What are miracles for?

V Pascha Wednesday, Apodosis of Mid-Pentecost  РJohn 6: 5-14 

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At that time:  When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him, There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.  When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.  Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.

St. Augustine introduces his exegesis of this account by meditating first on the meaning of miracles in general.  Here is what he writes:  

The miracles performed by our Lord Jesus Christ are indeed divine works, and incite the human mind to rise to the apprehension of God from the things that are seen.  But inasmuch as He is not such a substance as may be seen with the eyes, and His miracles in the government of the whole world and the administration of the universal creation are, by their familiar constancy, slightly regarded, so that almost no man deigns to consider the wonderful and stupendous works of God, exhibited in every grain of seed; He has, agreeably to His mercy, reserved to Himself certain works, beyond the usual course and order of nature, which He should perform on fit occasion, that they, by whom His daily works are lightly esteemed, might be struck with astonishment at beholding, not indeed greater, but uncommon works. For certainly the government of the whole world is a greater miracle than the satisfying of five thousand men with five loaves; and yet no man wonders at the former; the but latter men wonder at it, not because it is greater, but because it is rare.  For who even now feeds the whole world, but He who creates the cornfield from a few grains? He therefore created as God creates.  For, whence He multiplies the produce of the fields from a few grains, from the same source He multiplied in His hands the five loaves.  The power, indeed, was in the hands of Christ; but those five loaves were as seeds, not indeed committed to the earth, but multiplied by Him who made the earth.  In this miracle, then, there is that brought near to the senses, whereby the mind should be roused to attention, there is exhibited to the eyes, whereon the understanding should be exercised, that we might admire the invisible God through His visible works, and being raised to faith and purge by faith, we might desire to behold Him even invisibly, whom invisible we came to know by the things that are visible. 

God works miracles, then, not simply to satisfy our temporary and temporal needs in difficult situations, but also, and more importantly, to raise our minds on high, to incite in us a divine desire for spiritual vision, that “…we might desire to behold Him even invisibly, whom invisible we came to know by the things that are visible.”   If our hearts were indeed purged by faith and pure, free of sin, our minds would delight daily in all of creation as a most stupendous miracle proclaiming the Creator at every moment.  Holy men, whom God has cleansed of the passions and given the grace of theoria, do not indeed, marvel any more greatly at exceptional miracles than they do at the ongoing, constant, and greater miracles, not only of God’s creation and governance of creation, but also the even loftier miracle of the indwelling presence of the Holy Trinity in the heart cleansed from sin by faith in the redemption granted us through the Blood of Christ and the sanctification bestowed upon us by the Holy Spirit.  The exceptional miracles – clairvoyance, healings, bilocation, and so forth – are to them not exceptions to the rule, but an ordinary part of a life lived in the Spirit.  These latter are not the greater miracles, in fact, but lesser ones, whose purpose is to call our attention to the greater ones we ignore every day.  

One miracle worked by God that is unseen by the physical eye, a miracle that is far greater than prophecies, visions, and healings, is the miracle of the prayer of repentance offered with attention, first by the lips, then in the mind, that descends into the heart, restoring a man to his paradisiacal true nature and wholeness, making him fit for eternal life.  A recent righteous new confessor of the catacomb Church in Russia, Archbishop Antoniy (Golynsky-Mikhaylovskiy), articulates this insight thus: 

For man there is nothing loftier than to converse through mental prayer with God, Who is everywhere present; there is nothing higher for him than to stand mentally before the Lord and implore the forgiveness of his sins.   Prayer is called the mother of the virtues, since only through prayer can true virtues be attained and Grace-filled gifts received.  Keep your concentration fixed on the [Jesus] Prayer, and God will accomplish things mystical and exalted at the appointed time, when your heart is fully cleansed of passions, and you have committed yourself to doing God’s will exclusively.  The Lord works through prayer and by means of prayer, and whatever does not come through prayer – no matter how good or conducive to salvation it may seem – provides no help in vanquishing the devil, because it has no real power…  

You must not pay attention to any supernatural phenomena, such as rays of light, even if they are emanating from icons, or voices, even if angels are singing, for you are standing in prayer before the Lord of Angels Himself, Who is invisible but everywhere present.  What could be loftier than this? … – On the Prayer of Jesus and Divine Grace 

“For man there is nothing loftier than to converse through mental prayer with God, Who is everywhere present…”     When you are weighed down to the earth by the cares of life, choose to go apart and converse with God in the prayer of repentance, imploring the forgiveness of your sins.   Force yourself to attention, and keep doing it, until the light of our Morning Star, the Lord Jesus Christ, dawns in your heart.   When that happens, you will have worked a miracle greater than any seen by the eyes of men.  Or, rather, the Lord shall have worked it for you.   He has promised, and He will do it.   

O gracious and man-befriending Lord, Who has created all things out of nothing for the sake of man, and Who became Man for our sake, glory be to Thee. 

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