Seven Steps to Christ
Fr. Luke A. Veronis
How do we find ultimate meaning and peace in our busy, and often confusing lives? Jesus Christ and His Church promise all believers a new and abundant life of unconditional love, unquenchable joy and deep peace. Yet, how do we discover this treasure in our own lives? What must we do? Or maybe more important to ask, what attitude should we have and what life should we live?
Unfortunately, here in America our individualistic, materialistic, secular life has misled many people. Although we live in one of the richest and most comfortable places in the world, people are confused and uncertain about what life is all about. The great gift of freedom we have, combined with the countless choices offered to us, often lead people on meaningless and superficial pursuits down dead ends in their journey of life.
What is life all about? Why are we here on earth? How do we find deep meaning and purpose in this mystery of life?
Today’s Gospel lesson helps us discover a path that leads to answers for these questions. Jesus Christ reveals to his first disciples that a sincere conversion, an honest openness to follow Jesus Christ can help us discover the path that reveals a life of authentic and eternal love, joy, peace and hope.
I will describe this process of conversion and entrance into new life through seven steps which we gather from today’s Gospel lesson. I heard Fr. John Chakos, my spiritual father from Pittsburgh, once use this model of conversion.
The Gospel describes Jesus standing along the lake of Gennesaret with a crowd of people pressing around him. Because he is in danger of being crushed by the masses, our Lord enters into a boat belonging to Simon Peter and pushes out into the lake, from where he begins teaching the people. After mesmerizing the crowd with his words about the kingdom of God, Jesus asks Peter to go out into the deep and cast his nets.
The veteran fisherman Peter, together with his partners James and John, caught nothing all night and know that it is foolish to go fishing in the middle of the day. Yet, he agrees. He obediently follows Christ’s command, and following such obedience Peter ends up catching so many fish that he has to call for help from James and John. The fishermen fill both boats full of fish.
After such a miraculous catch, Peter falls at the feet of Jesus and said, “Lord, go away from me for I am a sinful man!” Our Lord, however, encourages Peter by saying, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will not be catching fish, but will be fishing for people! And when they bring their boats to shore, Simon Peter together with James and John leave everything and follow Jesus.
From this story, we can gather seven steps that can lead us to Christ.
Our first step in a new life with Christ begins with a willingness to search for faith. When Jesus comes upon the fishermen and sees that they have caught nothing, he tells them, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." The first step towards a meaningful and purpose driven existence begins when we realize that this world has little to offer. How many of our nets seem empty after fishing all our lives in the currents of modern society? Something is missing. The fact is that God has made us in such a way that nothing in this world will ever fully satisfy us. St. Augustine said it well, "Our soul will never rest until it rests in God."
How often our souls try to find rest in material possessions, status symbols, in the latest fads and fashions, in politics or certain ideologies, or in various forms of entertainment and pleasure. No matter how full we fill our lives, a space will always remain empty without authentic faith in God. God has placed within us this basic urge to possess Him. Thus, our first step of new life begins when we cast our nets into the deep waters of faith and search for the abundant life that Christ offers us.
The second step reminds us that at times, we must consciously set aside certain logic and reason. When Jesus told Peter to cast out his nets after a frustrating night of catching nothing, Peter reasoned, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing." A part of us remains skeptical. Can there be something better than what we already have? Is the sacrifice Christ demands worth it? Many of us don't like to let go of our logic. We won’t discover all the answers of life, however, if we simply search with our intellect and reason. The path of Orthodox Christianity’s treasure is the way of the heart. To find God we have to set aside reason at times and consciously enter into the mysteries of faith.
This leads us to step three - walking out in faith. We must make a concrete decision to trust in God no matter what. Maybe this means venturing forward despite our better judgement. We have to willingly accept the possibility that life is more than what the senses and mind tell us. This step is an act of humbling ourselves before the unknown mystery of God. St. Issac the Syrian says, "Take pains to enter your own innermost chamber and discover the chamber of heaven, for they are one and the same." Peter showed his willingness to take this step when he overcame his skepticism and responded, "If you say so, Lord, I will let down the nets." Lord, if you ask me to do something, even if I think I know better, I will still obey you!
Step four in the journey of new life is the moment when we see who God actually is – when we discover the meaning of faith. For Peter, this moment came when he, together with the others, pulled in so many fish that their nets were breaking. He came face to face with the divine power of Christ and felt humbled. For us, this experience can come in various ways - either in a sudden flash of revelation or a slow process of understanding. Either way, we come to see God in a new light. The mystery of the divine begins to take root in our minds and hearts.
The fifth step brings us to a critical point in our lives - it is the moment when we realize who we are compared to God. Not only do we begin to understand the divine nature of God, but simultaneously, this divine light helps us see clearly who we truly are. Our Lord understands that in order for us to progress on our path towards the kingdom of God, we must break away from all the delusions of self grandeur and goodness. We begin to see our own sinfulness. We may believe in God’s miraculous signs and wonders, but the crucial moment is when we begin to understand our relationship with Him. For Peter, this critical moment humbled the proud fisherman, and led him to cry out, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
Although we need to see our own sinfulness compared to the Lord, He lovingly reveals to us his incredible mercy as well. Yes, each one of us is the first among sinners, yet God is ready to cleanse us of our iniquities! When Peter came to the realization of his own sinfulness, Jesus reassured him, “Do not be afraid.” This sixth step of faith occurs when we surrender our lives to the call of the Lord. Jesus shows us who we truly are but reminds us not to despair because He reveals to us who we can become. We are repentant sinners who can become saints!
The seventh and final step may be the hardest. We must make the life-long commitment to follow these steps continuously towards Christ. We begin by detaching, one by one, from our egotistic desires, and gradually making Christ the exclusive attachment in our lives. For a serious Christian, our Lord demands that our loyalties be completely with Him. Jesus even tells his disciples, "Anyone who loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me." Thus, Peter and the other disciples make the commitment as "they left everything and followed him."
Seven steps towards an abundant, meaningful, joyous life! Let us commit today to these seven steps – to a sincere search for Christ, to allowing no logic or reason to hinder us in our journey, to step out in faith, to understand who God really is, to then realize who we truly are in relation to God, to surrender our lives to Him, and to faithfully serve Him with our whole being for the rest of our lives. By following this journey, we will emerge from the confusion and instability of this uncertain world to the new life promised by our Lord. We will discover in the depths of our souls what Jesus meant when He said, "I have come that people may have life, and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).