September 1, 2019

Homily on the Eleventh Eothinon Gospel - John 21:14-25

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

The incident described in today's Eothinon Gospel is a continuation of the incident described in the previous Gospel. That is, last Sunday we saw the miraculous catching of fish and the food that Christ ate with His disciples at Lake Tiberias. Of course, Christ after His Resurrection did not need food because He had eliminated mortality, but He did it out of economy to bring joy to the disciples and show them that He was not a ghost, while that food was consumed by divinity.

Immediately after the meal, Christ had a conversation with Peter, who had shown his great love for Christ by going into the sea and swimming to shore to meet Christ. Three times He asked him if he loved Him, and he gave a positive answer. He commanded him to shepherd His sheep as an expression of his love for Him.

The question is, why does He ask him so that all could hear, even three times, if he loves Him, since he had previously confirmed Him to be his God. And the other question is why He asked him three times.

It seems clear that this incident is a restoration of the Apostle Peter to the other disciples. It is known that the Apostle Peter denied Christ three times just before His Passion. His sin was great and his position was somehow shaken among the group of Christ's disciples. However, after the triple denial he did not depart from the group of disciples, as Judas did, but he wept bitterly for his sin and continued to remain in the group of disciples. This shows that no matter what sin we commit, we should never be disappointed, but repent immediately and remain in the Church. We should never put it into our minds to move away from the Church.

With the triple invitation to a public confession of love, Christ healed His disciple's public denial. So He not only publicly restores him to the apostolic office, but also entrusts him with the ministry to shepherd His sheep. Therefore, an expression of His love would be "shepherd my sheep", "shepherd my lambs". This is his pastoral ministry of Christians. The Apostle Peter was aware of the sin, gained knowledge of repentance, saw the Risen Christ, expressed his great love to Him through his actions, and therefore can shepherd Christ's sheep correctly and unmistakably.

Christ then foretells to him his martyric death, when He told him that when he is old, he will stretch out his hands and be bound by another who will take him where he does not want, that is, to martyrdom. And indeed, as the Evangelist John says, "this He said to show by which death he would glorify God." Martyrdom is a praise to God. First one gives the confession of their faith and the testimony of their love, and then there is martyrdom, which certifies and confirms their love and faith in Christ.

Pastoral ministry is a crucifying ministry, which is done with the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ, and of course, ends with the Cross. Love by its nature is not a feeling, but an experience and an expression of witness. Whoever loves without sacrifice has a false and frivolous love. Christians are the sheep of Christ and not of the clergy. The clergy are shepherding Christ's sheep and lambs. When the clergy claim Christ's sheep and make them their own, this is not true pastoral ministry.

Christ did much during His life, but also after His Resurrection, so that the Evangelist John would write that if all these were written in books then these books would not be able to fit all over the world, into all the libraries of the world. But this life that does not fit into books is enclosed within the Orthodox Church, and one can begin to read and live it while swimming in this spiritual wealth of the Church.

My beloved brethren, Christ is resurrected, and the Church of Christ is the Church of the Resurrection, and those who participate in this Resurrection celebration every Sunday, as we wrote in these short sermons, can be initiated into the great mystery of the Resurrection and transcend all problems they face in their life.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.