BE OF GOOD CHEER
The next of Father Thomas Hopko’s 55 Maxims for Christian Living that we are exploring this year seems deceptively simple: Be Cheerful. At first glance there doesn’t seem to be much to this, or that it has much to do with living the Christian Faith. But when we take a second glance, we realize perhaps how rarely we ourselves are actually cheerful. Perhaps we also don’t understand how much our faith in God would lead us closer to being more cheerful, more often.
In the homily below, Father Antony Hughes of St. Mary Orthodox Church of Cambridge, MA shares a reflection on Jesus’s commandment to the disciples: “Be of Good Cheer.” Understanding the circumstances in which they found themselves when he said that to them informs and inspires us to grow in this very Christian trait.
Be of Good Cheer, It is I, Have No Fear
By Fr. Antony Hughes
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Jesus came to his disciples walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee at the fourth watch of the night. They had left him alone in the wilderness at his request and started across the sea in a boat.
It is interesting that Jesus only teaches his disciples how to pray once in Mt. 6:9 where we are given the Lord’s Prayer as a model. The rest of the time He teaches by example as He goes away alone to pray. We do not know what He does there, but His example is to pray in secret and alone, in solitude and in silence.
There is a beautiful description of prayer given by The Cure D’ars, an 18th century French Roman Catholic Saint. He noticed that there was an old man who came to church and often sat there for ours in complete silence. Puzzled, he asked him what he was doing. He said, “I look at Him, He looks back and we are happy together.”
We do not know, but perhaps this was the kind of prayer Jesus practiced in the wilderness.
Verse Mt. 6:6: “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place…”
The words of the Lord and His actions are one. There is in Christ no disparity between His heart and His mind as there is in us. Even when the interior war reaches its climax in the Garden of Gethsemane, His heart and His mind come together in the resolution of this conflict in the words, “But not as I will, as Thou wilt.” Jesus leads by word and example, by example and word. He looked at His Father and His Father looked back and they were happy together.
As He approached His disciples He noticed their fear. “It must be a ghost!” they cried. But He came to wipe fear away, not to increase it. He called out to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; have no fear!” I dearly love this comment from the Western mystic Meister Eckhart who said, “Any talk of God that does not comfort you is a lie.” It sounds so much like what Jesus would say.
Of course, if our lives are based on lies, then hearing the truth is not comforting. But lies do not comfort, they lead to all sorts of misery, so hearing the truth, is uncomfortable only as long as we resist it. What is revealed is that the misery suffered by purveyors of untruth is caused by the untruth itself! Truth, then, is a comfort even if its message cuts deep for awhile. It is God’s intent to wipe away fear and sorrow, to destroy death and heal our diseases, to set us free. A little suffering may be necessary at first, but when it is, it is the road to freedom from suffering. The truth does not create the sorrow, our resistance to it does.
Here on the Sea the disciples hear the truth from His lips. A profound and simple sermon preached as Jesus walked as the God-man on the surface of the deep, “Be of good cheer! It is I; have no fear!”
Peter walked on the water with the Lord’s blessing, but soon he began to sink! Overwhelmed by the miraculous vision, Peter was motivated no longer by his mind, but by his heart. He looked into the face of his Lord and His Lord returned his gaze and he walked on top of the waves. But when he began to reenter his mind, to center his focus on himself and his limitations, rather than on Jesus and his power, he sank. He began to listen to himself, “I cannot do this. I will sink. I will drown.”
As we walk the spiritual path we can choose to focus on Christ and “be of good cheer” or focus on the limitations of our own minds and sink. Mystics learn to see the Truth who stands before them at every moment, “in all places and filling all things.” Since God is everywhere present there is no reason to be afraid. But we must practice seeing Him in the small things so that when the storms come we will not be lost. Practice, practice, practice this very kind of prayer that rests in the knowledge that He is always near. Look deeply into His eyes and see! He returns the gaze!
He who is everywhere and in all things returns our gaze.