Fishing for Souls – His Grace, Bishop Justin, of Timok, Serbia
The following talk was given by His Grace Bishop Justin on September 6, 2009 at our annual Diocesan Days gathering in Jackson, CA. Bishop Justin was our guest speaker and concelebrant to both Bishop Maxim of Western America and Bishop Longin of the New Gracanica Diocese.
For more information on the Diocesan Days 2009 in Jackson, CA, click here.
His Grace, Bishop Justin, Bishop of Timok, Serbia
Diocesan Days – 2009
Your Eminence and honorable priests:
At the loving invitation of my brother and concelebrant in Christ, the Bishop and Shepherd of the Western American Diocese, His Grace, Maxim, I was given the opportunity to participate in the joyous celebration of these Diocesan Days. Such an event reminds us of our existence as Orthodox Christians, and testifies to the enduring presence of Christ’s Church. Today we rejoice at gathering on such a wonderful Sunday, the day of the Lord’s Resurrection, after having celebrated the Divine Liturgy and partaken of the Most Pure and Holy Mysteries—the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ—which is both our foundation and our hope.
Living amongst you these few days, I have learned about both your needs and struggles, just as I have done for those in my own Diocese in Eastern Serbia from which I come. I have grown to understand that you have many virtues, but that you also have weakness, which is an indication of the “whole man”—because the Lord came to save sinners, which we are.
But we have hope because we find ourselves in a boat. This place that we find ourselves is, yes, a boat, which slowly but surely moves towards its destination. Its goal is to arrive at a peaceful and blessed harbor, the Lord Himself. But, because we know that great danger is found out at sea—tumultuous waters, pirates, and rocks on which a vessel can run aground—we know that we are also in danger. We are like Peter who came out of the ship when the Lord called him to Himself. He walked for the first few steps as if on dry land, but then beginning to sink, crying out: “Lord save me!” The Lord said to him, “Why did you doubt, O you of little faith?”
And the Lord God asks the same of us. Why is it that we who have received the grace of the Holy Spirit and the Power of Heaven, and have been baptized in the Name of the Holy Trinity, are often frightened in these stormy seas and seek help elsewhere? We often forget the Lord Who is our Creator and Saviour.
These words are of a spiritual nature; let us now move to things that are a bit more personal. As is our custom in the Serbian household tradition with which you are all familiar back home, when an unexpected guest comes to our house, we ask him: “Who are you and to what house do you belong?” so that he can briefly represent himself.
You probably see me as a man of the Church, isn’t that right? As such, I do not seem to be much different than other hierarchs or celebrants. But, what if I were to tell you that from the age of five I really loved to fish, because while fishing I saw the secret and invisible world: the fish emerges from the “hidden world” that we cannot see beneath the living water. I fished all the way up to my twenty-fourth year, fishing in almost every river and participating in every competition, until the Lord caught me in a miraculous way! Through fishing, the Lord fished for me for His own purpose. I heard that holy and blessed calling which He had given to His disciples and apostles, “Leave your fishing and come, fish for the souls of men.” That preparation which I had for this new type of fishing was of great benefit to me, because I knew which bait to use depending on for whom I was fishing. Not every fish will bite every bait and there is no universal method to catch a fish. But through fishing I thought about the essence of life. I was far from God and not all that close to the Church at one point earlier in life, but I was at least close to this hobby. When I was young, I didn’t go to the disco clubs and such where the youth of my age went at those times. But, within nature, I found the creation of God. And, little by little, the Lord prepared my soul and heart so that, through the creation of God, I could open up my heart to the Creator Himself.
And that is why I now attempt to cast out my bait for all of you, so that you also might enter into the wondrous Providence of God and, when the Lord catches you, you will never be free to live in the water again without your Creator. Beneath the water—and by “water” I mean life in this world—life has its own interesting ways wherein everyone finds his own reason to distract himself from the things of real value. But today I tell you that the greatest joy and the greatest happiness is being under the wings of the true Church. There is no room there for fear; There is no room there for doubts—because the Lord who has called us all will also redeem us.
May the Lord God grant that we who have gathered around Him, our one Saviour, beneath the guidance of our Bishop who is the head of the Church here in Western America, may confess as one: “Holy is the Lord God of Sabbaoth, the Creator of Heaven and Earth; Heaven and Earth are full of Thy glory!”
May you all live many years and may the Lord God grant you to have more virtues than weakness. In the words of the Apostle Paul, may the grace and love of God be with you always. Amen.