Divine Liturgy in the Monastery of the Protection of the Most Holy Mother of God in Vodoča ( 21.06.2009 )
Fishers of Men
And Jesus, walking by the
They immediately left their nets and followed Him.
Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them.
And immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people (Matthew 4:18-23).
Why does, my children, the Godman say “fishers (hunters) of men”, rather than, for example, teachers or leaders or something similar? I am asking you because hunters usually catch irrational animals, and about a real hunt of people here there can be no word. Still the Lord Jesus Christ uses precisely the term “fishers”. Let us see why.
Let us not go as far as the fall of our Forefather Adam and the fact that we are the inheritors of the consequences of his fall, we all are more or less theoretically familiar with this. Let us start right away from what we know very well and what we live daily.
Let us ask ourselves: are we bearers of the gift of the mind-and-heart prayer—that is, can our mind prayerfully stay in our heart as much as we want to? Obviously, not. What is the reason? The captivity of our heart to irrational passions. And we know well that first of all it is the irrational passion of vainglory, of high self-esteem; or at least the fact that we set our mind and reason as the criterion of all—the conclusion that we make, at our level of spiritual development and with the light of the mind we have, we do not question: for us it is thus and by no means anyway else. But then, if it is not so, we do not ask ourselves about the consequences of the erroneous conclusion on our spiritual development. In the best case we will become aware one day that the consequences are closure of the heart for the prayer of the mind in it.
We know the remedy, yet we do not use it. It is the absolute, blind, and wholehearted obedience. It is the placing of our mind through the obedience into the process of healing. After we have left everything and followed Christ, here do we stumble.
If things stand this way for us who live in a monastery, then what is it like for them who live in the world? If this applies to Christ’s disciples, then what about them who still do not believe? That is to say, if we, who are aware about our captivity to the irrational passion and are fighting against it, cannot free ourselves yet, then what does it happen with them who are neither aware that they are bound by the irrational passions nor are they aware that these are leading them to their ruin? This is particularly when we know that the guide of every irrational passion is the evil-rational demon.
Now, what can we say about the people who consider themselves to be rational, yet in essence they are consciously or unconsciously lured by the irrational passions, led by the evil-rational demon. Can we truly regard such people as rational, wise, smart, reasonable, intellectuals, teachers, guides of the blind? Naturally, we cannot. They may well be smart, reasonable, intellectuals, teachers and guides of the blind by the criterions of the world—all the same. What, then, to say about them who do not meet even the worldly criterions, although things are easier with them? Let us never lose out of sight the teaching and the truth that stem from the patristic experience: knowledge and illumination that are engendered by reading books are one thing, whereas it is something else when they are fruit of the living experience of God in the heart, which is a gift of the Lord Holy Spirit.
Is it clear to you now, my children, why the Godman Christ tells the holy apostles Peter and Andrew that He will make them “fishers of people”? I believe that it is. And, you can imagine, if it is like this at present, after two thousand years of Christianity, what it was like then and what kind of irrationality ruled then among people. Therefore did Christ perform so many miracles at that time, as opposed to the demonic miracles performed by the demon’s servants daily and publicly. That is why the apostles, too, performed so many miracles. That is why the holy martyrs, too, performed so many miracles. That is why at the end the times of miracles will be back, just as whenever the times of persecution came back, the times of irrationality as well.
Still, no one is born as a “fisher of men”. A “fisher of men” is something one becomes. And one becomes that through a personal struggle in the Church and through the grace of the Holy Spirit. Therefore does Christ say, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men!” I would like us to dwell some more on what the characteristics are of the “fisher of men”, because the road to becoming one you know: by bringing our life and struggle in line with the level of spiritual development at which we are.
Just as the irrational animal runs from its hunter, so are the people induced by the irrational passions led by the demon far from the Church and the spiritual fathers. And just as the ordinary hunter needs to be practiced in order to catch his prey, so does the “fisher of men” i.e. the spiritual father need to be experienced so that he can lead people to salvation. The spiritual father must first purify his own heart from the passions, acquire the gift of the mind-and-heart prayer and reach at least to illumination of the mind so he can lead on the road to purification of the heart and illumination of the mind the ones he will attract toward the Godman Christ and His Church. Them, in whom he will manage to turn their faith into experience and knowledge, he will never lose again.
A “fisher of men” can be called only a man with prayerfully illumined mind, a man with a word that springs from his purified heart and reaches to the depth of his fellowman’s heart and a man with presence in power. In his presence passions paralyze, the demon flees far away, and his word brings light, strength, and hope in the other man’s heart. Also, even when such a man is no longer close to his fellowman and when the passion revives and when the demon comes back again, he does not abandon his fellowman. With the prayer in his heart he keeps the light, the strength, and the hope—that is, the seed he has sown in his fellowman’s heart. The seed which in synergy with the free will of the one in whom it is sown and aided by the grace of the Holy Spirit can sprout, grow, and bring forth fruit—liberation of the heart from the passions.
And, not to forget, finally, we should not follow Christ because He promises us to make us “fishers of men”. Although it is very necessary, it should not be the reason to follow Christ, because that is ridiculous. The reason should be that He first and He alone loved us. He deserves that we leave all, firstly our pride, and follow Him without any promise and regardless of what it will cost us: Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them. And immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.
Metropolitan Nahum of Strumica