The Power of Unwavering Faith: Learning from St. Peter's Experience - A Sermon for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost (2023)

The Power of Unwavering Faith: Learning from St. Peter's Experience - A Sermon for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost (2023) - Holy Cross Monastery

Commenting on St. Peter’s wavering faith in today’s Gospel, St. John Chrysostom boldly states: “When our part is lacking, God’s part also stands still!” The Gospels teach the same. When Christ came to His hometown of Nazareth, St. Mark explains that He was unable to work any powerful works there except for a few healings. Why? “Because of their unbelief,” their lack of faith. 

The Greek behind the word “unable” can also be understood as “unempowered.” How is this? Can God lack power to work miracles and mighty wonders? No! He can do anything. He has done, as the Psalmist tells us, all things that He has desired. He created all from nothing! Angels—those mighty, bright, joyous, innocent beings—He created from absolutely nothing! He did this by His own power. The world—this beautiful and wisely-arranged universe of heavens, planets, unknown wonders of outer space and the depths of the oceans, earth, blue skies, flocking birds, migrating fish, instinctually-wise animals, and more than all this, human beings endowed with rationality, mind, free-will, made in the image of God—all of this God created out of absolutely nothing!

How then can His power be hindered? How then can the Gospels exclaim that He is stinted in His ability, and unempowered, to do mighty works? Because He desires, as the Fathers tell us, to give us all the riches of His grace, all the attributes of His eternal and unending and divine life, all the glories of His divinity, He desires to give us as if we were rightful heirs thereto, as if these things are our own rightful possession!

There is a reason why today’s Epistle starts with the words, “We are workers together with God.” Sunergoi—co-workers with God! Do we understand the power of this word? It is why we constantly hear from Orthodox theologians that our Faith is one which understands that our salvation and life in Christ is “synergistic,” that is, one which requires two workers to join one with the other.

In every page of the Gospel we hear of faith. It is both the elementary lesson of our life in Christ, the first step and virtue, but also the summit of our life in Christ, our deification.

Scan the Gospels and see that faith is never lacking. When Christ heals in the Gospel we constantly hear Him state: “May it be done unto you according to your faith.” When He forgives sins He explains that it is “according to our faith.” When He teaches, when He commands, when He tells parables—all revolve around faith.

Faith makes the very all-knowing God-Man marvel. For it is said that He marveled and wondered at the faith of the centurion who said, “I am not worthy that You should come to my house and lay your hands on my servant, but only speak just one word.”

Likewise, when Christ perceived the utter lack of faith amongst His countrymen, such made Him also marvel and wonder, but not in a good way such as the centurion.

So today, we hear Him ask St. Peter, “why did you doubt, O thou of little faith?”

It seems a harsh question. It seems out of place to us. “Come on,” we think, “Peter’s only a weak man like all of us. He started walking on water and then began to sink because he saw the winds grow more fierce. Don’t be so hard on us, weak men, O Lord! Why do you reproach us for our lack of faith, for our darkness of mind, for our doubts and lack of trust? Look! We suffer many things constantly! We are plagued by sicknesses, weaknesses, passions, difficulties, godless rulers, heretical churchmen, catastrophes, death, mutilation, persecutions, and every manner of atrocity! Why do you add to our torment and plague us also with Your unjust question, “Where is your faith? Why do you doubt?”

But if we actually take to heart the Gospel, we see that the Apostles and St. Peter had more than enough to make them champions in unfaltering faith.

Read the Gospel up until today’s Gospel found in Matthew chapter 14, and read also the other Gospels which provide further details and stories which prove to us that Christ’s question to St. Peter is not harsh or unjust.

Before today’s event they saw Christ heal every manner of sickness, disease, and ailment. The Gospel also says that Christ healed those who came to Him with faith of their “torments.” Do you see? He not only cured physical maladies, but also the torments of the soul, the passions, the illnesses of our mind and spirit.

They also saw Christ cure the most terrible cases—those blind, leprous, paralyzed, mute, deaf! They even saw Him raise the dead! What is more? They saw Him cast out demons! What is more? They themselves received from Him the power to also cure the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead, by their very own hands!

What more proof do they want? What else could embolden their faith? He also manifested His power over nature and its elements. Today’s Gospel speaks of the second time that Christ’s Apostles were in peril on the sea. In Chapter 8 of Matthew they are with Christ Who is asleep. When they awake Him, He rebukes the winds and the sea, and they marvel!

They exclaimed: “Who is this man?! Who has power even over the winds and sea?!” Furthermore, before today’s miracle, they just witnessed Christ multiplying bread and fish to feed a multitude.

What more could He have done to show that He is Lord over nature, Lord over men, Lord over the demons, Lord of the universe? Nothing!

Therefore, His questioning of St. Peter is not unjust, despite what our feeble thoughts and feelings tell us.

St. Peter and the Apostles had every chance to learn Who this man was.

And so have we! Yes, even we have learned this!

Maybe we have not seen Christ appear before us and show power over nature, but we have certainly seen Him calm the passions of our wretched and sinful souls time and time again.

Who is here in this church that has not experienced even but a taste of Christ’s power and grace? Have we not experienced the grace of Baptism and/or Chrismation? Have we not experienced the absolute stillness of our passions, the obliteration of all struggle, the bright joy of mind and soul, the ceasing of sin, the resurrection and ascension of our souls into heaven where we experience that joy and peace which are unshakeable, which are beyond this world, which cannot be corrupted or destroyed?

Who is here who has not experienced this if only in a slight taste, if even for one second? If for only one second we have tasted these things, this should be enough for us to burgeon in faith and to grow in unshakeable love!

Well, what if we don’t remember our entry into the Church, then let us remember a salvific confession, a time of sweet weeping in our prayer corner, a conscious experience of Holy Communion, or some other spiritual experience before a holy icon or person which deeply penetrated our hearts.

Who is here who has not had but a taste of some grace? Please, forgive me, if I boldly state that no one here is bereft of some miraculous sign of God’s love and care for us and power over our lives.

But we cannot expect an unending experience of grace. God wants us to struggle, to stretch our spiritual muscles, to grow from infanthood to maturity.

Let us remember Christ’s parable about the poor widow. She constantly bothered the worldly and unjust judge. Finally, he caved-in to her constant outcries because of her persistence. Christ explains, how much more will God, the most Just Judge, grant the pleas of His children!

“But,” He continues, “even so, when the Son of Man comes again to resurrect the dead, and to judge all men, will He find faith?”

Do you see? Faith is the beginning of our spiritual life but also its end. We can never surpass the need for it. When Christ comes again to earth will He find us watching, waiting, hoping, and believing upon His power to deliver us from all evil, passion, sin, and hardship, into the glorious and bright Kingdom of everlasting joy, peace, and life?

Why was the Gospel written but for this end? We heard at the end of the Matins’ Gospel last night from the lips of St. John the Beloved, “many other things did Christ, which are not written, but all these things have been written that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, we might have life through His name!”

If we do not see Christ, then let us constantly call out to Him: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!” Not once, not twice, not just for five minutes, not just during our prayer rules, not just with our lips, not simply with our thoughts, not only with our mind, but with all our being stretching forth to Him in pain, desire, faith, hope, love, and longing. If we do nothing but grope in the darkness of this life and in the darkness of our souls for the hand of Christ, and still do not see Him, let us not doubt that at the end He will fulfill our longing, hope, and faith with the sweet vision of His countenance. For in this life we grope about, but in the age to come we will see Christ, bright and radiant! We will hear Him bless us, saying, may you dwell with Me forever according to your faith.


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