Letting Down the Nets

When the Lord called His apostles to follow Him, He told them to let down their nets for a catch (Luke 5:4).  After they took in a tremendous catch of fish and had brought it to land, He called them to follow Him, and they left everything and followed Him (Matthew 4:22).  After that catch that day, their lives were never the same.  Before that day, they were fishermen.  Ever afterward they were apostles.  When they woke up that morning, they were ordinary men, like everyone else fishing the Sea of Galilee.  When they lay down to sleep that night, they were men whose lives had been claimed by God.

We are heirs of their apostolic mission.  The Church is apostolic not just because it has been built upon them and inherits their doctrine, but also because it has inherited their mandate.  They were called “apostles” (from the Greek apostello, to send forth) because they were sent forth by Christ to share the Good News with all the world, and we also have been sent forth by Him to share the Gospel with those around us.  Whether we share with those standing with us around the office water cooler or at school or on Facebook, Christ has called us to share the Gospel with those in our lives whom we love.

Before we share however and let down the nets, we must remember three things.

First we must remember that our fundamental message is not the Church, but the Christ.  That is, our message is not, “the Orthodox Church is so wonderful; you should join it,” but rather, “Jesus is Lord; you should offer your life to Him.”  That was the message the apostles brought to all the world, and it must be our message as well.  As excited converts to the Orthodox Church we may be tempted to enthusiastically tell our friends that it is all about Orthodoxy.  Actually it is not.  It is all about Jesus.  Our message is not, “the Orthodox Church is the true Church, it is so cool, sola Scriptura is so wrong, the Seven Ecumenical Councils are the summation of the truth, and icons are truly spiritual and windows into heaven.”  Our message is “Jesus Christ is the Son of God Who died for you and washed the cosmos clean with His Blood, Who rose from the dead, and Who pours out His Spirit upon His people.”  If a person responds, “Sounds great; where do I sign up?” then we tell that person about the catechumenate and baptism and Orthodoxy.  But Orthodoxy is not the message.  Orthodoxy is how one responds to the message once it is accepted.

Secondly, we must remember that accepting the message involves a total transformation.  The apostles were emphatic that the whole world lay in the power of the Evil One (1 John 5:19) and that therefore conversion to Christ meant leaving one moral universe and entering another one.  After we have entered it, certain things we applauded as wholesome and good in our former moral universe we reprobate as abominable now that we live in our new one.  In becoming Orthodox we move from darkness to light, and renounce as sinful the things we once celebrated.  The people we leave behind, such as our friends and co-workers of course, will not understand.  After joining ourselves to Christ we will no longer be understood and accepted by our former comrades, and we will no longer fit in.  Christians have always been square pegs in round holes; they have always been in the world but not of it.  The apostles forewarned us of this.  The perennial temptation, of course, is to avoid this transformation, and simply add our Orthodox Faith to our largely unchanged lives so that we retain all our former values and simply add to them an Orthodox colouration.  The soup of our former existence remains as it was; we have only added to it a few Byzantine spices.  This is neither conversion, nor Orthodoxy.  The Biblical name for it is “hypocrisy.”  True conversion and true Orthodoxy involves exchanging one life for another.

Finally, we must remember that conversion to Christ involves a radical commitment to Him.  One does not “give it a try” to see if it will work and then drop it a little later if it does not meet our expectations.  To quote Yoda (of all people; but he was right about this), “Either do or do not.  There is no ‘try.’”  Or, if one prefers the Lord Jesus to the Jedi Yoda, “I would that you were cold or hot” (Revelation 3:15).  Merely trying, merely being lukewarm, is no good at all.  Becoming a disciple of Jesus is not like trying to lift a heavy weight and seeing whether or not you can do it, and then dropping it quickly if you find it too heavy.  Rather, it is like jumping off a cliff, trusting that God will catch you:  there is no changing your mind a moment later.  The commitment required before jumping is total—as is the commitment before baptism.

This is the Faith into which we were baptized.  This is the Faith which we commend to others.  Before we let down the nets and share it with our friends, we must be sure of what we are offering them.