AT THE HEART OF THE STORM
By Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
A Sermon delivered on 5 August 1990
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
I should like to begin with the words of Saint Paul. He tells us that we all who have heard the life-giving, the creative word of God are building our lives on a sure foundation, not only on the teaching of Christ, but on His presence, both invisible, and communicable in the Sacraments. This is a sure foundation of all life — ours, and that of the whole creation. But what do we build on this foundation? Some, the heroes of the spirit, the Patriarchs, the Prophets, the Apostles, the Martyrs, the Saints that cannot be shaken even by the storms of History. Others have built of gold and silver that rust cannot destroy, that rust cannot spoil.
But do we belong to these? Or are we not rather those who are building on the foundation of Christ Who is a column and a pillar of truth and of life — are we not building of wood and of straw? As long as we live, as long as a storm doesn’t come, both wood and straw seem to be so secure; but then, comes a hurricane, then fire comes — and what is left of it? And it is not only physical fire and physical hurricanes that destroy: History is made of fire, a fire of judgment; and remember the words that the judgment of God begins within His Church, and this Judgment is the judgment by fire. And History is like a storm...
What is left then — is it there any hope for us? There is! Because Paul who has given us a very stern warning lest we lightmindedly built on a Foundation which is Holy something which is unholy, unworthy of this foundation, he tells us, Yes, your works may go up in flames, but you may stay... And why? How can we? Aren't we judged simply by the final reckoning on our life, on what we have built? Perhaps today's Gospel can give us some vision of what may happen.
The Apostles left Christ to cross the sea of Genesareth. The weather was good, the sea was calm, they hoped for a safe crossing. And then the wind came down, and the storm roared, and the waves rose, and they felt that the little skiff in which they were crossing the Lake had become a possible grave for them, a cold, watery grave. They fought as they could; but they could do nothing against the raging sea and the furious wind.
And at that moment they saw Christ walking on the sea, walking on the waters, at the very heart of the storm, in the eye of the hurricane. And they cried out in horror because they thought, this could be nothing but a ghost — God could not be in the midst of the storm, a storm that spelt death to them, destruction. If God were there, there should be peace, stillness, safety for themselves... And yet, God was at the heart of the storm, as He is at the heart of all the historical storms which rage all around us and tosses us about, and frightens us so much, and brings us to the brink of death.
And they cried in terror. And then, they heard a voice; a voice that was unmistakably that of Christ: It is I! — don't be afraid!
And a degree of peace came upon them; and Peter turned to Christ, and said, If it is You — let me come to You on the waves!.. And Christ said, ‘Come! Enter into the storm, don’t try to escape it, don’t look for safety in this small, frail skiff that can be broken to pieces by the waves, drowned — don't count on that! Walk into the storm, walk on the raging waves!..
And as long as Peter was looking at nothing but Christ, to be with Him wherever Christ found Himself, he could walk. But he became aware of himself; at that moment he became aware of the storm, he was aware of the fact that he could die in a moment, helpless, drowned. And terror seized him, and he cried to Christ again, ‘Lord, save me !’— and the Lord stretched out His hand.
In another passage of the Gospel we are told, ‘And at that moment they discovered that they were all near the shore’ — they were at the end of the journey, while terror made them think that they were in the power of death...
Isn't that something which we can learn, each of us, from the circumstances of life? Let us ask ourselves whether on the unshakeable foundation of Christ we are building of stone, of gold, of silver — or only of perishable things? Let us ask ourselves whether it is with Christ, with God that we want to be in the midst of the storm, at the heart of the storm, fearless, because there is the place where He is — or whether we look for salvation in the little boat that is being drowned.
Let us reflect on this; and let us walk again into life with new hope, with a new sense of responsibility, but with the certainty that all things are possible unto us in the power of Christ Who sustains us. Amen.