How not to lose your faith

IV Pascha Monday – John 6: 56-69

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 The Lord said to the Jews who believed on him: He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. These things said he in the synagogue, as he taught in Capernaum. Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.  And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.

St. Peter, along with the other faithful disciples who remained loyal to Christ, heard the same words spoken by Him which supposedly scandalized and drove away the majority of the hearers.   Why, then, did the faithful disciples remain while the others “went back,” that is, cut themselves off from eternal life by rejecting the Lord?  It was not that the loyal disciples were clever academicians whose professional training had taught  them how to decode the veiled language of mystical theology by means of the fallen intellect; they were rough Galilean peasants just like those who decided to depart from the Lord.    St. John Chrysostom explains it thus:  

Seest thou that it was not the words that caused offense, but the heedlessness, and sloth, and wrong-mindedness of the hearers?   For even had He not spoken, they would have been offended, and would not have ceased to be ever anxious about bodily food, ever nailed to earth.   Besides, the disciples heard at the same time with the others, yet they declared an opinion contrary to theirs, saying, “To whom shall we go?” An expression indicating much affection, for it shows that their Teacher was more precious to them than anything, than father or mother, or any possessions, and that if they withdrew from Him, they had not then whither to flee. Then lest it should seem that [Peter] had said “To whom shall we go?” because there were none that would receive them, he straightway added, “Thou hast the words of eternal life.”   – Homily 47 on John 

There are three main lessons here:  1. Those who refused to understand and accept the Lord’s teaching did so out of their worldliness and carnality.   2. The faithful disciples’ minds were enlightened to understand because of their great love for the Lord.  3. They did not stay with Christ because they had no other options, but because following Him was the only option for someone who wants eternal life. 

In the invisible warfare of the soul, we are torn between the competing voices of both parties.   On our bad days we are tempted to reject the radical message of the Gospel and join those who “went back.”  “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?”  On good days,  we recognize that here, indeed, are the words of eternal life.   The good days are not the problem.  What can we do on the bad days to chase the dark thoughts away? 

Most often, the dark thoughts that come to inspire doubt come at times when we have been immersed, even more than usual, in either the pleasures or the pains of temporal existence.   Like the majority crowd in John 6, we just want to know where our next meal is coming from.    A carnal way of life, consumed by worldly cares, will usually bring down even the baptized soul from the refinement of a heavenly understanding to the coarseness of  the materialist, who cannot imagine anything beyond the evidence of the senses.   We must take steps to simplify our lives, detach from the earthly concerns that detract from a God-centered life,  and reserve both time and mental energy for the care of the soul.   

Most often, doubts and unbelief arise when we have grown cold towards the person of Our Savior.   We forget that, when we came to believe in the Gospel, this belief was inseparable from, demanded by, and made firm in love for Jesus, our greatest friend and benefactor, the most delightful intimate of the inner thoughts and feelings of the soul. In times like these, let us force ourselves to kneel before the icon of Christ crucified for us and read the Akathist to Our Sweetest Lord Jesus Christ.   Read aloud, slowly, and fight for attention.   The grace with which the words themselves are imbued will enliven our hearts and cleanse our minds.  

Most often, when Orthodox Christians stray far from the Lord, one notices that they have been caught up in, even fanatically devoted to, the externals of the Faith and have forgotten the essence. That is, they have forgotten the Gospel.  To avoid the fate of those who “went back,” let us open the Holy Gospels daily and read with great attention, humbling our minds and wills, and asking the All Holy Spirit to warm our hearts.   The grace of our baptism will be energized, and it will once again be obvious to our minds, not from argument but from divine power, that these indeed, are “the words of eternal life.” 

Through the prayers of St. Peter and all those who have followed Christ to the end, may our minds and hearts be ever with the Lord.  Amen. 

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