24 August OS 2018 – Thursday of the 15th week of Matthew; S. Eutyches, Bishop Martyr; S. Cosmas Aitolos, New Martyr and Equal-to-the Apostles; S. Maxim (Sandovich), New Priest-Martyr
Today’s reading from the Holy Gospel is Mark 6:30-45, which is St. Mark’s account of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. In his commentary on this passage in Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, St. Theophan the Recluse does not comment on the text recounting the miracle itself, but on verse 33: “And the people saw them departing, and many knew him, and ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent them, and came together unto him.” St. Theophan reflects thus:
What drew the people to the Lord? A feeling for the Divine. The Divinity of he Lord, hidden under the cover of human nature, revealed itself in word, deed, gaze, and in all that was visible in the Lord. The manifestations of the Godhead awakened a feeling for the Divine hidden in the heart of the people, and through it drew them to the Lord… A small sign of the Divine draws people to itself. What can one conclude from this universal experience of our spirit’s aspiration for the Divine, which takes place at all times? One can conclude that the source of this experience is the Divine, the supernatural, the Godhead. This aspiration lies at the foundation of our spirit, and constitutes its nature, as anyone can see from our intellectual, aesthetic, and practical concerns. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 192-193
This “feeling for the Divine” is a mark of the presence of spirit in man. The spirit is not a separate thing from the soul, but the highest faculty of the soul, by means of which the baptized soul has direct communion with the energies of the Godhead. Every human being is born with spirit, which is characterized by this “feeling for the Divine,” this thirst for God, and God’s grace uses this natural function of the spirit in order to draw man to Faith and Holy Baptism, which enable the spirit to house the indwelling grace of God. Archbishop Averky, in an article quoted in The Law of God (English edition, pp. 100-103), notes three aspects of human psychology that point to the existence of spirit: Fear of God, Conscience, and the Thirst for God. It is this Thirst for God that Bishop Theophan is referring to above. Archbishop Averky writes:
It is inherent in the nature of our soul to seek God. Our spirit cannot be satisfied with anything created and earthly. No matter how many and how varied the earthly goods we might have, still we long for something more. This eternal human dissatisfaction, this constant insatiableness, this truly unquenchable thirst demonstrates that our spirit possesses a striving for something higher than all that surrounds it in earthly life, for something ideal, as it is often said. Since nothing earthly can quench this thirst in man, the spirit of man is restless, not finding any rest for itself until it finds complete satisfaction in God, with Whom the human spirit is always striving consciously or unconsciously, to have living communion.
How, then, do we draw people to the Church? Only by manifesting the holiness of God, the divine beauty for which the human soul thirsts. Preaching, teaching, articles, argumentation, etc. – all have their proper place, but the “clincher” is always that the spirit of the man thirsts for the actual divine grace present in the real Church, and he is not satisfied until he drinks from that fountain. Our job is to do our little part in making this present to him. We do this in several ways, including the following:
- We must all make sacrifices in order to make possible the regular celebration of the Orthodox Divine Services in fitting parish churches, monastic oratories, and mission chapels. This includes the building of the church, outfitting it, and supporting the clergy, so that they are free to serve frequently and not only on Sundays and a few feast days.
- We must so order and adorn our homes and our family life, so that the distinct fragrance, the “feel” of Orthodoxy permeates them.
- We must manifest in our speech and personal bearing that we are indeed different, citizens not of this world but of the heavenly kingdom. This comes about only when we are faithful to the life of prayer and to prayerful and moral attentiveness throughout the day.
When an honest, thirsting soul encounters these things – the Orthodox divine worship, Orthodox home life, and Orthodox personal behavior – it senses the presence of grace. A person may be seeking the true Faith and discovering Orthodoxy through books (or, as is likely nowadays, the Internet), but he needs to encounter the reality in the flesh. This is where real conversion to the Faith begins.
Let us resolve today to take steps in doing our part to help these thirsting souls. We need to pick one of the three activities above and make a short to-do list in order to pursue it. We should tell the Lord that we are weak and unable to do it, and that we beg Him to help us, for His glory and for the salvation of souls. Since He desires our salvation and that of our neighbor infinitely more then we do ourselves, surely He shall speedily help us.