“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; but He who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To Him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear His voice, and He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. When He has brought out all His own, He goes before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from Him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what He was saying to them. So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them. I am the door; if any one enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.
John 10:1-9 (Orthros Gospel from Feast of St. Spyridon)
The Orthodox Church places it saints in different categories. Some are called “Martyrs.” Those in this category were killed for their faith. Saint George, St. Demetrios and St. Katherine, among many others, fall under this category of saints. Some were “ascetic fathers.” This means that they were monks, who lived solitary lives, often out in the desert. Saint Anthony and Saint Paisios are examples. Some saints have the title “Hierarch,” which means that they served as bishops but were not martyred. A “hieromartyr” is the classification of a hierarch who was also martyred.
Today’s saint, St. Spyridon, is an example of a saint who was a Hierarch. He was born around 270 A.D. and died of natural causes in 348 A.D. He lived most of his life in Cyprus. He took part in the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 325 and he was instrumental in countering the heresies made by Arius regarding the Holy Trinity.
In trying to explain how one entity could be three entities at the same time, he took a piece of pottery and explained that one pot was composed of fire, water and clay. As he finished speaking the pot burst into flame, water dripped to the ground and he was left holding the clay dust.
The Gospel reading on the Feasts of the different hierarchs is generally one of a few readings. Sometimes it is Matthew 5: 14-19 (“Light of the World”, as is the case on the feast of St. Athanasios). Sometimes it is Luke 6: 17-23 (The “sermon on the plain”, as is the case with on the feast of St. Nicholas) And sometimes it is John 10:9-16, Christ the Good Shepherd as is the case with St. Nektarios and St. Spyridon.
The Gospel read at Matins (Orthros) on the days of the Hierarchs is usually John 10:1-9. And for today’s reflection, I want to focus on this passage, since we have discussed the passage John 10:9-16, already. The hierarchs of the church, the bishops of today, are the “shepherds” of the flock. We are the sheep. However, unlike the animal sheep which are among the least intelligent creatures, we are rational sheep. We have our own minds. However, like the animal sheep, we do get lost at times, we do wander away from the flock, we have spiritual immaturity, so we need guidance from our shepherds so that we can get home to the safety of the sheep pen, in others words so that we can get safely home to God’s heavenly kingdom.
Sheep and shepherds, on the farm, ideally work in tandem. The shepherd leads the sheep and the sheep follow the shepherd. The shepherd cares for the sheep, so that “they know His voice,” (John 10:4) and trust Him. The sheep follow Him willingly and joyfully.
Jesus uses the image of the shepherd and the sheep because the society of His day was an agrarian society and people understood these images. He also used this image to distinguish Himself as the Good Shepherd, as opposed to other shepherds, those who came before Jesus. He also describes Himself as the door by which the sheep enter the safety of the sheep pen.
He begins the passage by telling His followers that the one who climbs into the sheep pen by any other means than the door are like thieves and robbers. The one “who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.” (John 10:2) The sheep hear the voice of the shepherd. It is a very familiar voice because it is a personal voice. The shepherd “calls his own sheep by name.” (10:3) He has a personal relationship with them. They have a personal relationship with Him. They know his voice. He knows their names.
The sheep who knows the voice of the shepherd is not going to follow another shepherd, he will not follow a stranger. The sheep who doesn’t know the voice of the shepherd is going to be confused as to who to follow. So it is incumbent not only on the shepherd to protect the sheep, but it is incumbent on the sheep to get to know the voice of the shepherd.
Jesus will tell His disciples in the next verses from John 10:9-16, read at the Divine Liturgy today and on the feasts of other hierarchs that He is the Good Shepherd. But before talking about that, He tells them that He is the door. He is the doorway through which the sheep pass in order to get to the safety of the sheep pen. Later He will also describe Himself as the shepherd who leads the sheep and who also guards the door to keep them safe.
He ends the passage by telling His disciples that all those who came before Him “were thieves and robbers but the sheep did not heed them.” (10:8) Jesus then says in one of His authoritative “I AM” phrases that “I AM the door; if anyone enters by Me he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” (10:9)
Saint Spyridon was an example of a shepherd, who led the flock, with a Christ-like love and commitment. Our bishops of today are called upon to have the same kind of Christ-like love and willingness to sacrifice for the flock. The flock, we the sheep of today, are called upon to follow our shepherds, trusting that they will lead us to the safety of the sheep-pen, salvation. The system breaks down when the shepherds prove distrustful or if the flock proves to be disobedient. That is why there must be a synergy in the church, between loving leadership who cares for willing followers. Saint Spyridon was an excellent example of a shepherd. May those in church leadership follow His example. And may those who are not leaders of the church be sheep that are rational but also obedient.
At the first of the Synods, you emerged as a champion, and wonder-worker, our God-bearing Father Spyridon. Therefore, you address the dead one in the grave, and a serpent you changed to gold. And while chanting in service your sacred prayers, you had angels concelebrating, O most Holy One. Glory to Christ who glorified you, glory to Him who crowned you, glory to the One who works through you, healings for everyone. (Apolytikion, Feast of St. Spyridon, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Follow the Shepherd (Christ) every day. Stay with the flock, the Church. And work your way to the sheep pen (salvation) by preparing to walk through the door (preparing for the Judgment through a life of love and service).
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
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