2 Corinthians 4:6-15; Luke 5:1-11
I suspect that many of the crises of our society today have at least something to do with people not having a profound sense of purpose for their lives. Those made in God’s image and likeness will not find satisfaction in a life without a substantive goal or purpose. If we are not offering ourselves to Him, we will offer ourselves to whatever false gods distract us from facing the anxiety, fear, and despair of a pointless existence. Such a life brings nothing but misery, division, and resentment to a world enslaved by the fear of death.
Our way of life as Orthodox Christians must be entirely different, for Jesus Christ calls us all to follow Him even as Sts. Peter, James, and John did. They were professional fishermen who had worked all night and caught nothing. They knew that it was time to wash their nets, go home, and try again tomorrow. But the Lord said, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Peter’s answer showed his frustration: “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at Your word I will let down the nets.” When they did so, they caught so many fish that their nets broke and their boats began to sink. This unlikely and amazing scene helped Peter see himself truthfully, as he said to Christ, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” The Savior responded, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” Then Peter, James, and John left their boats and nets behind as they became His disciples.
Peter was the head disciple, but struggled mightily in faith. He denied the Lord three times before His crucifixion and had earlier heard the stinging rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan!,” when he had rejected the message that Christ would be killed and rise from the dead. After His resurrection, the Lord restored Peter by asking him three times if he loved Him and commanding him to “feed My sheep” in fulfilling his ministry. (Jn. 21: 15-17) Peter was the first bishop of the Church in Antioch and in Rome, where he made the ultimate witness for the Savior as a martyr. At many points in his discipleship, he must have been as frustrated as a fisherman who had worked all night and caught nothing. But despite his many failures in understanding what kind of Messiah he was serving, Peter kept letting down his nets and finding that the Lord continued to call and work through him, despite his imperfections and failings.
St. Peter knew from experience what St. Paul meant by stating that “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of power is from God, and not from us.” The apostles received “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” but still remained in need of the Lord’s mercy and strength for the healing of their souls. Their faith was not in themselves and their vocation was not one of comfort, ease, and popularity, for as Paul wrote, “We are pressed on every way, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; smitten down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.” They suffered in serving Christ’s body, the Church, “knowing that the One who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up through Jesus, and will make us stand together with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the grace, which is multiplied through the thanksgiving of many, may abound to the glory of God.”
Our calling is not merely to celebrate the memory of how our Lord called His disciples and apostles, but actually to follow their blessed example of fulfilling their vocations to serve Christ and His Church sacrificially. We must not try to excuse ourselves from doing so out of a false sense of humility, for we are all “earthen vessels” of flesh and blood who need healing for our souls beyond what we can give ourselves. Our Lord does not call us as a reward for a spotless life; if that were the case, He would have had no disciples at all. Remember that Peter had denied Him three times and Paul was a great persecutor of Christians. We all live in the same world of corruption with our own history of personal brokenness and the particular challenges that exist in our families, workplaces, friendships, and other relationships. He calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him, nonetheless.
In order to have the wherewithal to hear, discern, and obey His calling, we must open our hearts to Christ mindfully through daily prayer, regular fasting, generosity to our neighbors, and repentance. Through frequent Confession and reception of Communion, will find healing and nourishment for greater strength in fulfilling our vocation. And we must not set up our own self-imposed standards for what our calling will be. If something needs to be done in the parish and we are able to do it, that is likely our calling. If there is a need to serve Christ in our neighbors in the larger community that we can meet, that may well be our calling. If our parents, spouses, children, and others for whom we have unique responsibilities need our care, that is certainly our calling.
In fulfilling our vocations as “earthen vessels,” we must never take it upon ourselves to judge the calling of someone else or even what we perceive to be our own calling. Since all the members of Christ’s body play vital roles in its flourishing, there is no place for diminishing any sacrificial offering of service to the Lord. With the guidance and blessing of our spiritual fathers, we should focus on offering ourselves faithfully to Christ and give thanks for the ministries of others, regardless of how important or prominent anyone thinks they are.
Of course, there are those who have become shining and remarkable icons of faithfulness to Christ. Today we commemorate our Righteous Mother Euphrosyne, who embraced the extraordinary vocation of living as a monk in a men’s monastery in order to avoid her father’s plans for her marriage and to embrace strict asceticism. Other holy women also embraced unconventional vocations, such as St. Mary of Egypt, who found healing from her wretched way of life through decades of solitary repentance in the desert. St. Xenia of St. Petersburg became a “fool for Christ” after her husband’s death. Twice divorced before becoming a nun focused on social ministry, St. Maria of Paris was martyred in a Nazi concentration camp for hiding Jews.
We honor them as icons of extraordinary faithfulness, for their remarkable lives help us see what is at stake in our own more clearly. Being inspired by their examples, we must simply keep letting down our nets in obedience to Christ according to the particulars of our lives and circumstances. We will become “fishers of men” not according to our own will or time table, but in obedience to His. God calls some to become deacons, priests, and bishops, and some to become monks and nuns. He calls most people to other forms of ministry, which are also vital for the flourishing of the Church. We are all merely “earthen vessels,” for the point of fulfilling our vocation is not to bring glory to ourselves in anyway, but instead to glorify Christ as we strengthen His body, the Church, and draw others to the blessedness of His Kingdom. Let us all discern and pursue our callings like the apostles and saints who have gone before us. Doing so faithfully is the only way for those who bear God’s image and likeness to find the peace, joy, and strength of a Kingdom that remains not of this world.