Launch Out into the Deep

Homily on the Miraculous Catch of Fish

Hierodeacon Theodore (Stanway)
Sep. 27 / Oct. 10, 2021
Holy Trinity Monastery
Gospel Reading: Luke 5:‘ 1 — 11
(18th Sunday after Pentecost)

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

Dear broth­ers and sisters!

In today’s Gospel read­ing we hear our Sav­iour offer­ing some sim­ple advice to the fish­er­men: “launch out into the deep.” These fish­er­men – the Lord’s apos­tles – had been fruit­less­ly labor­ing all night on the Sea of Galilee, try­ing to catch fish. Upon fol­low­ing the com­mand of Christ, the fish­er­men were blessed with a mas­sive haul of fish, so large, in fact, that oth­er fish­ing ves­sels had to come to their assis­tance so that they could make it back to shore with­out sinking.

For many of us today, the sto­ries of Christ’s mir­a­cles seem very detached from our day to day lives. How does this sto­ry of a mirac­u­lous catch of fish help us get through life and what does it mean for us, who may nev­er have to set out onto the sea in search of sus­te­nance? As in all of the Holy Scrip­tures, we must pen­e­trate into the deep­er mean­ing of the word of God, which is where we will find the most spir­i­tu­al­ly nour­ish­ing teach­ings of Christ.

What is impor­tant in today’s Gospel read­ing is not the great haul of fish. In fact, the fish them­selves are periph­er­al to the real mes­sage of what is being con­veyed here. The most impor­tant pas­sage is, of course, Our Lord’s words: “launch out into the deep.” This is not an order or a com­mand, but instead, like in oth­er places in the Gospels, a sug­ges­tion, or even bet­ter, an invi­ta­tion. Just as Our Lord calls the Apos­tles with an invi­ta­tion to “come and see,” here the Lord invites the Apos­tles and, through them, us to “launch out into the deep.”

To “launch out into the deep,” spir­i­tu­al­ly inter­pret­ed, is to ful­ly immerse one­self in the depths of the Chris­t­ian life, which is unfath­omably deep. As Saint Paul says, this is “the depth of the rich­es of the wis­dom and of the knowl­edge of God” As the Psalmist says, it is out of these depths that we cry unto the Lord, and He hear­kens to us, and again, when he writes that “deep cri­eth out unto deep,” which is the prayer of one’s heart.

Why does the Lord invite us to “launch out into the deep,” rather than order or com­mand us? Because, broth­ers and sis­ters, the great­est depth of the Chris­t­ian life is true Gospel love, and there can be no love in com­pul­sion. Saint John the The­olo­gian, whose mem­o­ry we com­mem­o­rat­ed yes­ter­day, was one who plunged into the true depths of the spir­i­tu­al life and was immersed in exalt­ed con­tem­pla­tion, hence his being known as the The­olo­gian. His sim­ple instruc­tion for us, how­ev­er, is not some abstract mys­ti­cal teach­ing, but the sim­ple com­mand to “love one anoth­er,” three words that are said to have been Saint John’s most suc­cinct and straight­for­ward apos­tolic homi­ly. Jesus Christ invites us to these depths, not order­ing us, because, as I have said, there is no love in com­pul­sion and, when there is no love, there can be no true religion.

Our Sav­iour invites us – invites you – to these depths, because it is only by “launch­ing out into the deep” of Chris­t­ian life, which is the only true and authen­tic spir­i­tu­al life, that we can over­come the tri­als, tribu­la­tions, and temp­ta­tions of this life in the “vale of tears..” A reli­gion based on com­pul­sion can nev­er extend beyond the exter­nals – mere shal­low, skin-deep obser­vance of cus­toms, rites and per­func­to­ry reli­gious oblig­a­tions – and will nev­er pen­e­trate into the deep heart of man, rous­ing with­in him that great capac­i­ty to gen­uine Gospel love, which seeks not itself. A reli­gion based on mere com­pul­sion and exter­nal obser­vances becomes noth­ing but the rit­u­al­is­tic and emp­ty moral­ism of the Phar­isees, a hyp­o­crit­i­cal, self-serv­ing, and ulti­mate­ly delu­sion­al way of life. Broth­ers and sis­ters, this is not what we are called to! Always remem­ber that it was this kind of stale, exter­nal­ized faith prac­ticed by a mul­ti­tude of the Russ­ian peo­ple that led to the fall of the world’s largest Chris­t­ian nation at the time of the rev­o­lu­tion, but, con­verse­ly, it was the deep, seri­ous faith of anoth­er mul­ti­tude that gave the Church the New Mar­tyrs and Con­fes­sors. The choice is yours.

The Lord Jesus Christ invites us to “launch out into the deep” because He does not want us to stay in the shal­lows, where noth­ing worth­while can be found. How many peo­ple do we know who, hav­ing once been mem­bers of Christ’s true Church, the Ortho­dox Church, have left, either to some sect, or sim­ply to unbe­lief, excus­ing their apos­ta­sy by telling us that they “weren’t spir­i­tu­al­ly nour­ished” or com­plain­ing of hav­ing noth­ing more than a basic – and usu­al­ly flawed — under­stand­ing of the faith, hav­ing only expe­ri­enced the exter­nals? There are many such cas­es, but these com­plaints are like those of a man who leaves a swim­ming pool com­plain­ing that it was too shal­low to swim in, yet hav­ing com­plete­ly ignored the deep end, where he could have immersed him­self in the waters and swam to his heart’s content.

A shal­low faith is no real faith at all and we will see this truth man­i­fest itself time and time again when hard­ships and tragedies strike. A true faith, a deep faith, will sus­tain us through all tragedies, all tur­moil, and the bleak­est days of our lives. We only have to look around at our own com­mu­ni­ty to see the sud­den and hor­ri­fy­ing tragedies that can occur at any time, or to the world around us, which has been turned on its head for over a year now. We would quick­ly sink if it were not for the faith which not only sus­tains us, but strength­ens us and gives us hope. With­out a deep faith in Christ and in the Ortho­dox Church that He has giv­en to us, we would be like the fish­er­men in the Gospel – adrift and toil­ing with­out prof­it on the unsteady seas of life.

In truth, this is what the Apos­tles them­selves say: “we have labored all the night and have tak­en noth­ing.” This is a life with­out faith, with­out the deep spir­i­tu­al life only found with­in the Ortho­dox Church. With­out faith, we labour all night in the dark­ness of unbe­lief, with­out the light of Christ to guide us. All of our life’s labors, all of our strug­gling and striv­ing, ulti­mate­ly amount to noth­ing if we are sep­a­rat­ed from the love of Jesus Christ and the grace that He gives to us. Often, man only real­izes the futil­i­ty of his many labors and works when death stares him in the face and he is con­front­ed by his own mor­tal­i­ty. Broth­ers and sis­ters, let us not offer emp­ty labors in this life and come away with emp­ty nets, but let us instead “launch out into the deep” and receive the blessed reward of those who labour for Christ.

We are invit­ed to “launch out into the deep” and receive the many bless­ings of the life in Christ – true spir­i­tu­al life. What is true spir­i­tu­al life, how­ev­er? Is it exalt­ed mys­ti­cal expe­ri­ences, visions, bright lights, and height­ened emo­tion­al states? Cer­tain­ly not! It is sim­pler than that. Our own Vla­dy­ka Averky explains: “spir­i­tu­al life con­sists of sat­is­fy­ing the needs of the spir­it, and the needs of the spir­it con­sist of a person’s striv­ing towards God, seek­ing for liv­ing com­mu­nion with Him, and the desire to live accord­ing to God’s will.”

It’s as sim­ple as striv­ing to keep the com­mand­ments! The “short Gospel” is the sim­ple path to true spir­i­tu­al life, true Gospel love, and true immer­sion into the depths of the life that Christ Him­self offers to us: “Love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind” and “love your neigh­bor as your­self.” Upon these two com­mand­ments are the entire Law of God built and, as Saint Paul says, “love there­fore is the ful­fill­ing of the Law.”

This Law, broth­ers and sis­ters, the very Law of God Him­self, is not, as we have seen, the mere per­func­to­ry obser­vance of rules, reg­u­la­tions, and cus­toms. It is the entire inner renew­al of man, com­ing about through repen­tance and the soft­en­ing of one’s heart towards oth­ers, through God’s grace, as Saint Paul says in today’s epis­tle that we are “fel­low work­ers with God” who should not receive His grace in vain, but should mul­ti­ply it like the tal­ents. God’s grace, work­ing in the depths of our hearts, will help us to endure all things for Christ’s sake, bear­ing not only our own bur­den, but also one another’s, and so ful­fill­ing the Law of Christ.

True Gospel love, how­ev­er, is not a sick­ly, sac­cha­rine Hall­mark moment full of con­stant smiles and gig­gles. True Gospel love, broth­ers and sis­ters, is com­plete­ly unit­ed to truth, and is there­fore not afraid of the stern word and the nec­es­sary rebuke. The false love that we see preached so often these days is tru­ly of the dev­il in that it is now “unlov­ing” to try and turn some­one away from the path of sin and evil. True Gospel love is patient and kind, but it is not indul­gent. It does not rejoice in iniq­ui­ty, but instead rejoic­es in the truth, and there­fore it is hat­ed and reject­ed by the world­ly. True Gospel love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things; it is the high­est virtue that we must attain to. We must con­stant­ly strive to grow in true Gospel love, con­tin­u­al­ly puri­fy­ing our hearts and our motives in order to reflect God’s love more perfectly.

Strength­ened by God’s grace, work­ing through our faith cul­ti­vat­ed in the depths of the spir­i­tu­al life, we can answer the call of Saint Paul to “exhib­it our­selves […] in much patience, in tribu­la­tion, in neces­si­ties, in dis­tress­es, in stripes, in pris­ons, in sedi­tions, in labours, in watch­ings, in fast­ings, in chasti­ty, in knowl­edge, in long­suf­fer­ing, in sweet­ness, in the Holy Spir­it, in char­i­ty unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the pow­er of God: by the armour of jus­tice on the right hand and on the left: By hon­our and dis­hon­our: by evil report and good report: as deceivers and yet true: as unknown and yet known: As dying and behold we live: as chas­tised and not killed: As sor­row­ful, yet always rejoic­ing: as needy, yet enrich­ing many: as hav­ing noth­ing and pos­sess­ing all things.” These are the virtues that we are called to strug­gle for, and the fruits of the Holy Spir­it that we are promised in return. Even if we lose all things in this strug­gle, we will pos­sess all things, for those who have the love of God in their heart have everything.

This is what is means to “launch out into the deep,” for when we answer Our Saviour’s invi­ta­tion to join Him in the depths of the true and authen­tic spir­i­tu­al life, when we cast our nets into unknown waters, trust­ing in the words of the Mas­ter, we will have our own mirac­u­lous catch of fish. Not the mate­r­i­al fish that sat­is­fy our stom­achs, but a spir­i­tu­al catch of fish, which is the great mul­ti­tude of God’s gifts that are so numer­ous that we must call oth­ers along­side us so that we may share with them. Is this not like the saints to whom we have recourse for their inter­ces­sions? Do we not flee to beloved saints like Saint Seraphim of Sarov, Blessed Xenia, Saint John of Kro­n­stadt and, of course, the All-Holy Moth­er of God for their assis­tance because, like the Apos­tles in today’s Gospel, their boats are over­flow­ing with a mul­ti­tude of God’s rich gifts, gifts that they strong­ly desire to share with us? Tru­ly it is, broth­ers and sisters.

As an aside, the fish that were caught by the Apos­tles in the Sea of Galilee are known to this day as “Saint Peter’s fish,” and any­one who has been on pil­grim­age to the area can tes­ti­fy that these are some of the most deli­cious fish that one can eat, there­fore con­firm­ing that the gifts God bestows upon us – whether it be a sim­ple meal of fish or His abun­dant mer­cy – are the great­est imaginable.

Greater than a meal of fish that mere­ly sat­is­fies the stom­ach, how­ev­er, is the meal of God Him­self – the sacred mys­tery of Holy Com­mu­nion of His Body and Blood – that He offers for us and to us today. This is the great­est depth and the great­est mys­tery known to man, one before which, like Peter, we say “I am a sin­ful man!” Nonethe­less, despite our faults, our sins, and our unclean­ness, just as Our Lord ever invites us to “launch out into the deep,” and receive His great gifts, He invites us now to receive His great­est gift, eter­nal life, freely offered to us out of His abun­dant love for mankind. Launch out then, broth­ers and sis­ters, and cast out the net of faith to receive a boun­ti­ful catch of His mer­cy and love towards us.


About the author

Hierodea­con Theodore (Stan­way) is a grad­u­ate of Holy Trin­i­ty Sem­i­nary’s B.Th. and M.Div. pro­grams. He was ton­sured into the less­er schema by Bish­op Luke of Syra­cuse in 2019 and ordained to the dia­conate in 2021.