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A Homily on Christ Walking on Water by Fr. Peter Heers

Updated: Jun 19, 2022

Transcriber's Note: Upon the request of the faithful to have a written transcript of this homily, it has finally been accomplished with the grace of God. We pray this homily will both edify, guide, and strengthen you during these days of faithlessness and fear.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Gospel, brothers and sisters, is the blueprint of every age, every society, every local church, every parish, every life. In here we see ourselves, it is a mirror by which when we look at it we see who we are, where we are in relation to our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. And when we approach it with faith and humility and we follow the Holy Fathers, then we are illumined as to how to walk in the midst of this darkness, in the midst of the high winds of temptation and we are not easily tricked by the enemy, we do not fall easily into delusion and we make it to the other side. We do not drown in the depths of the sea of this world.

When we do not walk according to the Gospel, and when we do not understand, and when we do not have it before us, then we do not obtain self-knowledge, we do not obtain knowledge of God, and we do not see where we are going. And we resemble the rest of the world who walks not according to the light of the Gospel but according to the light of their darkened intellect, which is darkness and the rationalism of the age. We walk by faith. We walk by the faith of Jesus Christ first and foremost, and then we reciprocate that, we trust - that is what faith is all about - trusting Him.

So in every age, the question is: Who do we trust? Do we trust Christ or ourselves? Humanity and our own particular selves and our own ideas, and when we are weak in that trust, then what happens? Fear arises, and fear drives our life, and fear sets the policy, and fear determines our relationships. In today’s Gospel, we see a very clear teaching and direction and message for our particular situation, in the land and the days of COVIDism, where mankind has lost its mind, lost its way, trusting not in the Lord, not in the wisdom of God, but in his [man’s] rational intellect and the solutions that he provides with that darkened intellect, which can only lead to death. There is no life in the fallen man and his intellect. He will not save us, even temporarily, and so when we turn to him and we turn away and trust him, the results are catastrophic.

Let us hear what the Gospel has to say with the help of the Holy Fathers, as always. Never read the Gospel alone but with the Fathers guiding us, every passage, every line. We heard that He [Jesus] was constrained, He constrained the disciples to enter the boat, and He had to constrain them precisely because they wanted to be inseparable from Him, they did not want to leave Him for a moment. Anyone who’s been around a holy man does not want to leave for a moment. It is such a feeling of security and peace, and so they did not want to leave Him. So He had to constrain them. It is time for you to enter into temptation, because they faced a φροτικόν (3:55). The Saints and the other Fathers say without temptation no one can be saved. What happens when we have temptation? A temptation in Greek does not mean sexual or fleshly, as many of us perhaps influenced by Protestantism and Puritism and Moralism, we think that temptation is limited to the sexual urge and all the rest. Not at all! There are many, many forms of temptations and many of them have nothing to do with the flesh.

And so, the Apostles did not want to leave Him for a moment, but they had to be tested and tried, and this was His [Jesus’] desire, His will for them, He did not just allow it but He wanted it. Let’s remember that, the next time we are faced by a trial or temptation, this is good for us; it’s part of the pedagogy of our Lord to purify us and for us to gain self-knowledge to see where we are [and] who we are, and how we are doing in terms of growing in trust in Him. “And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray, and when the evening was come, he was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.”

I’m reading from the Gospel of Matthew, it’s very similar to the other Gospel accounts but it has a little bit more detail. He teaches us always by example. The Lord has no need to pray. Everything he does - then and now - is for our salvation. Everything that happens in the Church is from God, it’s of the Church, it’s not some secularization of the Church, it’s for our salvation. Everything He did was to teach us. What He did, what He allowed to happen, what he allows to happen in our life - it’s all for our benefit. And so He teaches us to go away, to pray alone. And in the evening time to especially pray. In the midst of the night to wake up when there’s peace and quiet and you’re rested and your mind (your intellect) is prepared to open itself up to God. He teaches us to pray.

At the same time that He is praying, undoubtedly interceding for His disciples who were now in the midst of the sea, in the midst of temptation, and the wind was contrary and the waves were tossed, He permits them to endure trials bravely, to learn bravery and courage and to know His power. In fact, St. Theophylact tells us that, “The boat was out in the middle of the very sea so that their fear would be greater.” This was a very impressive thing to me when I read it. Nothing is an accident. There’s no accidents in the spiritual life, brothers and sisters. Everything is ordered for our benefit.

Now you might say, does God want us to suffer? Does He want us to have trials? Well, there is the Κατευτοκίαν Θελημά - that which He desires, first and foremost which is always our salvation, and of course He wanted Adam and Eve never to fall but to remain in His grace. And then there is the Καταπαραχορισις - that which He allows. There are two different wills, the first and the second. We, in this fallen world and in these end times almost always have the will that is allowed, the things that are allowed by God, in other words, He takes where we have take ourselves as a humanity, and each one of separately where we have gone and arrived, wherever that may be by what whatever means, and He says, “Now from this point forward what must I do to help them to grow in trust of Me, grow in love of Me, come closer to the point of this life - which is communion with God - what can I do here to take even the bad and make it good?” Even for those who love Christ even the bad will be made good by His providence.

And so here, that they would have greater fear so that they might see the greatness of God, they might glorify God all the greater as He allows them to go further into the sea. And it says in the Gospel of Matthew, “In the fourth watch of the night” He comes. That means in the early morning hours, the fourth watch is a division of the night, twelve hours, four divisions - first, second, third, and fourth. And so for the soldiers this is how they organized who will go out and do the watch. The fourth watch is four, five, six in the morning just when the sun is coming up.

So, He left them for hours in the midst of temptation. He does not go quickly to them. And how does He go? He comes showing His divinity. “Quite precisely, now that you are fearful who will save you and how will you be saved?! There is only one way, there is only one way. Not through man’s intellectual achievements and rational achievement can you be saved but only through Me. And who am I? I am He Who calms the seas and walks on the waters and I am coming to you as the God-Man, the Theanthropos.”

And of course they were troubled. They saw Him walking on the water and they were troubled saying, “It is a spirit!” And they cried out of fear. But straightway Jesus said to them, “Take courage it is I, be not afraid. Take courage, it is I, be not afraid.” Do you see how those two things go together? “Fearlessness and faith go together, and fear and faithlessness go together. When you see faithlessness you have fear, and when you see fear you have faithlessness. And these two things are like oil and water” (St. Theophylact of Bulgaria).

He did not appear immediately to calm the storm, as we said, and so they are in the midst of this great fear and in this way He teaches us not to ask for a swift solution to our temptations and our misfortunes but to endure them bravely. He wants that. He does not just allow it. He wants it, He wants us to endure the temptations and increase the courage, the faith, the trust. This is the laboratory of salvation in this world, this short time in our life it is every moment, every day, every thought is a test. Where are we, who are we with, where are we looking, who do we trust. How much love do we have? Are we praying The Prayer continuously? What is our stance? We have to make progress where our whole stance, our whole way is Christ-like. Not here and there, “I believe” and “I’m doing good things and I’m a good person, i went to Church today. Now I’m going to forget God for three hours and then I’ll come back next Sunday and remember Him. This is not the way of Christ, this is not an imitation of Christ, this is not a likeness of Christ.

So all things are for our salvation, and they did not recognize Him. They thought it was a ghost, they thought it was some kind of temptation. Because it was night and because of fear they did not recognize Him. What does this teach us? If we know Him, we will see Him in the midst of our temptations. If we do not see him, there is something lacking in our knowledge of Him and we are in the night of this world, this faithless world, rationalist outlook on life which of course goes hand-in-hand with fear because you cannot be a disciple of the Master and have trust in Him and be full of fear.

And so Peter who finally stands up and sees and hears the words of the Lord, although does not see Him because of the night and because of his fear but hears the voice and says, “If it be Thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” He did not say, “Bid me to walk, bid me to come unto Thee.” What does this teach us according to St. Theophylact? Well, if he had said “Bid me to walk” this would be ostentatious, it would be pride, that’s what “To walk, to be like you, to be miraculous, bid me to be like you.” No, this is pride, we see this in the lives of the so-called saints of the West, such as Francis of Assisi wanted to be like Christ, who even wanted to be crucified, to have the stigmata, and the Church Fathers say this is delusion. This is not the kind of imitation we strive for in the Orthodox Church. The latter is love - “Bid be to come to you! I want to be with you! I want to be in communion with you! I want to be close to you!” This is love. Do you see the difference between the miracles that faithless people want to see and those of the faithful who just want to be with Christ? And then [that is when] the miracles come, but not because they sought miracles but because they sought Christ.

“And He said, “Come.”” And by the word of the Lord everything happens, the whole creation happens by the word of the Lord. Many people, the rationalists among us, want to have explanations of everything. [But] It’s so simple. He said and it happened. End of discussion! We don’t need any proofs in the Orthodox Church. We simply have His word and the lives and witness of the Saints. “When Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus”, it says in the Scripture. Not to walk on the water, but to go to Jesus. But when he saw the mighty wind he was afraid and St. Theophylact says something very beautiful: “He was afraid of that which was lesser, he had prevailed over that which was greater.” The greater being the sea, the lesser being the wind; such is the weakness of human nature, and I would say for our situation today, we have prevailed over the greater - death. We chanted this morning and every Sunday that we have overcome death in Christ.

We have no fear of death. Let it come and the quicker, so that we might go and be with Christ, and yet we have fallen into fear of the lesser - an illness which 99% of people survive. What does this tell us about where we’re at if we are fearful of this so-called pandemic? Where are we spiritually? Why do you think He has allowed it to happen? He turns to us as He did to Peter [and says], “You of little faith. You of little faith. You don’t see that I am behind everything that happens in your life. I allowed it to happen to see where you are. Where are you in your faith? Do you trust Me?” No we don’t. We run to the vaccines and all the rest of the supposed good that will come through man’s attempt, godless men, to save us. How can we be afraid of the lesser [illness] when we have overcome the greater [death]?

The Lord did this, it says in the Scriptures for Peter. He did this. He wanted Peter to come and to fall. The Lord did this so that Peter would not become puffed up and be proud, AND, this is one of my favorite passages here in this commentary, to console the other disciples who perhaps envied him. Isn’t it always so? People envying one another especially those who have the ear to hear the Lord and the faith and courage that Peter had? And so he allows Peter to fall. That happens many times in our spiritual life. And we wonder, “Why did I fall?” Well, we saw later with Peter he fell because of pride, the Lord allowed him then, and now we see actually a correspondence here with this story and the denial of Peter at the time of the Crucifixion. Again, the pedagogy of the Lord is working for our salvation.

“And immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand and caught him and said, “Oh, you of little faith. Of what didn’t thou doubt?” He saw the Lord walking on the water and yet he doubted. And we do this too in our day, unfortunately. But the good news is that the Lord does not abandon us even though we fall away from Him. And what do we need to do? Repent! Turn around quickly and go back to the Lord and do not let anything intercept your return to Him. And this is something that happens throughout our whole life, many times a day. Many times we get up and go back to the Lord, and this is our salvation. The humble man does that, the proud does not. The proud cannot accept, cannot go back and he remains alone. But the one who is repentant and humble returns to be with Christ.

“Then they that were in the ship came and worshiped Him saying, “Of a truth thou art the Son of God.”” So the cause of Peter's sinking was not the wind but of his faithlessness, his faint-heartedness, rather. And Christ does not rebuke the wind but the faint-hearted Peter. Christ having allowed the wind, the temptations, does not rebuke the temptations, but Peter’s lack of faith. He does the same to us today. We continue in our temptations, we will until the end, there will come worse days, the days of Antichrist, who will reign the world with an iron fist and he will chase the Christians into the mountains and he will seek to annihilate any worship of God on the face of the earth. This is the end of history, well, the end of fallen history and of course the Lord will destroy him at His second coming.

But temptations will never cease, and if we have a stance that we want temptations to cease, what do we resemble? We resemble utopia, heaven on earth, those deluded enough to think that this passing fallen world will supply us with happiness. We don’t seek happiness as Orthodox Christians, do we? We shouldn’t! We seek to be with Christ in the midst of temptations. To be full of joy and yet sorrow at the same time, the joyful-sorrow of Great Lent. This is our way as Orthodox Christians. So He rebuked Peter’s lack of faith and He raised him up and set him on the water, but He allowed the wind to blow. Peter did not doubt in everything, but in part. We do not doubt in everything, that is why we are here struggling. But inasmuch as he was afraid he lacked faith. This is a very important point. Insomuch as you and I are afraid, we lack faith. This is key. So when this so-called pandemic occurred, immediately it was apparently who it was from. It was allowed by God but who was initiating it? How do we know it was immediately the demonic at work? Because of fear! Until this day, they are striking fear into all of us so we cower and do the will of the ruling elite. The fear is from the enemy and he wants us to not have trust in God. These things go together. Inasmuch as we acquiesce, we show ourselves lacking faith. Oligopistia - little faith. But the Lord allows this precisely so we come to self-knowledge.

How many people have written personally - I don’t know about you - and they said, on the one hand, “This is a terrible temptation but [on the other hand] my faith has grown, I have come back to the Church now, I see that it’s all vanity, that I am seeking after vanity and I have not had Christ and the Church as the highest point of the hierarchy.” Those people are on the path to salvation. But when we see judgements, and life decisions and stances that are based on fear, then what does that mean? The hierarchy for us is this world, safety, health as being first of all, but Christ is somewhere down here (points down). If He serves that [the first worldly priority] we like Him, but if He doesn’t (chuckles), we go [away from Him]. But first and foremost is our health of the body in this world, our health in this world, our goods in the world. We have to get the hierarchy straight! What’s first, what’s second, what’s third? When we do that, then we can discern the spirits and see where it’s coming from and we’re not afraid anymore! We see that Christ is in charge, and He’s doing this for our good. He allowed Peter to fall, He allows us to fall, but we have to get up, and we have to go and worship at His feet, “Thou art the Son of God! Where shall I go, what shall I fear? There is no need.” Cry out with Peter, “Save me O Lord!” And he was immediately healed of his unbelief. That’s the answer. You have little faith? Cry out to God, “Save me Lord I have little faith!”

Acknowledge it and ask for forgiveness. That’s the path for all of us. And it happens not once, not twice, but hundreds of times every week if we’re paying attention to our thoughts and our heart. He didn’t say, “Peter, of no faith” but “of little faith”. This is where we are if we are honest, even though we are post-Pentecost, he was pre-Pentecost. We’re post-Pentecost, less justification. You say, “Am I greater than Peter?” No, but the Lord is in a greater degree in the world after Pentecost in every one of us than He was even there bodily with Peter. This is the great mystery of salvation that no one can say, “I didn’t live in the time Peter and Paul and the Apostles, therefore it’s hard for me to understand and to see everyone has the same access.” In fact, we have greater access to the Lord after Pentecost because now we commune of His Body and Blood and we have Him dwelling in us. Peter did not have that, so he shows that he was truly a man of courage and faith, even though it was little faith. If we understand that our faith is miniscule, just a little bit of faith we have in our day and age, so little, yet the Lord says even this little faith in our day and age, if we confess this faith, will be our salvation.

So they venerate the Lord and His divinity and this is the end of all temptations. At the end of the day, temptations will come, those who remain faithful to the end and worship at His feet will be with Him eternally, and those who do not and turn away will not be with Him eternally. Here’s another interpretation of this which gives us a macro-examination and that is it helps us to see the general Economy of salvation of our Lord. And the interpretation goes as follows: The spiritual meaning of the miracle is that the boat is the earth, the waves are man’s life troubled by evil spirits, the night is ignorance and darkness - not being able to see - and the fourth watch is the end of the age which began at the time of the Incarnation. We’ve been in the end times since the first coming of our Lord; from the first coming until the second coming we’re in the end times. People say, “Are we in the end times?” Of course we’re in the end times, it goes without saying. We’ve been in the end times for 2,000 years. Are we in the end of the end times? Perhaps. The signs are many. We will see. We have to be vigilant. History is both linear and circular. It repeats itself again and again and yet it’s going forward to the end. We’ve lived times of Antichrist before: Diocletian, Nero, the Bolsheviks, and now it seems the spirit of totalitarianism is coming upon the world again.

I am reminded of the words of Saint Sophronios [of Essex] when he got to the Holy Mountain in his 40s. I’ve said this before but it’s very important. The Russians were distraught by the destruction of their country. It was 1945/1946 and literally the Church in Russia had been totally decimated, just a few bishops left, and they were crying to St. Sophronios in France - when he came off the Holy Mountain and went to France - “Why has God allowed this? He has abandoned us!”, and St. Sophronios said, “You’re very wrong brothers and sisters, He has not abandoned us. The whole point of the Church has been fulfilled - we now have a whole cloud of witnessess, thousands upon thousands of Saints now are interceding for us in Heaven through these trials and tribulations, martyrs and confessors those who have been exiled and tortured. This is the victory of the Church!”

And so the time of totalitarianism is apparently coming upon the world again. What will be the response of the Christians? Will we imitate those Catacomb Saints in Russia? Or the early Martyrs in the Catacombs, or any number of times throughout Church history? What will be our stance? Will we be fooled by the utopianists who wish and desire for us to subjugate ourselves to the powers-that-be so that we might have bread and circuses and be satisfied with this world? Will we smell the devil and turn away and run to Christ and see the vanity of it all? This remains to be seen. The Lord is a Pedagoge. He is putting us through these trials to purify us and prepare us.

I remember Elder Athanasios Mitilinaios saying in the 1970s to a group of people after this great revival on Mount Athos with St. Ephraim, St. Joseph and al the others, and they were saying, “Why, do you think the Lord allowed this? We were expecting Mount Athos to just disappear 20 years ago when only the old monks were left and now we have a total revival. Thousands of monks, thousands of young men are coming to the Holy Mountain!” And Elder Athanasios Mitilinaios said, “Well, we know from history don’t we? That when great elders appear and there are revivals in the monasteries, the Lord is preparing us for persecution. In Optina, in Valaam, the great Saints of Optina and all the other great Russian Elders who came in the late 19th century, and then shortly after the Antichrist came by the Bolsheviks. Why? Because the Lord is preparing us in Greece - 1970s and 80s - for times of persecution.”

It seems we are quickly approaching those. So we have to be prepared and see the point of it all and not be caught up in the vanity of the love of the flesh, in the love of this vain world, prepare ourselves for persecution, prepare ourselves to confess the Faith and show our trust in God and not to doubt. So we are at the end of the ages, the fourth watch. The first watch was the covenant of Abraham, the second the Law of Moses, the third the Prophets, the fourth the coming of Christ. For He saved those who were drowning and He came and was with us that we might know and worship Him as God. This is the point of everything. This is the end (telos) of our life. This is where everything is leading. But He must purify us. He’s a Pedagogue, He wants us to be with Him, we have to come to self-knowledge, we have to see our faults, we have to get up again and again, and we have to cry out with Peter, “O Lord, save us from faithlessness and fear, save us from this present age of rationalism and trust in man, and give us trust entirely in You Who are the only Theanthropos Who walks on waters, and allows us to walk on waters if we have enough faith. Amen.


Any errors in this transcript belong solely to the transcriber, Maximos, who takes full responsibility and asks for forgiveness.

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