Fourth Sunday of Saint Luke

And the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Council

            In today’s Holy Gospel teaching my dear Christians, we heard the parable of the Sower, which is a very well-known parable to most Christians. In the parables, there are always obvious and hidden meanings, which can always be related to man throughout the ages. So why is it that our Lord sometimes spoke in parables? And, why did He say things with hidden meanings? The Holy Fathers explain to us in their teachings that when we study something with seriousness and attention or when something takes us more effort to study, we have the tendency to develop more of an interest and understanding in what we are studying. If information is given to us without our involvement and effort invested in it, then most of the time we will not develop a great understanding and interest in what we read, therefore we are less likely to absorb the information.

This principle can also be observed in our everyday life. Even though we are living in the age of knowledge, it is easy for one to observe that these days; a lot of young people can barely even read and write or add and subtract simple mathematical solutions, because of things like television, computers and internet. Information is taken from these sources easily and freely, and so it takes very little effort for them to actually acquire information without even thinking, it is almost mechanical and this reason that information is rarely absorbed in their minds; they simply have not had enough interest or paid enough attention as they should have.

Christ taught in parables because man must search if he is to learn the meanings of His Holy teachings, like He said to us in the Gospel; we must study the scriptures and the truth revealed to us, shall set us free. It is true that God will Judge us according to what we know, however, this does not excuse us remaining ignorant thinking that “the less we know the better off we will be”, because God will also Judge us for what we don’t know, according to the Gospel, if we so CHOOSE to not know things. Ignorance is a result of poor spiritual state and it is a form of pride and sheer foolishness. People choose to be ignorant as a result of being unrepentant. What then is the meaning of this parable? This parable explains many things to us; however, as we heard earlier, even the Apostles were unsure about this parable’s teachings and so Christ explained it to them. “A sower went out to sow his seed”. Who is the sower? He is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. By paying extra attention, we hear that “the Sower went OUT to sow his seed” and this “going out” symbolizes the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ and the seed is God’s word. As he sowed, the seeds fell by various places; by the wayside, by the rock, among the thorns and on good ground. It “fell”; it was not thrown. It fell everywhere equally, meaning that the word of God is equally shared to all men, shared, not forced upon them; sowed to the entire universe, equally and freely to all men making it available for everyone, if they so choose to see this.

The four places mentioned in the passage where the seeds fell, which we mentioned before; by the wayside, by the rock, among the thorns and on the good ground, portray the four types of people, which God reveals His word to. Out of the four types of people in the parable, three of those kinds are portrayed as taking God’s word for granted, sending us a clear message, that the inheritors of God’s Holy and Eternal Kingdom will be the minority compared to the inhibitors of the world, not because God wants this, but because man does not take into consideration the word of God which has been revealed to him, or as it is referred to in the parable, the most seeds will not have fallen on the “good ground”. And yet our Lord and Saviour still sows His seeds, and still gives man opportunities to accept Him and to follow His commandments.

The seed which fell to the ground by the wayside was taken by the fowls of the sky immediately, symbolic of the way which God’s word can be taken away from man’s heart, as a result of him never really believing at all, or because he never wanted to even try to believe in God’s word. These are the people who hear the word of God but do not accept it into their hearts. The wayside is hard and packed down making it impossible for a seed to penetrate into it, therefore it is eventually washed or blown away, or otherwise it sits there becoming prey for the birds of the sky. The birds symbolize the demons which snatch away God’s word from man’s heart when man disregards it. The demons do not have the authority to take away the word of God from your heart if you respect it. This is why, we must always be vigilant, because Christ may come and knock on the door of our hearts, and if we keep Him waiting outside too long, He will leave and the evil one will come.

Then there is the seed which fell upon the rock, and when it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. The rocky ground symbolizes the type of people, who initially accept the word of God, however, because of their lack of faith, which is portrayed in the parable as the lack of moisture; bring about the withering of the slowly growing seed. Some people show zeal in the beginning of their spiritual struggle toward repentance, however, their carelessness causes them to neglect the Grace of the Holy Spirit and their Faith therefore, withers, just as the seed on the rocky ground which found no moisture.

Some people are symbolized by the portrayal of the thorned area. In the parable, the thorns sprang up with the wheat, and choked it. This teaching describes the people, who hear the word of God and accept it, but eventually, they become tangled up by the world and its temptations so much that it spiritually chokes them; they are simply overcome by the world’s temptations, family and friends. Just as the seed which falls into the thorned area, has little chance of prosperity and survival, this is how we Christians have little chance of spiritual prosperity and salvation if we let our love for people and pleasures exceed our love for God.

On the other hand, the parable also refers to the seed which fell onto good ground eventually springing up to bear fruit a hundred fold, according to Holy Apostle Luke. This depiction refers to and symbolizes the people, who hear and accept the word of God, but also maintain themselves within the Faith through fasting, prayer, humility, almsgiving, temperance, piety, purity and love, which are all virtues that allow us to remain united with Christ through our partaking in the seven mysteries of the Church.  We too will spring up fruitfully, but with fruit of the Holy Spirit, which are none other than virtues. However, we must harvest the ground first before it will become good ground, meaning, we must cleanse our souls through repentance and humility, before the word of God can enter our heart. We must water that ground and fertilize it, so that it will be nourished enough for the seed to gain growth and prosperity, in other words we should enrich our hearts by asking God to grant us these virtues of spiritual nourishment, so that God’s word will flourish within us, which will help us bear spiritual fruit a hundredfold.

Today our Holy Church commemorates the 367 Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council held in Nicaea in 787 AD. This council established permanently what the church had always known concerning the holy icons. The heresy which the Seventh Ecumenical Council combated was called Iconoclasm, which means icon-breaking. The iconoclasts or icon-breakers felt that the icons were idols and that we should not venerate them for that would be idolatry. The Emperor and the Patriarch of Constantinople were both Iconoclasts. They stripped the churches of their icons and burned them or threw them into the sea. Anyone who dared to object suffered the deadly consequences at their hands. In those times, it was illegal to keep and venerate icons. The Orthodox, who dared venerate icons, were accused and condemned as being “icono-latres” which means icon worshipers in Greek. The iconoclasts accused the true Christians of worshiping the actual icon, the wood and the paint. As we all very well know we do not worship the icon itself but the image depicted on the icon. St John of Damascus, whose hand was cut off because of his defence for the Holy Icons wrote concerning the charge of idolatry: “Icons are not idols but symbols”, therefore when we venerate an icon, we are not practicing idolatry, nor do we worship the symbol, but merely venerate it. Such veneration is not directed toward wood, or paint or stone, but towards the person depicted. Worship on the other hand, is due to God alone, neither do we worship the wood, rather we worship Him who was crucified on the Cross, and we venerate the Holy Cross with reverence, because it became the sanctified tool which brought an end to mankind’s eternal damnation, that is why we refer to the Holy Cross as life-giving. When the two beams of wood are joined together to form a cross, they become a tool against Satan and it possesses limitless power according to one’s Faith, because of Christ who was crucified on the Cross, sanctifying it with His Holy Blood, but if the beams are separated, then they mean nothing, they are but two beams of wood that have no hypostasis.

The definition of the Orthodox Faith concerning icons and their veneration was expressed by the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council through the illumination of the Holy Spirit: Venerating icons, having them in churches and homes is what the Church teaches. They are open books to remind us of God, but also portals leading into heaven, because of the power of the depicted. Concerning the doctrinal significance of icons the Council teaches that icons are necessary and essential because they protect the full and proper doctrine of the Incarnation of Christ. While God cannot be represented in His eternal nature; “for no man has ever seen God”, His Holy Image can be depicted simply because He became human and took flesh.

Let us remember then, my dear Christians, that with every day that passes, we have one day less to repent, therefore we have less time to redeem ourselves from sin. We all know that the time of our physical death is unknown to us, for some the end is sooner than for others, this means that we have to be prepared always for our departure into the next world, because depending on what we have sown, we will gather and the more we take care of the tree, then it shall bear fruit accordingly, in other words, if we take the example of today’s Gospel teaching of becoming the people who are symbolized by the good ground of which the seed fell into, then we too will produce fruit a hundred fold, the same fruit that the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council produced, which led them to become inheritors of God’s Holy Kingdom as they intercede on our behalf for our Lord Jesus Christ to be merciful on us. Amen.

Hieromonk Sozómenos
Saints Constantine & Helen Parish and
Holy Chapel of Saint Nektarios
Birmingham, UK. - 2011 a.d.
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