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The Ship of the Church
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Many years ago, in a middle school far, far away, there were two boys. They were fast friends and enjoyed spending lots of time together. One interest that they shared was a love for the Beatles. Now for those who may not know what “the Beatles” are, they were a new and wildly popular musical group from Liverpool, England, who revived classic rock n’ roll music, first in the UK, and later throughout the whole world. The two friends enjoyed singing along with the recordings of the Beatles, (called “records” in those days), and eventually they desired to continue their singing – even at school - without benefit of records. During recesses and lunch, they picked a secluded spot at the far rear of the playground, behind a large green tool shed, far away from other kids, in order to sing, learn to harmonize, and generally celebrate the joy that was “The Beatles.” This “hiding” spot, however, was soon compromised due to the fact that some kids, despite the din of squealing and shouting children and the cacophany of tether balls, dodge balls, hand balls, etc., were able to hear something in the distance...was it Beatle music? Soon a small crowd began to gather and listen quietly. The next day even more gathered, and these began clapping after each number was finished. After three or four days the entire playground was pressing in on the two friends singing Beatle songs. The young girls began screaming, like they’d seen others do on TV who were listening to the real Beatles. Before long, the school’s principal and other authorities came out and proceeded to escort the two lads away from the crowds, into the principal’s office, in order to ensure their safety, and wait for the bell to return to class. The two boys were sternly admonished – no more singing out by the tool shed or anywhere else.
In today’s Gospel we have a description of Jesus teaching. The crowds want to continue to listen to Him because He fills their hearts with joy and hope. But the crowds grow and grow. They begin to press in on Him because there are so many. Yet, He doesn’t want to leave the scene in order to secure His safety, so what does He do? He climbs into a boat, into the safety of Peter’s boat, and there He continues to teach, thrill, and delight His audience with words that are filled with Divine Light.
You know, this account in the Gospel about the miraculous draught of fish is historically true. It really happened. But the account isn’t just about the miracle performed by Christ. Even the details are didactic, even the circumstances have something to teach us. I’m just going to look at this introduction to the miracle story; the preamble, if you will.
The Gospel said: “And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon Him to hear the word of God...He entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And then  (Jesus) sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.”
Dear ones, from the time of the Apostles, the ship or boat has been a symbol or a type of the Church. St. Peter himself writes that the Church is like the Ark of Noah, where souls are saved and holy baptism is found (See 1 Peter 3: 20-21.) In the Apostolic Constitutions, it is written: “(O Bishop) when you call an assembly of the Church, do it as one that is the commander of a great ship. Appoint the assemblies to be made with all possible skill, charging the deacons as sailors to prepare places for the brethren as for passengers, with all due care and decency. And first, let the building be long, with its head to the east, with its vestries on both sides at the east end, and so it will be like a ship. In the middle let the bishop's throne be placed, and on each side of him let the presbyters (priests) be placed; and let the deacons stand near at hand, in close-fitting garments, for they are like the mariners and managers of the ship...” (Apost. Const. 2:57). Tertullian, writing around the year 200, also likens the Church to Noah’s Ark. So the Church is the ship which carries the faithful to salvation. And by the way, that’s why the space in which you are standing right now, is called the nave, from the Latin navis, meaning ship. You are standing on the deck of the ship that sails toward the safe harbour of the Heavenly City - New Jerusalem, in the Land of the Living. It is in the ship of the Church where the pure and reliable word of God continues to be heard. It is in the ship of the Church where we are safe from the encroachment and crush of this world. It is in the ship of the Church where souls are still being drawn in by the nets of the authentic preaching of the holy Apostles. Outside of this ship there is no safety, no protection. There is no ship outside of the Orthodox Church. The second ship in today’s Gospel does not refer to an additional or alternate ship. It refers to the empty ship of the Old Law. While initially it is idle, eventually it hears the call of Christ and the invitation of the Apostles to come and draw near to the ship of Peter, and participate in the great draught of fishes. This is a sign to augment St Paul’s prediction that before the Judgment Day, many Jews will believe and be saved (See Romans 11: 25-26). But that’s a topic for another time. The point is, there is no authentic church outside of the Orthodox Church. St John of Kronstadt wrote: “Mighty and all-powerful is the intercession of the Holy Church before God, which is clothed in the benefits, power, truth, and magnificence of the Son of God - Her all-good and all-powerful Head. All things are possible through Her intercession. No other heterodox church possesses such power of intercessions since they are without the Head and are wrong in their thinking.” And in another place he says: “The Church is one; Her Head is one; the flock is one; the body is one with many members. Without the Head, Christ, the Church is not the Church, but a self-willed gathering.” Jesus said that the true worshippers would be those who worship “in Spirit and in truth.” The very word “Orthodox” means exactly that - those who worship in spirit and in truth. Jesus also said that His church would endure from the time of the Apostles until the Second Coming (See Matthew 16:18). That means that the true ship, the Church founded by Christ, is visible and can date itself to Jerusalem in 33 AD. It is not founded by any fallen human being. It has no other Head than Christ. It is not a reformation of anything. It has no new revelations, nor any progressive dogmas. It is the “faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).
I will end with an admonition given to us by St John of Damascus:
“Brethren, let us plant ourselves upon the rock of faith and the Tradition of the Church, removing not the landmarks set by our holy fathers, nor giving room to those who are anxious to introduce novelties and to undermine the structure of God’s holy ecumenical and apostolic Church. For if everyone were allowed a free hand, little by little the entire Body of the Church would be destroyed.” Amen.
Oh...and for those who are interested in what became of the two boys and their nascent singing career, come into the Hall, grab a coffee, and I’ll tell you “the rest of the story.”