Homily of Fr. James Hademenos August 7, 2011 at Assumption of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church San Angelo, Texas
Our Gospel Lesson from Matthew describes the miracle of the feeding of the 5000. (Matt. 14: 14-22) This is perhaps one of the most familiar and least understood miracles in all the scriptures. Although our holy fathers in the faith understood the purpose of this miracle quite well and were universal in their agreement as to its meaning, there are literally millions of Christians today who have lost touch with the historic faith and teachings of our ancient Christian ancestors and thus are truly “in the dark” as to what this miracle points to.
The explanation most commonly given today is that Christ simply sought to demonstrate His deity to the world, since only God could perform such a work. That’s a nice, rational answer, and easy to understand. But it falls far short of the answer that Christ Himself gave. As the multitudes continued to follow Him in order to receive more food, He revealed to them the true purpose for the miracle. In John, Ch. 6, He declares, “Labor not for the meat which perishes, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of Man shall give unto you…I am the bread of life; he that cometh to Me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst.”
This was an answer that many of the Jews who had been following Christ up to this point did not find rational at all. In fact, if you read through John 6 you will see that on three separate occasions the people objected that His words made no sense, and each time they did so Christ came back, not with comforting, reasonable explanations, but with even bolder statements. He declared, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
Unfortunately there are many Christians today who cannot accept Christ’s words, but rather than abruptly leave Him, they simply reinterpret what He said to derive a meaning that is much more in accord with rational thought. They see communion as little more than a symbolic remembrance of Christ’s death and not as His literal Body and Blood since such a belief seems irrational to them.
We should note that the words of Jesus are not irrational. They rise above the limitations of mere human reason alone and require also the gift of faith to help us experience and participate in them. Our holy fathers understood that the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 pointed directly to the Holy Eucharist. Just as five loaves of bread were multiplied at the hands of His disciples to feed everyone present with twelve basketsful left over, so today five loaves of prosphora are multiplied at the hands of His clergy in parishes across the world to feed millions with the Body of Christ. In the final preparation of Holy Communion, we hear the priest exclaim, “The Lamb of God is broken and distributed; broken but not divided. He is forever eaten yet is never consumed, but He sanctifies those who partake of Him.”
Of course it is tragic that there are so many today who still will not believe the words of Christ, especially in light of His warning that unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood we have no life in ourselves. But we must understand that it is not just post-modern rationalism that robs people of the full meaning and power of the Eucharist; for many Orthodox Christians a simple lack of faith and piety routinely does the same.
I wonder what impact we contemporary Orthodox believers might have on our world if we developed a much deeper and more reverent appreciation for the Holy Eucharist. Across this land, Orthodox Christians have by and large set a very sloppy example of respect for this life-giving and holy sacrament. A large percentage of us do not prepare ourselves properly to take communion each Sunday. We do not confess regularly, we do not seek forgiveness from our loved ones for any transgressions we may have committed, we may not pray the prayers of preparation beforehand which can be found in our hymnal, and perhaps we do not even fast properly prior to taking the Body and Blood of Christ. Fasting helps us in disciplining ourselves. It also helps us to prepare our minds and bodies for the forthcoming intaking of the Holy Body and Holy Blood of Christ. And on Sundays there are still far too many of us who habitually stroll into church half-way through the liturgy.
If the Eucharist is truly life-giving as Jesus claims and the “Medicine of Immortality” as our holy fathers faithfully described it, then it is easy to see why our enemy the devil would wish to do everything he could to encourage disbelief in it or impiety toward it. We must do our part to overcome the devil by approaching this sacrament with the fear of God, with faith and with love. Only then will we be able to receive its benefits, and from it gain the life eternal that Christ has promised us.