When I first decided to become an Orthodox Christian I was attending a small Orthodox mission church because my friend was attending there but also because I could hear what the Priest was saying behind the iconostasis (partition between the congregation and the altar area). One of the first sermons I heard preached was based on the story of the Apostle Peter.
So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets. Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat. When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him. (Luke 5:1-11, OSB)
The priest commented that when Peter fell down before Christ it had to do with how amazing and awesome Christ is more than how sinful Peter was. That comment captured well my emotional experiences of late.
Recently, especially when I have been attending Liturgy, there are times that I find myself reflecting on the goodness of God and I find myself weeping. It is hard to explain exactly what I am feeling when this happens. I am in awe of His greatness and, like Peter, I emotionally fall down at His feet amazed at His awesome greatness. If this hits me at home during my personal prayers, I have on a few occasions literally fallen down and prostrated before Him in my icon corner and wept freely. Unlike the tears of grief and loss that I have shed upon the death of a relative, these tears do not burn and I am not feeling any discomfort emotionally when I cry.
It’s not like I’m feeling down on myself. I’m aware of being an imperfect human being and a sinner, but I don’t feel like I’m particularly a worse sinner than most of the human race. Certainly there are many people who are better Christians than I, but I feel like I’m pretty much an average Christ follower, as least as far as sins of commission are concerned. Sins of omission are another matter where I likely fail far more than most. I’m not engaging in the more obviously sinful acts such as theft, adultery or murder, but neither am I particularly saintly. But like the rest of the fallen human race, I do feel unworthy of His love and grace, which He bestows on us bountifully despite our imperfection.
Very often I feel exceptionally grateful to God for letting me be a military psychologist (civilian government service). I feel unworthy of this position and all that it entails. When I come before the Lord in my icon corner or during the Liturgy, things that happened during the week come to my mind. It may be a patient’s breakthrough or it may be a patient’s unjust suffering or it may be their suffering due to their service to our country. I feel both deeply honored and also unworthy of the trust they place in me when they share things with me they have been unable to speak of before now or when they weep with me for the first time in a very long while because they have been unable to due to the numbness of their combat PTSD or perhaps because they were punished in childhood if they cried. Having never put on the uniform myself, I am deeply honored that they trust me to let me into these very personal places in their lives.
This week these feelings of gratitude, awe, unworthiness and joy hit me during my evening prayers. A Service Member in a leadership position whom I greatly respect had a breakthrough in our work together and when I came to this Psalm in my evening prayers I broke down crying and prostrated myself before the Lord. Because some of the verses of this Psalm applied to him, I could not hold back my tears, and I weep even now as I write this. I weep from empathy for his suffering in the incident we were addressing with EMDR. I weep with gratitude to the Lord for the breakthrough we saw. I weep from awe towards God for His Greatness. I weep with humility and awareness of my unworthiness to be allowed to be an instrument of His healing in the lives of people such as this individual. And I must also guard against the paradox of becoming proud of my humility. I’m not always successful.
Praise the Lord, O my soul. I shall praise the Lord while I live; I shall sing to my God as long as I exist. Do not trust in rulers and in the sons of men, In whom there is no salvation. His breath shall go out of him, and he shall return to his earth; On that day all his thoughts shall perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob; His hope is in the Lord his God, Who made heaven and earth, The sea and everything in them, Who keeps truth forever, Who executes justice for the wronged, Who provides food for the hungry. The Lord frees those bound. The Lord restores those broken down. The Lord gives wisdom to the blind. The Lord loves the righteous. The Lord keeps watch over resident aliens. He shall adopt the orphan and the widow, But He shall destroy the way of sinners. The Lord shall reign forever: Your God, O Zion, to all generations. (Psalms 145:1-10, OSB, Psalm 146 in the Protestant Bible).