Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Then He made the disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds. And after He had dismissed the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone, but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out for fear. But immediately He spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” And Peter answered Him, “Lord, if it is You, bid me come to You on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.” And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. Matthew 14: 22-34 (Gospel of the Ninth Sunday of Matthew)
The Gospel lesson of today immediately follows the account of the miracle of the five loaves and two fish feeding five thousand men (plus women and children). This day must have been both exhausting (because it was very long) and exhilarating (because of the miraculous feeding of all the people). As it concluded, Jesus sent the disciples into their boat to cross the Sea of Galilee.
After dismissing the crowds, Jesus went up on top of a mountain to pray. Even the Son of God needed to recharge and replenish Himself through prayer, through spending time alone with God. This concept of prayer, and sacred time alone with God, is potentially one of life’s greatest blessings and at the same time one of its greatest challenges. After all, what could be more special that time spent in spiritual intimacy with God, pouring out our sorrows, unloading our pains, celebrating our victories and just plain being with God. At the same, this is a challenge on two fronts. First, it seems hard to find the time to do it. That seems like a conflict in terms right there. After all, the day has twenty-four hours, certainly we can find ten minutes to spend with the Lord. And yet, few people do it. Secondly, the discipline of going to God every day is difficult. We all go through times when God seems far away, when prayers go unanswered, and challenges become more daunting. It is hard to go to God when we are under such prolonged duress. It is hard to go to Him in joy when it seems like life is anything but joyful.
At summer camp, we have a period of time each morning called “Alone with God.” This is a fifteen minute period of time when there is no activity at camp, when everything stops, so that campers and staff can enjoy some time alone with God in prayer and meditation. I’m sure that some campers sleep or daydream, but at least they have the opportunity to shut everything off for fifteen minutes and be with God. It’s on the schedule. When we are not at summer camp, Alone with God is not scheduled in for us. That means we have to schedule it in for ourselves. It’s important. It’s challenging. It’s renewing. It’s necessary. Even Jesus Christ, the Son of God needed it. We need it much more. Schedule some alone time with God each day.
Continuing on in the Gospel passage, while Jesus was away from the disciples, a big storm hit the lake, causing strong winds and high waves. What a frightening scene it must have been for the disciples. In the middle of the night, however, Jesus came up to the boat, walking on the water. The reaction of the Disciples, naturally, was one of fear and uncertainty. They thought it was a ghost.
Immediately Jesus reassured them that it was Him, their friend. Peter, as he often did, challenged Jesus “Lord, if it is You, bid me come to You on the water.” (Matthew 14:28) Was this a challenge? Or was Peter filled with doubt that it really was Jesus? The Gospel passage doesn’t say. It does say that Jesus told Peter to walk to Him on the water. Peter, filled with faith, got out of the boat and started walking on the water. Imagine jumping off a boat into stormy seas believing that not only you would survive but that you could actually walk on water. Before we are quick to criticize Peter’s lack of faith, we have to give him some credit for taking a step off the boat to begin with. This is one of the reasons that I find Peter to be such a refreshing figure in the New Testament. He had doubts, but he had faith. In other words, he is someone that just about all of us can relate to.
Peter walked on water, a leap of faith. Somewhere in the journey, however, he took his eyes off of Christ. And seeing the waves all around him, had a moment of fear, panic and terror. He then began to sink into the waves. He cried out to Jesus “Lord, save me.” (14:30) Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught Peter. Jesus said to Peter “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” (14:31) Once Jesus got into the boat, the wind stopped and the disciples all worshipped Jesus.
There are four lessons to be taken from Peter’s misstep. First, as we discussed, it took some faith just to step out of the boat. In this Peter did great. Second, it’s when we take our eyes off of Jesus that we begin to doubt. It’s harder to doubt when we are consistently with Christ. It’s when our spiritual intimacy with Him wanes that doubts creep in even more. When we doubt, that is when we start to sink in our faith. The third lesson is that even in our moments of doubt, we need to “stay in the game” and look to the Lord for help. Again, we must give Peter credit. He didn’t try to save himself. He knew that only the Lord could save him. While he averted his eyes from Jesus temporarily, in his moment of need, he knew to look towards the Lord. And fourth, when Peter cried out to the Lord, the Lord reached out and saved him. It is the same thing with us. When we reach out to the Lord, He is going to protect us.
Finally, the calm returned once the Lord was in the boat with the disciples. If we keep the Lord in our “boats” (our homes, our businesses, our families, our hobbies, etc.), we will have a lot more calm and a lot fewer storms. The storms come in when we don’t leave room for the Lord in our boats, in our schedules, in our thoughts, in our actions.
When You, the Life of all, from the dead resurrected, a shining Angel cried to the lamenting women, “Cease from your tears. Announce unto the Apostles the tidings full of joy. Cry out in exaltation, that Christ the Lord has arisen from the dead. For He so willed to save the human race, as God, in His good pleasure.”(First Resurrectional Kathisma, Plagal Fourth Tone, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Spend time alone with God each day. Keep your eyes on God, especially in the storms of life. When you are sinking, rely more on the Lord and less on yourself. Stay in the game and reach out to Christ. Keep Christ in your “boat”—in your marriage, your parenting, your decisions, your friendships and in your work—and you’ll see that things are a lot more calm when you do.
These readings are under copyright and is used by permission. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, in print or on other websites or in any other form, without the prior written authorization of the copyright holder: Reading © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA, Apolytikion of Abbot Marcellus © Narthex Press, Kontakion of Abbot Marcellus © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Photo Credit: Crosswalk
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