Today is “St. Timon Sunday” in our Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America, when we take up a collection for the relief of our brothers and sisters in Syria as we remember Timon, one of the seventy apostles sent out by Jesus Christ and one of the original deacons mentioned in Acts 6:5. St. Timon was the first bishop of what is now known as the city of Bosra in Syria. He played a key role in evangelizing a region where our Lord Himself often ministered (Matt.4:25) and where St. Paul took refuge after he escaped from Damascus following his conversion (Gal. 1:15-18).
Millions of Syrians today are refugees in other countries or displaced persons in their own land. The basic services that we take for granted, such as health care, education, and access to adequate food and shelter, are simply not available in much of the country. The physical, psychological, and social damage from the ongoing conflict—in which over 200,000 people have died– cannot be overestimated in its horrible effects on millions of men, women, and children, all of whom bear the image and likeness of God.
Many of us feel overwhelmed even by the struggles we face in our own souls and families. In our own nation, we encounter so many problems and difficulties that do not seem likely to go away anytime soon. So it would be easy to give in to the temptation to think that such a grave and complicated situation as the crisis in Syria is simply far too large and deep for the members of our small parish to address. We may be tempted to despair of being able to do anything helpful at all for a land so far away and with so many needs.
When we feel that way, we must remember how our Lord fed thousands of hungry people at the end of a long day in a deserted place. He blessed the tiny bit of food that the disciples had collected, five loaves and two fish, to feed everyone with a substantial amount left over. By any conventional way of looking at what it would take to feed thousands, such a small offering would be nowhere near sufficient. Someone in charge of organizing a meal for that many people would be insane to suggest that five loaves and two fish would be sufficient. The disciples knew that, so they asked Jesus Christ to send the people away to buy their own food. Due to their own sense of inadequacy, they wanted to leave the hungry people to take care of themselves. But He would not let them off the hook so easily and challenged them to offer what little they had in faith.
So that is what they did. Then, looking up into heaven, the Lord blessed, broke, and gave the few loaves back to the disciples, and they in turn gave them to the crowd. Miraculously, everyone had more than enough to eat; twelve baskets full of bread were left over after several thousand people had had dinner. What seemed so small, so insignificant, so inadequate, was more than enough because of the blessing of our Savior.
So much in our lives is just like that, a seemingly insignificant offering that could not possibly make much of a difference. We take up a collection each year and pray every Sunday for the clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Bosra-Hauran. Our parish does what it can to help our own members when times are tough, to donate each year to “Food for Hungry People” during Lent through our Archdiocese, and to support Pregnancy Resources of Abilene in their work for pregnant women and their children in our own community. Likewise, our members undertake many seemingly small tasks for the flourishing of our parish, from cutting the grass to bookkeeping, from teaching Sunday School to giving someone a ride to church. Most of us cannot imagine that the amounts of time and energy we invest in prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and other forms of service really amount to much in comparison with the great needs of our society and world. They probably seem barely worth mentioning and nothing out of the ordinary.
From a purely human perspective, that is true. But we must remember that our Savior has united humanity and divinity in Himself. He has made it possible for humble human beings to participate by grace in His abundant life. Of course, we ourselves do not have the power to fix all our own personal problems, much less to end wars or feed thousands. Fortunately, He does not call or expect us to do so. All that He asks us to do is to follow the good example of the disciples in offering what little we can to Him for blessing with the faith that He will do with it what is best.
That kind of offering is at the very heart of our worship in the Orthodox Church, for our spiritual fathers have always seen the Lord’s miraculous feeding of thousands with the loaves and fishes as a sign of the Eucharist, of Holy Communion. A few loaves of bread and a cup containing wine and water might make a decent snack by themselves, but not a satisfying meal even for one hungry person. But in the Divine Liturgy, God blesses the little bit of bread and wine that we offer to Him. By the power of the Holy Spirit, they become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the menu of the heavenly banquet. We receive back from Him so much more than we offered. It is not a mere meal, but true communion with our Lord, the forgiveness of sins and life eternal.
For this blessed miracle to occur, we have to do our part, making our small offering with the fear of God and faith and love. We have to supply the bread, wine, and water for the Eucharist. These offerings are essential, for He requires that we do our small part, just as the disciples had to offer what little they could gather to feed a multitude of hungry people. With His blessing, our tiny gifts become infinitely more than what they would have been on their own.
Our whole life, then, should become an icon of the Divine Liturgy, of offering every bit of who we are to God for Him to bless and use as He pleases. It does not matter whether we think that we have an impressive or large offering to make. God knows our hearts and He will accept our humble gifts and multiply them to accomplish His purposes for a suffering and needy world. That is true whether we are talking about giving money for the relief of refugees, devoting time and energy to prayer, or struggling to resist any temptation. He is able to make our small investments of whatever kind to bear abundant fruit for the Kingdom as a sign of the salvation of the world.
It is simply a temptation to think that our offerings of resources, time, energy, or anything else are too insignificant for our Lord to bless. Remember that He has always worked through what appears at first weak and insignificant, such the cross by which He conquered death itself in His glorious resurrection. He uses imperfect, conflicted people like us to do His work, as He did throughout the unfolding story of the Bible. He calls us, like He called the disciples, simply to obey as best we can in our present circumstances and to leave the rest to Him.
So in the spirit of the loaves and fishes, let us offer up what resources we can to help our suffering brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Bosra-Hauran. Doing so is part of our ongoing calling to offer our humble lives to the Lord, trusting that the same God who blessed St. Timon’s ministry in an obscure corner of the world will do the same with our offering to His glory. If we feel inadequate to meeting the needs of Syria, then remember how the disciples must have felt with their few loaves and fish before a hungry multitude, and what abundance the Lord produced from their small collection. May this be true for all of us, each day of our lives, as we struggle to offer ourselves to Jesus Christ for His blessing for the salvation of the world and of our own souls.