Sermon for the First Sunday of Luke After The Sunday Following The Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Luke 5:1-11)


Fishing for Men by means of the Gospel. “At thy word I will let down the net.

The sacred Gospel records the historical fact that a great throng of people had gathered on the shore of the lake of Gennesaret (also called the Sea of Galilee) and were listening to the word of God, which was being spoken by the teacher of men who Himself had come out of God, Jesus the highly graceful speaker, who was sitting aboard the ship of the fisherman Simon. As soon as He finished speaking, Jesus told Simon to move the ship to a deeper part of the lake and to cast his nets for the purpose of catching fish. Simon obeyed, but with the observation that they had been fishing all night long and had caught nothing, and that it was only for His word’s sake that he was casting the nets into the sea.

Yet, how miraculous! For the sake of the Lord’s word Peter cast the nets into the sea, and for the sake of the Lord’s word a multitude of fishes entered and filled them so full that one of the nets came near being broken asunder. And being in consequence unable to draw it up, they signaled to the partners in the other vessel to come to their aid. Thus both ships were filled with fish, and were so weighted down that they were nearly sunk by the heavy load. This miracle so astonished and frightened Peter when he beheld it that he fell at the feet of Jesus and supplicated Him by saying: “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” But the Lord reassured him by saying: “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt be engaged in fishing for men.” (Luke 5: 10). That was as much as to say, “Be not afraid, sinful Peter, of the Savior of sinners; for I am not come to destroy, but to save, sinners. I demonstrated to thee the power of My word, not in order to frighten thee, but in order to catch thee like a fish and teach thee the art of fishing for men instead of fish; accordingly, from now on thou shalt be engaged in fishing for men.”

“And when they had brought their ships to land, they left everything, and followed him.” That is to say, they were caught by Christ like fishes, and afterwards themselves became fishers of men, taking the inhabited world in their nets, as is recorded in the Church hymn which says: “Who didst promote the fishermen to be all-wise, sending down to them the HOLY SPIRIT, and through them taking the inhabited world in their net, O lover of man, glory be to Thee!” How did Christ catch Peter and the other Apostles? By means of the miracle with which the fish were caught. But how did the fisher­men of Gennesaret manage to take the world in their net? By means of many great miracles which they performed by the power of the Holy Spirit which had come upon them.

So, inasmuch as the Gospel read in church today concerns the miracle by which Christ caught Peter and those with him, James and John, like fishes, and the fishermen caught the inhabited world in their nets by miracles, therefore the subject of discussion, being concerned with the catching of souls as fishes, will involve an elucidation of miracles. Accordingly, the discussion will first define scientifically what a miracle is, and afterwards will distinguish the different kinds of miracles. After knitting them into a good net, at the Lord’s word it will let it down with a view to catching souls. May the Lord grant that the net be filled with rational fishes to the glory of the man-loving Logos (or Word of God).

What is a miracle? A miracle is a spectacle: something, that is to say, that can be witnessed and can be seen by our eyes. The word miracle would not have existed in our vocabulary had it not been for the fact that our eyes are accustomed to the daily sight of so many and such great spectacles and miracles. According to this definition, the sun is a miracle, because it is daily seen to rise and set. The moon also is a miracle, for it can be seen as a spectacle in which it waxes and wanes and becomes full, while passing through what is called its phases. Every star and every constellation in the sky is also a miracle. Many other natural phenomena, such as clouds and lightning and thunder, and, indeed, the rainbow, and rain and snow, and hail and storms, are likewise miracles. The plants that grow on land, and the fish that swim in the sea, and even man himself, are all miracles. Man, indeed, is the miracle of miracles.

In sum, the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, are a great and superb miracle which can be witnessed by our eyes every day. But this single miracle comprises a large number of different kinds of miracles, which we are going to distinguish in accordance with the promise we have given. We can distinguish all the miracles that can be witnessed into three kinds, or classes, or orders: miracles of nature, miracles of art, and miracles of divine grace. What I call miracles of nature are all the phenomena that are produced by the obscure powers of nature, i.e., the sum-total of finite material beings which we call nature. What I call miracles of art are all the phenomena that are produced by the intelligence and action of man, and can be seen in the communities and cities of men. What I call miracles of divine grace are all the phenomena that can be seen in the Church of Christ, and are produced by the grace of the All-holy Spirit.

For instance, flowers and fruits and the blossoms of trees are all miracles of nature, and, because they are produced by trees and plants of nature in accordance with natural laws, they can be seen by our eyes here and there. The varieties of plants and of animals, rain, lightning, and the like are all miracles of nature. A ship, an airplane, or a steamboat, a locomotive, a skyscraper, or any architectural edifice, are all miracles of art, for they are produced by the intelligence and labor of man. The mysteries of our holy Church, on the other hand, such as Baptism, the Eucharist, Penitence, etc. (commonly called sacraments by the non-Orthodox), and all the powers and actions of the Holy Spirit, whereby the soul is regenerated and the body is cured – all these processes and others like them are and are called miracles of divine grace.

The miracles of nature are due to the properties and the laws of physical beings and are to be seen in surrounding nature. The miracles of art are due to the wisdom and intelligence and skill of human beings working on things which are provided in nature, and they can be seen in the communities and cities of men. The miracles of holy grace are due to the grace of the Holy Spirit, they are wrought upon the things provided in nature, and they can be seen in the Holy Church of Christ. So the three classes of miracles we have admitted are to be distinguished from each other both with respect to their productive cause and with respect to the subjects or objects in connection with which they are to be seen. Nature and her laws; the society, or community, of men together with human wisdom and intelligence and skill; the Church of Christ and the grace of the Holy Spirit – these are what constitute three kinds of miracles, which are proved and confirmed in one and the same way, to wit, by eyesight. Ask me why I believe and acknowledge that there are such things as miracles of nature. Because, I will tell you, I can see them with my eyes, I can feel them with my fingers, I can smell them with my nostrils, and I can taste them with my tongue. I can offer no better reason that this – no superior ground of belief.

Why do I believe and acknowledge that there are such things as miracles of the art of man? Because I can see them with my eyes and can feel them with my fingers, and I cannot disbelieve in the testimony of my senses. More­over, if you ask me the same question with reference to the miracles of divine grace, I cannot offer you any other than the same reason. I believe and acknowledge that there are such things as miracles of divine grace, because not only can I see them, just as I can the other miracles, but can even test them by means of all my senses, both outer and inner, both of my body and of my soul. Thus, in the first place, I can see Christ’s holy Church, just as I can see this city, just as I can see the nature round us.

In seeing the Church, I see its founder, who is God, manifested in flesh. I see Christ in Judea in the midst of the Jewish people, alive and performing miracles, restoring sight to blind men, enabling cripples to stand erect and to walk erect, cleansing lepers, raising dead men to life. I see Him dead upon the cross and three days later alive and speaking in the midst of His disciples about the kingdom of God. I see Him Lord of time and space, because the facts follow upon His words exactly and occur just as they have been pre-announced and foretold. But not only do I see Christ through countless eyes, in reality God and man and the erector of the Church I see, but I can even see the Holy Spirit in a definite time and place descended from heaven in the form of fiery tongues upon the witnesses to the resurrection of Christ, who spoke in all languages and told about the grandeurs of God, and who carried the building of the Church to the farthermost comer of the earth.

I see in the Church the miracle of baptism, whereby the one being baptized is reborn and acquires divine virtues. I see the miracle of the holy Eucharist; I taste thereof and gain life everlasting, at the same time losing the innate fear of death. In sum and substance, I can see the Church and her founder; I can see the miracles of the Church and their cause, that is to say, God’s Holy Spirit, which sanctifies and vivifies my soul through the miracles which I behold and which I can test by means of my outer and my inner senses. So, can I disbelieve in the miracles of divine grace, when, as a matter of fact, I can see them much better than I can the miracles of nature and of art? I can indeed see the miracles of nature, but I cannot also see their cause, and, as a matter of fact, I am ignorant of it. I can indeed see the miracles of art, but I cannot also see the artist who made them. But when I see the Church, I see at the same time also her founder God; and when I see the miracles of the Church, I see also the cause of them, The Holy Spirit, which immediately affects and changes my soul for the better.

But let us grant that the miracles of divine grace are likewise capable of proof and confirmation, just as are also the miracles of nature and of art. I proceed at once to ask, Is it logical and reasonable for us to call those men “learned” who deny the actuality of the miracles of divine grace, while, on the other hand, they believe in and acknowledge the actuality of the miracles of nature and of art, for no other reason than that they see them? If anyone of us should reach the point of disbelieving in the miracles of nature and of art, and should seek to maintain his disbelief by asserting that there are no such things as miracles of art, nor communities and cities wherein they can be seen, and, further, that there are no such things as miracles of nature, nor objective realities of nature wherein they can be seen, but that all such assertions are flummery and fable and nothing more – if, I say, such a person were to assert such things among us seriously, and not jokingly, would we not pity him as an insane person, and would we not send him off to an insane asylum until he were cured of such madness and insanity?

But why do you not treat those also thus who deny the actuality of the miracles of divine grace, which are altogether as certain as are the miracles of nature and of art? Renan and his like, being members of academies and uni­versity professors, write voluminous books and assert in the name of science that there are no such things as miracles of divine grace, and they even con­tradict the testimonies of the holy and sacred Gospels, which historically record a multitude of such miracles. Yet the communities of civilized nations and their enlightened governments not only do not look upon such persons as pitiably insane and fail to shut them up in an insane asylum until they be cured, but, on the contrary, they even go to the extent of honoring them as learned men and hire them to teach their illogical and irrational doctrines and their stupid and asinine theories freely on the alleged ground that they are teaching some sort of science and learning that is above the comprehension of the vulgar populace.

But the strangest thing of all is that if anyone with sound eyesight and able to see soundly the miracles of divine grace dares to prove them to be more certain than the miracles of nature and of art, and dares to call the persons fallaciously supposed to be learned men and scientists benighted and be­nighters, they call him mad and dangerous and deserving of prison and fetters. So, then, is it not a great miracle that stupid persons should be admired for their stupidity, and that prudent persons should be dishonored and discredited for their prudence? Is it not a great and surprising miracle for the blind to be thought clear-sighted, and the clear-sighted to be thought blind? Is it not a great miracle to be wondered at that benefactors should be thought malefactors, while, on the other hand, malefactors should be considered worth hiring and rewarding as doers of good? Is it not a great miracle and a most marvelous thing that illogicality, fallacy, and error should be called science, and that, on the other hand, ratiocination, proof, and truth should be disparaged as fanaticism and imposture? But what is the cause of this most strange miracle? In order to discover the cause of this strange miracle, we must seek for the final reason of the miracle. Accordingly, let us proceed to begin seeking by investigating the facts with a view to determining what the final reason of the miracles of nature is.

Let us imagine to ourselves a garden full of natural miracles and conceive that, upon entering it, we behold the various fruits of the trees, which is to say, in other words, these natural miracles. When our eyes behold them, our heart craves for them, and wants them, and desires them: our feet run to them, our hands touch them, our nose smells them through the sense of smell, our tongue tastes them through the sense of taste, and, in the end, our stomach is filled with them. Hence it is plain that the final reason, or ultimate purpose, of the miracles of nature is the maintenance and support of our body, i.e., to enable us to keep our body alive. But inasmuch as natural miracles do not suffice for this purpose, the deficiency is supplied by means of miracles of art. Nature supplies us with wool, cotton, and the like, but she does not supply us with textiles and clothing; she provides stones, and from her can be obtained wood as well as metals, but she does not give us houses and sailboats and steamships ready for use; she does indeed supply wheat, but she does not supply flour, nor bread. These miracles of art together with the miracles of nature serve wonderfully well to maintain the life of our body.

Man, however, possesses not only a body, but also a soul. In fact, just as the body has need of the miracles of nature and of art in order to be fed and kept alive, so too has the soul need of the miracles of divine grace in order to be fed and kept alive. The miracles of divine grace feed and maintain the soul, as the miracles of nature in conjunction with those of art feed and maintain the body. The soul, however, desires to live for ever. But neither the miracles of nature nor those of art are able to satisfy this desire. Hence it is plain that the final reason, or ultimate purpose, of the miracles of divine grace is none other than the fulfillment of the desire for everlasting life.

So, when the needs of the body are fulfilled by the miracles of nature and of art, and those of the soul by the miracles of divine grace, the man himself becomes well-balanced and attains to a state of equilibrium just like a balance; and it is in this righteous and just state of equilibrium that his happiness consists. The destruction of this equilibrium is his death and his unhappiness. Being righteous and just, God could not fail to provide for the fulfillment of all the needs of the body and neglect altogether the fulfillment of the needs of the soul: He could not perform an imperfect job unworthy of His supercelebrated goodness and benevolence, by furnishing on the one hand things in abundance to satisfy the needs of the body, but leaving on the other hand the soul to starve for want of the things it desires. Indeed, the facts testify and bear witness that the Lord is good and benevolent and that His mercy endureth for ever.

Nevertheless, behold, men professing themselves to be wise and writing and speaking contrary to the facts. Behold, men denying the actuality of the miracles of divine grace in the name of science and urging men to pay attention only to miracles of nature and of art, and therewith to be happy. But let us proceed to reflect what these men are seeking and what they are doing. If one were to deny the actuality of the miracles of nature and of art, he would, of course, have to deny also the actuality of the cause thereof and the final reason thereof. He would have to assert that there is no such thing as nature, nor communities and cities of men; accordingly, he would not care, of course, either to see or to eat or to drink, nor would he wish to have any intercourse with what does not exist.

In other words, he who denies the actuality of the miracles of nature and of art, and who holds himself aloof therefrom and severs the bond joining him thereto, is seeking nothing else than his own death, and he is doing nothing but committing the crime of suicide. But as for him who denies the actuality of the miracles of divine grace, what else is he denying than the existence of God? And what else is he seeking than separation from God? Accordingly, what else is he doing than murdering his soul with his own hands? In denying the actuality of the miracles of divine grace, he is at the same time denying their final reason (i.e., their ultimate purpose); he is denying the desire for everlasting life, and he is retaining only the desire for the ephemeral life of his body. By so doing he destroys his own equilibrium and balance, and, becoming unbalanced, he plunges headlong into the chasm of perdition.

For, just as in the case of the beam of a balance in equilibrium, when one pan of the scales is left without a weight to counterbalance the load on the other pan, the loaded pan is plunged downwards, so too when the soul is left empty of the miracle of divine grace which fills it, the body, on the other hand, being filled with natural and artificial miracles, is so heavily weighted down by the load it is carrying that it is precipitated downwards, and is destroyed and lost, since it is unable to continue existing alone without the counterpoise on the other side of the balance. So, as for the learned professors and teachers and doctors of the universities of enlightened Europe and America, who deny the actuality of the miracles of divine grace, and who by means of much tiresome discussion are seeking to persuade and to convince every person, whether man or woman, that there is no such thing as a divine miracle, nor everlasting life-as for such men, I say, what is it they are seeking? and what is it they are doing? It is plain that they are seeking their own death and that of other men and are accomplishing it with their own hands. But have they full knowledge and awareness of this horrible work of homicide and of suicide which they are engaged in doing, and do they know well enough what they are doing? By no means: they are wretches serving as blind tools of the Devil, who was a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44) and who, having lured and caught them, is using their tongue to inject the venom of death into the ears of other men. In fact, the Devil is a hunter of men, just as is Christ, and he too wants to catch men like fishes, just as does Christ, too, wish to do so. But the Devil hunts men in order to slay them, whereas Christ, on the contrary, hunts them in order to bring them to life and vivify them. Each of them is out to catch his prey alive by means of a miracle and spectacle.

But the Devil’s miracle is a deceptive lure, a fraud. Christ’s miracle, on the contrary, is a ransom, a means of redemption. The Devil is pursuing man with a view to his ruination, whereas, on the contrary, Christ is pursuing man with a view to saving the life of His prey and keeping him alive for ever and ever. We too often hunt wild animals and birds, luring them by means of spectacles and miracles for which their nature craves. Some men catch them alive, in order to feed them and maintain them, while others shoot them, in order to kill them and eat them. If the animals could discern the purpose and intention of the hunters and the bait offered as their ransom, they would rush of their own accord to meet the hunter sincerely loving them, and they would never fall into the trap deceptively baited. Man, however, is a rational and prudent animal and can, by reflecting and distinguishing and comparing and judging, discern and tell the deceitful hunter who is seeking to eat him up, and the savior who is seeking to catch men as prey in order to infuse life into them and vivify them. Inasmuch, moreover, as man is free, he can choose the savior and tum his own face away from the deceitful and deceptive enemy who is plotting to ruin him.

God, having created man free from the beginning, permitted the Devil to hunt him as prey by means of the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil Knowledge. God told man that the fruit of that tree is death-dealing and to abstain from eating it. The Serpent said that the fruit leads to deification and to knowledge of all things, and that it was to man’s interest to taste it. Man made a bad use of his freedom, made a bad choice, failed to detect the purpose and intention of the deceitful hunter, and, after being deceived by the miracle of that lure, he was caught in the snare and captured by the Devil who en­trapped him.

Christ came forth to rescue and redeem the man who bad been caught and taken to death. He crushed to pieces and shattered that snare of deceit­ful miracles, and thereupon offered the miracles of His divine power with a view to catching mortal man alive and reviving him. Just as Christ, after catching Peter by means of a miracle, thereupon made him a fisher of other men and a hunter engaged in catching souls alive, so too does the Devil make those men whom he catches and corrupts hunters of other men with the object of ruining them. So let us imagine to ourselves the picture embodying the idea of the great miracle involving the fishing and hunting engaged in by Christ and the Devil with the object of catching men alive, and let us reflect in our own mind to whose fishing and hunting scheme we ought for the sake of our own interest to surrender, or by which of the two fishers and hunters it is to our advantage to get caught. Let us imagine to ourselves the world instead of the sea, and men instead of fishes, born therein and growing up for the express purpose of being drawn up and lifted to a better region of better life.

The Church of Christ that is in the world is analogous to a fishing ship. Her ministers are the fishermen. The miracles of divine grace and the words concerning them are the nets. The universities, on the other hand, and the academies and all colleges that deny the actuality of divine miracles and the existence of God, are the fishing vessels of the Devil. Their professors are the fishermen. The miracles of nature and of art and the false words concerning them are the nets of deceit and fraud. The fishermen of Christ let down the nets of miracles of divine grace in order to catch men like fishes and take them to life everlasting. The fishermen in the employ of the Devil, on the other hand, also let down the nets of miracles of nature and of art knitted with deceit in order to catch men like fishes and take them to death of soul and of body. Amid this work of fishing and catching men like fishes the fishermen of the two opposite ships must needs clash and come into conflict, and consequently each side has to endeavor to frustrate the object of the other. The fishermen of Christ are in duty bound to tear the nets of the Devil’s fishermen and to render them incapable of catching fish. It is their further duty to enlighten the fishes, so that they may voluntarily enter the net of salvation, and shun the nets of falsehood and of deceit. The Devil’s fisher­men, being unable to tear the nets of truth and of sincerity, resort to denying their existence and to diffusing darkness and murk into the eyes of the fishes in order to prevent them from seeing and entering them. “Behold,” they say, “the miracles of nature and of art. Look at the sight of these alone, for it is only by means of them that you will have bliss and happiness! Do not believe that there is any other God, besides nature and the art of man.”

“Behold,” we too say, “besides the miracles of nature and of art, there are also the miracles of divine grace! Behold, the Church, wherein they can be seen! Behold, her founder, God and man the Lord! Behold, the grace of the All-holy Spirit, their efficient cause! Behold, the desire in the soul for everlasting life-their final reason and ultimate purpose!”

This net is an exceedingly strong one; accordingly, those opposed to it, being unable to tear it or to rend it apart, assert that it does not exist. We, however, do no deny the existence of their deceitful net, for we can see it and can see the cause of it and evil intention in it. But we break it asunder with the word of truth and render it incapable of catching prudent souls like fishes. Why, O wretched and most wicked hunters, do miracles of divine grace not exist, but only miracles of nature and of art? Can it be said that they do not also come within the range of eyesight, and that they cannot be subjected to test by all the senses? Can it be said that they have not their own final reason, their ultimate purpose – which is the fulfillment of the desire to live for ever – ­just as the other miracles have as their final reason and ultimate purpose the ephemeral maintenance of the perishable body, which divine grace will give back to us imperishable and everlasting?

By means of what observation or chain of reasoning or evidence have you proved that the miracles of divine grace are contrary to the laws of nature? and by means of what scientific method have you shown and assured yourselves that there are no such things as divine miracles, and that there is no God, nor Church of God, nor resurrection of the dead, nor life everlasting? The miracles of divine grace exist as a rebuke to your wickedness, as a rebuke to your stupidity and blindness, as a rebuke to your malignity, which prefers the bait of death to the ransom of everlasting life. The miracles of divine grace exist as a hymn and doxology to good and benevolent God, who so loved the life of souls that “He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3: 16). The miracles of divine grace exist for our salvation and for your annihilation. The miracles of divine grace exist in order that we may behold them and taste of them and confess to our God the miracle-worker that He is good, that His mercy en­dureth for ever.

“What God is so great as our God? He is our God, who alone doeth wondrous things” (Psalms 77: 13-14). Our God did really wondrous things when He manifested Himself in flesh and built a Church against which the gates of hell (i.e., the heretics) shall not prevail. Our God did wondrous things when He caught the fishermen of Gennesaret and through them took the whole inhabited world in His net. Our God did wondrous things when He revealed to us the deceitful hunter called the Devil and shattered his snare. Our God did wondrous things when He gave us a mouth and wisdom which all those opposing us cannot contradict nor resist.

Thus do we rend asunder the deceitful nets of falsehood with the power of our wonderful God, and knit nets of discourse which cannot be wrenched apart and which catch souls like fishes and take them to life everlasting. I am letting down these nets at the lord’s word and I invite all fishes to enter them. Distinguish, O men, Christ and the Devil, both of whom are hunting you. Distinguish the nets of the one from those of the other, and take cognizance of the fact that the one catches men in order to vivify them and inform them with life, while the other catches men in order to victimize and destroy them. Taking care to distinguish the one from the other, make good use of your freedom. Enter and fill the net which has been cast to catch you for your own good. Enter and fill the ship of Christ, and the heavenly mansions of His Father. If you fail to enter, thus abusing your freedom, YOU WILL BE RESPONSIBLE!

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