Tonight, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we offer our prayers through the raising of incense on the eve of the Third Sunday of the blessed Coptic month of Paope. Our Mother, the Holy Church, nourished us with a passage from the Gospel according to St. Mark 4:35-41, which described how our Lord Jesus Christ calmed a fearful storm by the power of His word.
In this beautiful story, which is also found in Matthew 8 and Luke 8, our Lord and His disciples were in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee from one side to the other. In the midst of their journey, a great windstorm arose such that the waves began thrashing into their little boat all while our Lord Jesus Christ was sleeping peacefully on the stern with a pillow beneath His head. The disciples, however, were terrified, so they awoke Him and asked, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” Our Lord then arose, rebuked the wind, and said to the raging sea, “Peace, be still!” In an instant, everything around them became calm. Our Lord gazed at His disciples and asked, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” The disciples, meanwhile, were in a state of fear and shock that even the wind and the sea obeys Christ.
With God’s grace, I would like to offer two meditations on this beautiful passage.
First, let us meditate on perhaps the most striking feature of today’s Gospel, the authority of Christ over violent wind and raging sea.
Throughout the Holy Scripture, there are many references and images of the sea as being rebellious and untamable, something that was considered an unpredictable threat. Consider, for example, the first two verses of the first book of the Scripture, which tell us, “In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth. But the earth was unsightly and unfurnished, and darkness was over the deep, and the Spirit of God moved over the water” (Ge 1:1–2). These verses give us an image of the primeval flood that existed at the beginning of Creation. The waters raged in chaos before we read in verse 9, “And God said, Let the water which is under the heaven be collected into one place, and let the dry land appear, and it was so. And the water which was under the heaven was collected into its places, and the dry land appeared.” Thus, at the Creation of this visible world, God brings order to the chaos of the raging floods by His command. Later, in the Book of Job, God reminds us of this fact when He says,
“And I shut up the sea with a gate when it rushed coming out from its mother’s womb. And I made the cloud its clothing, and swaddling-clothes for it with a mist. And I assigned limits to it, setting out barriers and gates. And I said to it, ‘As far as this you shall come, and you may not go beyond. But your waves shall be broken within yourself’” (Job 38:8–11).
We see, therefore, that the Lord God calmed the raging sea and gave it rules and limits at the beginning of Creation.
In the Book of Psalms, the Holy Prophet-King David sings of God’s Divine authority over the sea in several Psalms. For example, in Psalm 88 (LXX), David praises God, saying, “O Lord God of hosts, Who is like to Thee? Thou art mighty, O Lord, and Thy truth is round about Thee. Thou rulest the power of the sea; and thou calmest the tumult of its waves” (Ps 88:8–9). In Psalm 92 (LXX), the Lord God is described as being higher and mightier than the rivers, the seas, and the voices of many waters.
When we consider all of these references in the Holy Scripture to God’s limitless authority over the raging waters such that He orders and limits them by His mere word, our Lord Jesus Christ’s exercise of this same authority in the Gospel does not surprise us, but rather, it teaches us that He is indeed the Only Begotten Son of God. It teaches us that He was with His Father at the time of Creation and that, as we say in the Divine Liturgy, all things were created through Him. Our father among the saints, St. Basil the Great, teaches us in his work, On the Holy Spirit, that when we hear Christ addressing the raging sea with the words, “Peace! Be still!” (Mk 4:39), we recognize His authority as Master and Creator. St. Basil continues, “By these encounters we are meeting the Father of the Son, the Father who creates through the Son.”1 We thus encounter Christ as the One Who was with His Father from before the ages and the One through Whom the Father created all things.
All of this explains the fearful reaction of the disciples after our Lord calmed the sea. Remember that they were fearful not only in the midst of the raging sea, but also after our Lord calmed the sea. Why were they afraid afterwards? They were afraid because they witnessed the awesome authority of God. As pious Jews, they understood the Scripture and how only God could calm the sea by His word. When they witnessed our Lord Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, exercise that power, they were utterly shocked and left to ask one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” (Mk 4:41).
The Disciples’ Fear
Second, let us meditate on the disciples’ fear in the midst of the windstorm.
In this Gospel passage, we see an interesting juxtaposition of the disciples terrified and afraid in the raging sea on the one hand, and our Lord Jesus Christ peacefully asleep at the stern on the other. How could our Lord sleep in the midst of such violence and turbulence? Most of us, when we are asleep, might awaken at the faintest creak or unfamiliar noise in the house, but here was our Savior peacefully sleeping through a great tempest! How could Christ sleep during this time?
The Holy Scripture suggests that the key to understanding Christ’s ability to sleep during this time in His faith, His righteousness, and His trust in God, which He modeled for us during His earthly ministry. Throughout the Old Testament, untroubled sleep signifies faith and trust in God’s divine protection. For example, the Wise Solomon wrote in the Proverbs, “The curse of God is in the houses of the ungodly; but the habitations of the just are blessed” (Pr 3:33). Also, in Psalm 3, the Holy Prophet-King David sings, “I lay down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord will help me.” (Ps 3:5), and in Psalm 4, he praises God, saying, “I will both lie down in peace and sleep: for thou, Lord, only hast caused me to dwell securely” (Ps 4:8). All of these references teach us that the righteous who have faith are blessed with peaceful sleep, because they trust in God and His divine protection.
Sadly, the disciples at this time did not yet fully believe in Christ. Their faith was not yet perfected, so they struggled with paralyzing fear while our Savior rested peacefully in the storm.
We may, dear brothers and sisters, meditate on the storm and the raging sea in this Gospel as a symbol of the world we live in. That is not to say there is nothing good in this world, but rather, that our lives in this world are filled with challenges, suffering, and tribulations. Our father among the saints, St. Cyril of Alexandria, teaches us that believers “negotiate the billows of the present life like some fiercely raging sea [and] escape the world’s tumult”2 to serve God. The contrast between the disciples who were afraid because they lacked faith and Christ Who rested peacefully reminds us that we must navigate our lives in this world with faith and complete trust in God as our Protector.
Hundreds of years before the disciples were terrified on that boat, the Holy Prophet-King David composed a Psalm that foreshadowed what happened that day:
They that go down to the sea in ships, doing business in many waters; these men have seen the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep. He speaks, and the stormy wind arises, and its waves are lifted up. They go up to the heavens, and go down to the depths; their soul melts because of troubles. They are troubled, they stagger as a drunkard, and all their wisdom is swallowed up. Then they cry to the Lord in their affliction, and he brings them out of their distresses. And he commands the storm, and it is calmed into a gentle breeze, and its waves are still. And they are glad, because they are quiet; and he guides them to their desired haven. Let them acknowledge to the Lord his mercies, and his wonderful works to the children of men.” (Ps 106:23–31 LXX).
We are that group of men in the midst of the raging sea who cry out to our Savior for deliverance from our affliction. And our Savior will receive our prayers and act in a magnificent way. After all, we read that Christ “arose and rebuked the sea.” What is interesting in this verse is the fact that the Greek word for “arose” here (διεγείρω / diegeirō) actually means that our Lord Jesus Christ rose to His full height; He stood up completely in order to confront the raging sea. This reminds us of the beautiful vision of the Holy Protodeacon Stephen, the first martyr of the Church, as he was being stoned by the Jewish authorities. He said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Ac 7:56). Did you catch it, dear brothers and sisters? When Stephen is being stoned for the sake of the faith, our Lord Jesus Christ reveals Himself as standing up in Heaven. When the Church is persecuted, our Lord stands up. When the disciples are fearful because of the storm, our Lord stands and confronts the raging sea. Similarly, when we are in the midst of a tribulation or adversity and call upon our Savior, He will be there in our midst, as well, standing with us and managing the situation according to His will for what is needful for our salvation.
- Basil of Caesarea. On the Holy Spirit 8.21 in St. Basil: Letters and Select Works, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, translated by Blomfield Jackson, Vol. 8. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1895. ↩
- Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Twelve Prophets, ed. David G. Hunter, trans. Robert C. Hill, vol. 124, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2012), 209. ↩