GOSPEL John 15:1-8
Jesus said to his disciples: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF EASTER
When I was a child in the pew at Sunday Mass, my mother would often warn us to “catch the blessing” when the priest was about to conclude the Mass. One Sunday, after I had become a server, I carried the missal to the priest for the solemn blessing, and as he extended his hands to bless the people, I caught the backside of one hand on my cheek. My mother exclaimed after Mass, “You really caught the blessing today!”
I often think of this humorous incident when a particular theme in the prayers and readings of a Sunday is as obvious as a smack in the face. This happens to be one of those Sundays. In the Collect we pray that the baptized may “bear much fruit.” Then, in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Luke tells us that great fruit was being born in the infant Church which “grew in numbers” through the Holy Spirit. Then, in the Gospel from Saint John, five times our Lord talks about “bearing much fruit.”
Ultimately the fruit that Christ spoke about was spiritual fruit – souls for God’s Kingdom. This presupposes Christian spouses being generous in welcoming new life into the world. One of the Prefaces in the Rite of Marriage prays, “By your providence and grace, O Lord, you accomplish the wonder of this twofold design: that, while the birth of children brings beauty to the world, their rebirth in Baptism gives increase to the Church.”
But spiritual fruit also depends upon men and women who embrace continence for the Kingdom of Heaven – men and women who forego earthly marriage and procreation in order to become spiritually fruitful. The ministry, prayers, works, and sacrifices of those called to virginity bears great fruit in the members of the Body of Christ – fruit that we will see clearly only on the Last Day. “We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which his Providence led everything towards its final end” (CCC 1040).
This is demonstrated most perfectly in the Blessed Virgin Mary. The fruit of her virginal womb – the Son of God made flesh – teaches us that virginity, like marriage, has an important place in God’s plan for His people. She was joined in virginal fruitfulness by Saint Joseph. Together they welcomed the Son of God into their midst. As St. John Paul II teaches, “Only Mary and Joseph, who lived the mystery of [Christ’s] birth, became the first witnesses of a fruitfulness different from that of flesh, that is, the fruitfulness of the Spirit” (TOB 75:2).
I remember being struck by this lesson about the spiritual fruitfulness of celibacy just a few years into my priesthood. I was traveling to a conference for priests in Dallas. Along the way, I visited former parishioners who had moved to Texarkana for a few days. Then I stayed with the relatives of another parish family in Dallas, before joining a number of other priests at the seminary for the conference. Lastly, I drove to Alabama to preach a retreat hosted by an order of religious sisters I had come to know on my first retreat after ordination. I would have known none of these people – nor been welcomed into their homes – had I not promised celibacy for the Kingdom on the day of my ordination. Already, after just a few years of priesthood, I already experienced the “hundredfold” that Our Lord promised to those who give up everything to follow Him (cf. Mt 19:28-29).
Marriage and virginity seem to rise and fall together. At the same time as the sexual revolution bore its ugly fruit in fornication, adultery, abortion, and divorce, numbers of priests and religious plummeted in our country. The good fruit of saints for the Kingdom of Heaven depends upon generous spouses and generous virgins. Let us pray for new, holy, persevering vocations to Christian marriage, priesthood, and religious life, for “by this is my Father glorified” (Jn 15:8).
Father David Skillman is a Roman Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He serves as the pastor of St. Gerard Majella Catholic Church in Kirwood, Missouri. Father Skillman is a Certification student with TOBI and has attended numerous courses. You can access audios of Father Skillman’s homilies through: http://frskillman.podbean.com/
I AM THE VINE, YE ARE THE BRANCHES. FROM A SERMON ON HOLY AND GREAT THURSDAYHieromonk Pavel (Scherbachev)
my source: Orthodox Christianity
Today, brothers and sisters, on Great and Holy Thursday we remember the Last Supper, when our Lord Jesus Christ established the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and served the first Divine Eucharist, giving his disciples and apostles His Most Pure Body and Blood in the image of bread and wine.
The services of Great Lent are filled with Old Testament images and symbolic stories, many of which prophetically point to the great gift of Christ’s Holy Mysteries, through which mortal man, easily inclined toward sin, enters into communion, into the closest union with his Creator and Redeemer.
At the Vespers we have just served, we heard the story of God’s Prophet Moses’s ascent on Mt. Sinai. There God appeared to him in the sound of thunder and the flash of lightening. But the prophet and God-seer could not converse with God face to face, for the veil of the Old Testament had not been removed from his eyes. Nevertheless, as the prefiguring of the future Sacrament of Communion, to Moses and the people of Israel was sent manna—heavenly bread, which filled them in the desert.
According to the words of the Psalmist David, the Lord rained upon them manna to eat, and gave them the bread of heaven. Man ate the bread of angels (Ps. 78 23-25). And Christ speaks of old Israel: Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. And he continues about the new grace: This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die (Jn. 6:49-50).
Exegetists of Holy Scripture see in the bread and wine with which the mysterious priest of the Most High God Melchisedek, who was a sign of Christ, met Abraham, as the prefiguring of the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
There are many other indications and prophecies.
Also the righteous Job, the chosen of God, about whom we heard in another Old Testament reading, prefigured Christ the Savior, so that his loving servants said, Oh that we had of his flesh! we cannot be satisfied (Job 31:31). But, as St. John Chrysostom theologizes, this longing “was given to us by Christ, leading us to exceedingly great love, and He showed His love to us, allowing those who desire it not only to see Him, but also to touch Him, and take Him as food and be united with Him, fulfilling every desire.”
Today’s services call us as we come to the divine Sacrament to lift up our minds on high to God: “Come ye faithful and with minds uplifted, delight in the Master’s hospitality and the immortal table in the upper room.”
Truly in coming, albeit not to the high mountain of Sinai but to the Christian church to the Sacrament of the Eucharist, we depart from our usual spiritual rails and onto a certain paradoxical dimension. As mortal men, subject to the laws of space and time, we are as if transported into the next life, becoming communicants of the eternal trapeza in the never-waning day of the Kingdom of God. Although we are sinners, we enter into the highest degree of communion with the All-Holy Lord, uniting with Him as closely and inseparably as the body is united with the head. As sons of Adam according to flesh and blood, from our new progenitor, Christ, already here on earth we receive a supernatural image—in place of the corruptible flesh and blood inherited through the fall, we receive the Body and Blood that is divine and incorruptible.
Even the Sacrament itself does not fit into the ordinary logic of human comprehension. For, the Priest, the Great Hierarch Jesus Christ, in serving the Holy Eucharist brings Himself as a sacrifice—as the clergy read the secret prayer: He Who is both Sacrificed and Sacrificer.
The bishop or priest serves the Sacrament through God’s grace; he himself is praying as Jesus Christ Himself, the true Server of the Liturgy, and Christ works through him.
In approaching Christ’s holy Mysteries, let us remember that the exceedingly great gift given to mankind, the gift of union with God in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, is not acquired by human labors, it is not the fruit of ascetical labors, but a gift from on high, coming down from the Father of lights. And this gift is given freely through God’s ineffable love for the human race.
Of course, we must thank the Lord for His mercy to us sinners. Even the word itself, Eucharist, means in the Greek, “thanksgiving.”
At the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, in which we are participating now, the priests read certain prayers. In these prayers, the entire history of the world takes places before us. We thank God that He has created this world and man, that He has brought each one of us to life, that for the sake of each of us He became man, suffered and died on the cross. We thank God that He descended into hell, so that the Gospel would be preached there, in order to bring out those who were kept there. We thank God that He rose from the dead, so that together with Himself He would resurrect all of us, and that He served this Mystical Supper, in which in the form of bread and wine He has given us His Body and Blood for Communion.
We can preserve this divine flame that we have received in the Sacrament of Communion, by preserving this prayerful thanksgiving in our everyday lives. This will help us in our struggle with passions and sinful habits. Even when we are assailed by sorrows, sicknesses, and all kinds of unpleasantness in life, let us not forget to thank the Lord.
We remember Christ’s words, I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned (Jn. 15:1-6).
If we are the branches of Christ’s Vine, it means that we are fed with the juices of this Vine, just as ordinary grapevines are fed by the juices they receive from their roots. We cannot live, we cannot exist without this mystical nourishment from the Vine of Christ, the branches of which Christ has vouchsafed us to be.
What are these juices of Christ’s Vine? They are His Blood, His Body, which He has commanded us to eat and drink. If we will not be nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, then, as the Lord said, we will have no life in us, and He will not abide in us and us in Him.
Hieromonk Pavel (Scherbachev)
The Vine and Branches
In the Scripture, there are some interesting references to vine, vineyard, vinedresser and pruning. John 15:1-2 says
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
Here Jesus is making the last of the seven ‘I AM’ declarations recorded in John, the prior ones being
I AM the bread of life (John 6:35)
I AM the light of world (John 8:12)
I AM the door (John 10:9)
I AM the good shepherd (John 10:11)
I AM the resurrection and the life (John 11:25)
I AM the way, truth and the life (John 14:6)
I AM the true vine (John 15:1)
The last declaration is recorded as an extended metaphor where Jesus is symbolizing the true vine to Himself, branches to believers, and fruits to Spiritual fruits and Father to gardener or vinedresser. Let us examine these symbolisms as applied to our daily life.
Vine and branches not bearing fruits
What does God expect from us as ‘branches’ in the vine? We are expected to bear Fruits of Spirit - love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5: 22-23). The branches which do not bear fruits are cut-off from the vine by the gardener. Those who are called to be Christians are given a stern warning here to check our lives and review our association with the vine - Jesus. The association with Jesus needs to be real and fruit bearing, by carrying Him in our hearts.
Vine and branches bearing good fruits
What about the branches that bear fruits? After talking about branches that bear no fruits, Jesus moves on to talk about the branches that do bear fruits.
Spiritual pruning will be done by the Father on the fruitful branches. This pruning might hurt, because it can come in the form of sickness, hardships, or loss of material assets. It could be persecution from non-believers. It can come in the form of losing loved ones or losing jobs or a combination of difficulties. If we look upon trials and problems as pruning done by our loving Vinedresser, then our approach to problems will be very different. We will not lapse into fear, disappointment, complaining or brooding if we consider the difficulties as techniques implemented on us to bear more spiritual fruits. In fact, hardships are the right of a Christian.
Vines producing bad fruits
What would a vinedresser do to a vine that does not produce the best fruits? It will be removed to give space for a better vine to grow. In the Song of the Vineyard (Isaiah 5: 1-7), Isaiah explains this situation of bad fruits.
1 I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. 2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. 3 "Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? 5 Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. 6 I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it." 7 The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
In the Old Testament, Vine is referred for the entire Israel and God is the vinedresser. Vines bearing bad fruits would face destruction was the warning given to Israel. Today, as followers of Christ, we are already protected from that destruction. The vine for Christians is already there, established by God by sending his only son Jesus.
We – as branches – should just abide to Jesus, accept the continuous pruning techniques applied on us by Father and keep producing the best Spiritual fruits. During this, we will be subjected to variety of trials and hardships where Satan will use discouragement or disappointment or depression as the tools to turn us away from God. Joseph, Moses, Naomi, Job, David, Jonah, Elijah, Jeremiah are great examples of lives who came out of such tests successfully. Let us trust in the grace of God, go to Him in prayer, read His Word and choose to see hand of God in everything that takes place in our life.
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