by Fr. Jonathan Hemmings


"And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered by the waves. But He was asleep. The his disciples came to Him and awake Him saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing." (Matthew 8:24, 25)

The image of Christ and his disciples in a boat is traditionally used for the symbol of Christ and His Church. In Latin the word "navis" means ship from which derives the word for the Nave of the Church. Thus, the Church has been seen down the ages as the company of the faithful battling through the storms of life with its temptations, attacks of heresies and difficulties. No less today should we embrace this symbol of the Church since it has Biblical authority through the record of the evangelists.

The disciples were in a boat and a storm blew up. Our Lord was asleep in the boat and was awoken by the disciples who were in fear of their lives. "Lord, save us!" Their lack of faith even in the presence of Jesus brought the fear of drowning. But Christ who is the Pantocrator responded immediately to their urgent prayer and commanded the wind and the waves to be still. The command that He had over His Creation spoke also to the frailty of the human condition of the disciples to still the tempest of their souls. Their fear, our fear needs to be calmed by the words of Christ, the Word made flesh. On another occasion in the gospel we read of how the disciples had got into a boat and Jesus came to them in the middle of the night walking on the water. The disciples thought that they saw a ghost and were again afraid. But Jesus spoke to them again:

"Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid." (Matthew 14:27)

Peter recognised that it was Jesus, jumped out of the boat and began to walk on the water towards Jesus: but then fear of the waves seized him and he took his eyes off the Lord and he began to sink. Jesus stretched out his hand and saved Peter with the words:

"O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14:31)

Peter had taken his focus from the source of his faith with the consequence that he began to doubt.

The famous movie "Titanic", based on the historical tragic event of 1912 illustrates how Man's arrogance and pride can lead to his destruction. Titanic was meant to be indestructible, unsinkable. The finest, biggest, most expensive ocean going liner in the history of shipping. Yet, within a few hours one night on her maiden voyage an iceberg put an end to this work of Man's engineering and sadly to thousands of lives. It was only those in the life boats that survived; small and simple as they were, these life boats saved lives when the largest liner in the world sank beneath the waves. One finds many small Orthodox Churches, especially in Greece, offering hope and life to the faithful of a local community. This, I think, is significant. We should not think of the Church as an Ocean going liner built for comfort and ease, rather, we must think of the Church as a Life-boat from which we can throw life-belts for those who are drowning. The word in Greek for lifeboat derives from the verb" to save" or "salvation." Our Church is in the business of saving lives, not in giving pleasure and luxury. The Church is for the wounded, the broken, the lost; those who like the disciples cry "save us!" The Church is not measured by its size but by the faith it maintains, imparts and inspires through Christ her Captain.

Basil the Great tells the following story of God's care.

"I heard from a sea person, that the sea urchin, that very small and easily scorned animal, forewarns the sailors about good weather or stormy weather. The urchin when it pre-senses a storm secures itself beneath a large rock, and, having the weight of a rock as an anchor, is not swayed by the waves … who taught the urchin this tactic? There is nothing which God neglects, or for which He does not provide. He watches eveything, offering to each one its salvation. If God did not leave the urchin outside His loving care and attendance, your own life — what do you say? Won't He embrace it with the same loving care?"

In the life of Saint Mark the Athenian we hear of a visit from Abba Serapion who asked him:

"Now tell me Abba does the world still exist?" "It exists with your prayers holy Elder." "Is there still faith in the world?" "There is, by your prayers holy Elder." "Is there faith of that which the Gospel talks about, to tell this mountain, leave and for it to go to the sea?" However, as he was saying these words, with his hand he pointed to the mountain nearby which was moving towards the sea. St Mark said to the mountain, "Hey! be still, we are just discussing, I didn't command you to leave." Is there such faith?


January 2000