17th Sunday after Pentecost – Orthodox Homily on Luke 8:5-15, The Parable of the Sower

“A sower went out to sow his seed…”  Christ’s classic parable today challenges us to consider how we personally receive and act upon His Gospel of life.  He compares us to the seeds sown here in this parable and all of which have the potential for life and bearing fruit: “some fell on the wayside, some on the rock, some among the thorns, and some on the good soil.  So, we consider, “What kind of seed am I?” and “what kind of seed do I need to become?”

The context for considering this all-important question, is one of a farmer sowing, planting, growing, and desiring a good harvest from that which he’s sown.  There are parallels to our own lives found in the garden as well.  In fact, there’s something instinctual in us that draws many of us to want to garden: it was, after all, mankind’s first vocation, as we read in Gen. 2:15, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” Gardening is God’s vocation given to man before the Fall, before there was any sin in the world, God’s great gift that gives us a participation in and stewardship of His creation.  

Like many priests, I like to garden—cultivating a garden is not so dissimilar to cultivating souls, so when I hear this parable it brings to mind the many joys and strugglesof gardening and pastoring.  To me, the best part of gardening is getting to see the garden I’ve planted and tended, growing and then thriving on its own, the plants growing into their fullness, the colors and shapes creating a beautiful patchwork, the fruiting plants producing their bounty, the birds of the air and buzzing insects all participating in my little corner of Eden. And then, I find myself responding to the life, the growth, the beauty, expressing interior gratitude to the Creator of all life.   It’s an exhilarating feeling when you see the fruit of your labors and have the opportunity to glorify God for the beauty of His creation, as you participate in this work so reminiscent of that of our first parents who saw the beauty of the creation as an ‘icon’ of God’s goodness and expressed their gratitude toward God in their worship of Him.

But every gardener knows, that the garden won’t produce good results unless properly and patiently tended.  I can have the best seeds or the best starter plants, but if they fall on hard clay or the roots of a tree or because they are ravaged by insects or weeds, they will fail to thrive. 

The same temptations that Christ laid bare in His parable of the Sower are true today: How easy it is to be the seed that fell among the rocks, that is, those who receive the Gospel and Orthodox Faith, but who in times of temptation fall away.  Likewise, how easy it is to be as those seeds that fall among the thorns and whose souls are smothered by the temporal cares and concerns and priorities of this present life, by our secular society, and who don’t bring forth fruit to maturity.  Great are the temptations today to keep Christ and His Church on the periphery, to be in the world and of the world while giving head-knowledge to God.  One has to truly be “counter-cultural” to, as Christ says, “seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness” in our world today. 

When we keep ourselves at a distance from Christ and His Church, as only a tangential priority, we are, in a sense, choosingto be the seed by the wayside; we’re easily trampled down and devoured by the culture—maybe not in such dramatic ways, maybe perhaps in ‘safe,’ mundane ways: working all the time, skipping church or worship when inconvenient to attend, not making time for our daily prayers, neglecting the Sacraments or opportunities to learn and study the Scriptures and Holy Fathers. These mixed priorities mean that our souls… slowly… wither. 

St. Cyril of Alexandria says of those who are on the wayside that they are just like it, “hard and unyielding” (Sermon on the Parable of the Sower).  Indeed, many today pridefully prefer their own way over the revealed and timeless way of Christ and His Church.  Even in the Church, pride, obstinacy, lack of a teachable spirit is often the norm.  Where stubbornness and pride are rooted, there is a ‘wayside’ in the soul that prevents growth in the knowledge and love of God.  If a ‘teachable spirit’ is lacking and one isn’t open to learning or doing the hard ‘spade work’ necessary to be purified of the passions that cause sin, necessary to be obedient to the disciplines prescribed by Christ and the Church, then we cannot grow, be fruitful, or work out our salvation. 

Prayer, fasting, worship and the Sacraments are our tools.  When we make sacramental Confession, for instance, we have the opportunity to remove from ourselves all those rocks—hardness of heart—all the weeds, those temporal preoccupations, that take the place of prioritizing our life in Christ.  But when we give them over to Christ, He purifies us, renews us and creates a “clean and right spirit within us” (Psalm 50).  In this way, we prepare the ‘soil’of our souls for growth to bring forth a bountiful harvest, pleasing to God, fit for His Kingdom.  Confession is something we need to make more use of regularly.  In the garden, you can’t weed or prepare the soil or remove the rocks just once; you have to be ever vigilant and patient in tending it on an ongoing basis or you’ll find your choice plants choked, withering, or dead.  

So it is with the ‘garden of our souls:’ If we want to become mature children of God, thriving in the Life He alone is, then we have to work diligently to tend to the needs of our souls.  They need to be nourished.  God is always doing His part; He is the Master Gardener of our souls.  But we have to do our part in response. Just as in the garden, there is also a synergy at work in us.  We all start out as these little ‘seeds’ of faith.  If we wish to grow and thrive, then we cannot be passive when it comes to the health and growth of our souls.

Tito Coliander in his book, Way of the Ascetics, asks: “Can it be considered a virtuous act,when  a man who out of his own carelessness has been trapped deep down in a mine shaft, takes up pick and shovel and tries to work his way out?  Is it not… quite natural for him to make use of the tools given him by a higher authority to make his way up out of the choking air and darkness?  Would not the opposite be stupidity?”  

He goes on to conclude, “We must, like the imprisoned victim, give up many opportunities for rest… enjoyment…”  We don’t let the pick and shovel out of our hands: they are prayer, fasting, watching, and vigilance to observe all things that Christ has commanded us (paraphrased).  

It’s all here for us—all the tools of the ‘garden of our souls’ are found in the Church. Those who wish to be as the seed cast among the good soil, are vigilant to fight to not let themselves be redirected to other preoccupations and temptations apart from their life in Christ, apart from prioritizing the worship and Sacraments of Christ’s holy Church.  If you and I wish to have Christ for eternallife, you and I have Christ as our main focus in thislife.  We bring Him into our daily lives—into all our stresses, anxieties, temptations, trials, and joys.

So that you and I may be like the seed that fell on the fertile soil, St. Cyril urges us to “drive away from our minds all worldly cares” (ibid).  In this way, through repentance, taking each thought ‘captive’ to obey Christ (II Cor. 10:5), availing ourselves of the Sacraments Christ has entrusted to us and our daily prayers, we can become the seed that brings forth fruit from our lives, for our families, in our church, and in our community where we witness to the truth of Christ within us and which liberates every man and woman who puts their trust in Him.  

To become that fruit-bearing seed on the good soil, St. John Chrysostom also admonishes we practice obedience.  We submit ourselves to Christ and His Church, knowing that through the Church, God has given us all the tools we need to be deified, accountable, fulfilled, and growing in our participation in the life of the Holy Trinity, the only Life there is.  

May we be open, obedient, and trusting as we patiently and diligently work to prepare the ‘garden of our souls,’ taking up “pick and shovel,” making use of all the tools Christ has entrusted to us.  In this way, we will be filled to overflowing with the presence of Christ and can be confident, “that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).  We will be as those seed that have fallen on the good soil, who have heard the word of the Gospel and bear good fruit with patience.  

Fr. Robert Miclean

Holy Archangels Orthodox Church

Sunday, 13 October 2019–Parable of the Seeds 7

Epistle:            2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1, Hebrews 13:7-16 (Fathers)

Gospel:            Luke 8:5-15, John 17:1-13 (Fathers)