153 Fish

The Gospel set for the Second Sunday after Pentecost comes from Matthew 4: 18 – 23.  In it we learn of the calling of four fishermen:  Peter, Andrew, James, and John.  This event is at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and here, Peter, Andrew, James and John are told they will become “fishers of men.”

In the Gospel of John (21: 1 — 14) a contrast is found.  It is near the very end of all the Gospel accounts, and occurs after Christ’s resurrection.  Here, we read of the miraculous catching of 153 fish in the nets of those apostles with Peter that day.  The number of fish caught is important.  153 is the number of all known nations according the the accounting of the Ancients.  Thus, symbolically, the number corresponds to the peoples of all nations, races, and languages.  The people  of all these nations (and even more nations) will be drawn by the nets of the apostles into the Church, and into relational union with Christ, the Father, and the Holy Spirit.  Further, all of the created realm is included in this relationship with humanity and God!  St Paul writes of this in Ephesians 1: 9 — 10:  

“…declaring to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he intended for him — for the plan of the fullness of time — to gather together all things (ta panta) in Christ; those things in heaven and those things on earth in Him.”

These words of St. Paul bring us to the theological concept of recapitulation.  Recapitulation, meaning a gathering into unity, is at the heart of   the salvific model called Christus Victor.  To understand its theology we must go back to the account of creation, and to the Garden.  God had created the heavens and the earth and then filled the creation with animals, insects and plants.  Then God created his image bearers, vice-regents, prophets, and priests.  Humanity was commissioned to maintain and cultivate all of creation into a glorious order and loving relationship between God, man, and creation.

But, unfortunately we come to the Fall.  The serpent successfully deceived our first parents.  With the subsequent rebellion of Eve, and the capitulation of Adam, all was scattered and lost to sin, death, darkness and alienation.  In this horrid state of chaos we became prey for the serpent.

Jesus Christ Conquers

However, we were not left without the promise of salvation.  In the fullness  of time salvation arrives.  We are given a New Eve.  We read of her appearance — the first step of our rescue — in St Luke’s gospel (Luke 1: 26 – 38).  This pericope concludes where Mary (the New Eve) speaks there words, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1: 38).  Mary’s obedience to the call of God undoes the binding knot of the first Eve and allows the entrance of the Second Adam into creation.  The God-Man, the Savior, is born into his own creation.  And by his Incarnation all that was lost and scattered to death, sin, darkness, and alienation is gathered back together in Him.  All was regathered into relational union in Christ!

St. Paul expands his teaching in another Prison Epistle, his letter to the Colossians.  Colossians 1: 15 — 20 reads,

He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, those things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions, rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him.  He is before all things and in him all things are held together in their proper orders…For in him all the fullness [of creation] was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things — things on earth and in heaven, making peace by the blood of his Cross.

Elsewhere, St. Paul declares this in 2 Corinthians 5: 17:  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old is passed away.  Behold, all things are new!”  We, too are renewed and restored.  We as Image Bearers, vice-regents, prophets, and priests are now in Christ.  By this renewal, we are to extend Christ to all and all things, and to subsequently gather all into relational union in Christ.  This is who we are and what we are to be doing!

Let’s observe where we are this Lord’s Day.  We have come from our homes to our Orthodox Churches (perhaps with a bit of chaos along the way, and arrived just in the nick of time!).  We have gathered together in relational union in Christ to worship the Triune God.  Also, we have gathered together in Christ to have this saving relational union strengthened by the central act of our worship — to commune of his Body and Blood of the Eucharist.

Yet, we don’t linger too long.  The Divine Liturgy comes to its conclusion with these words:  “Let us depart in peace!”  We are commissioned by these words, and depart back into the world.   In our various settings and situations, as image bearers, prophets and priests, we are to bear Christ to all and all things we encounter.  We have Christ in us and we are to unfold him to all we encounter.  St. Paul informs us that we can do this by “rejoicing always; praying without ceasing; and giving thanks in, with, and for all things, which is the will of God for us in Christ Jesus” (1 Thes 5: 16 – 18).  These are our regal, prophetic, and priestly actions.

We return to the Church on the next Lord’s Day.  We regather together bringing our offerings —all we have done in Christ — back into the Kingdom and its relational unions.  And the Divine Liturgy moves us to this important point in the anaphora where the priest or bishop declares, “Thine own of thine own, we offer unto Thee in behalf of all and for all!”  It is necessary to note that as these words are spoken, the gift offerings of bread and wine are are elevated and presented to God.  

Soon after this, the Divine Liturgy will soon move us to the Epiclesis.  Here the Holy Spirit is called upon (the meaning of epiclesis) to come upon our offerings of bread and wine to make them the Body and Blood of Christ!  All is again gathered together in Christ in the Eucharist!  With this working of the Holy Spirit a re-presentation of the Incarnation and its recapitulation occurs in sacramental form.  In the Eucharist we, our works in Christ, and all creation are taken to Christ and incorporated into him.  Thus, we are gathered together in Christ and are taken into the Kingdom prepared for us.

So, let us be mindful fishers of men.  Let us be purposeful image bearers, prophets, priests, and vice-regents to the glory of the Triune God.

The following is a corresponding sermon:

In Christ,

Fr. Irenaeus