While the people pressed upon Him to hear the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret. And He saw two boats by the lake; but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, He asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when He had ceased speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at Your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, they beckoned 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. But 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 was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him. Luke 5:1-11 (Gospel of 1st Sunday of Luke)
One word that is not used in Orthodox circles very much is the concept of “discipleship.” This is actually a very popular word in other Christian denominations. Whether they are all good or effective at it is another story, but the concept is there, and is spoken of. The word “discipleship” means to bring other “disciples” to Christ, to add them to the body of the Church. The word “disciple” means “student,” so “disciples” are those who are devoted to learning about something, in this case, the Christian faith.
The role of the disciple, however, does not end with just learning. It includes DO-ing the things that have been learned, such a using our talents to help others while giving glory to God. It includes not only knowing but FOLLOWING the commandments of God. It includes not only knowing but PRACTICING the tenets of the faith. It includes not only knowing how to pray and where to find things in Scripture but actually spending time PRAYING and STUDYING the Scriptures.
There is one more role of the disciple, which is often overlooked and understated, and this is recruiting more disciples and bringing them to Christ. It means adding to the body of the church. And this is ultimately what discipleship is about.
Popular Protestant pastor Rick Warren, in his book “The Purpose Driven Church” talks about four levels in the process of discipleship. The first is to know Christ. In this stage, someone is a member of the church. The second stage is to grow in Christ, which involves spiritual maturation through prayer, study and worship. The third level is serving Christ, which is done through ministry, outreach, service. And the fourth level is sharing Christ—taking Christ to others, and bringing others to Him.
There are lots of people who are at stage one—they belong to the church but don’t have a deep relationship with Christ. There are those who are growing in Christ but who don’t participate in any ministry. There are those who participate in ministries but never really talk about Christ with anyone. The ultimate step in being a disciple is to not be afraid to share Christ with others, to joyfully share Him with others.
Today’s Gospel reading tells us several important things about Christianity and being a disciple. Jesus did not go to the temple or the top rabbinical school to recruit His disciples. He went to the seashore and found fishermen. He didn’t even find accomplished fisherman. By their own admission they had toiled all night and had caught nothing. He knew their hearts though. He knew that every heart has some seed of faith in it, just not all have been cultivated. Simon Peter put the boat out from the shore and let down the nets and they were filled with fish.
Peter’s reaction wasn’t “wow, this is really cool, how did You do that?” His reaction was one of humility. He asked Jesus to depart from him, saying that he was a sinful man. Jesus’ reaction was to ask Peter to follow Him, that Peter was exactly the kind of man Jesus was looking for. And then Peter and his friends, James and John, left everything and followed.
The message for us is that we don’t have to have theology degrees or be Sunday school all stars in order to be disciples. We have to have a desire to know Christ, a humble heart and a sense of trust. For who is going to cede the lead to someone they don’t trust. Jesus called them to follow and they did. He eventually called them to lead others to Him, and they did as well. Jesus calls on us to follow. And part of following is also the call to lead others to Him. Like the disciples on the boat, we are called to do both. The challenge is for us to answer the call, the whole thing—to know, to grow, to serve, and to lead others to Him. THIS is what it means to be a disciple. THIS is what discipleship is all about. THIS is what we are all called to do.
After having in truth risen from the tomb, You commanded the venerable women to proclaim Your arising to the Apostles, as it is written. And Peter ran quickly and came to the sepulcher. And beholding the light in the tomb, he was quite amazed. Also he observed that the grave clothes were lying alone in the sepulcher without the divine body. And believing he cried aloud, “Glory be to You, Christ God our Savior, for You save all people, for You are the Father’s radiance.” (Second Resurrectional Kathisma of the first set, Plagal 4th Tone, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Know so you can grow. Grow so you can serve. Serve so you can lead. And lead so that others will come to know Christ, the cycle will repeat, the Church will grow, lives will be changed and souls will be saved.