare to challenge my “middle aged” generation and say that out of maybe fifty of us, not even five will know how to say the Our Father correctly, to say nothing of the younger generation. In fact, I am not sure if the older generations are any better in this respect. Only a precious few know what Orthodoxy teaches, how to live an Orthodox life and the history of our Church. We have learned so many things, both necessary and unnecessary, and we have managed to forget the little we knew about our own faith. Too often I meet older people who are desperately trying to remember things about the faith that they had learned in their earliest childhood, things which they had neglected and forgotten.
When we look back at the second half of the twentieth century, especially at the end of it, we see ourselves in defeat after defeat, adding shame upon shame. Why? Because we have allowed ourselves to be uprooted and because we have neglected our foundation. We have forgotten who we re and who our ancestors were. Even though the famous poet Aleksa Santic thinks otherwise, but we, the children of the twentieth century, are definitely not worthy of our history. With a nothing but a crust of corn bread to sustain them, our grandfathers walked barefoot across the mountain through Albania, for they knew who they were and what they were doing. They brought down a powerful empire with their bare hands.
Today we stumble from one state leader to another, each one pathetically similar to the next. With stooping shoulders and bowed heads we flee the places where our ancestors stood as staunch pillars. Almost nothing is sacred and there is precious little that we would not renounce. We are full of shallow talk which does not help us at all. Unless we return to the faith of our fathers, the active faith of fasting, prayer and good works, unless we build our strength through this faith, we will continue to be the laughing stock of the world.
“Come into the deep,” says the Lord. Leave your puddles and empty words, brave the storms and tempests. One must delve into the depths of the faith in order to fathom just how wonderful our sweet Orthodox faith is. Even at the expense of its earthly well-being, it still respects our God-given free will. It does not resort to brainwashing and mind control. The Lord says, “Whoever desires to come after Me…” (Mark 8:34) He does not say “You must follow me.” It is the same with our Church. “Come, follow me, if you so desire.”
Freedom is a great and wonderful thing, but it is also dangerous and full of risks. Isn’t it easier when someone forces us to do something that we are supposed to, yet find no strength to stop procrastinating and do it ourselves? No one is forcing us to go to church, and no one is forcing us to fast, but we do have to force ourselves to do it.
By calling us into the deep, Christ is telling us not to stand in one place and not to allow our faith to diminish. He wants us to increase our faith. He even gave us a goal – a sublime, but unattainable one. “Be, then perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
Let us heed and obey our Lord. Let us add a little more to what we are already doing. No matter how much we pray, let us pray more. And if we fast, then let us fast longer. Whatever good we do, let us do more. Let us launch into the deep in order to come closer to God.