IN those day, Jesus saw a great crowd and He had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to Him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late, send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to the disciples, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And He said, “Bring them here to me.” Then Jesus ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled, and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds.
This is one of my favorite passages in the Gospels. Not only because of the miraculous feeding of the great number of people (at least five thousand), but because it describes one of the main apostolic tasks - feeding the people. And it could be said that we are apostles' successors in witnessing to Christ's Gospel to the whole world. Therefore, it is also our task.
The setting is a deserted place, to which Christ withdrew by Himself, most likely to spend some time in solitude, as we often see Him do. But the crowds found out about it and followed after Him. The people were spiritually hungry, so they were following Him, looking for nourishment.
But the evening came, and the disciples realized something horrific - all these people were hungry, had nowhere to spend the night, and were in danger in the desert at night. So they asked Jesus to send them away for them to find food and lodging in the nearest town. But the Lord said, "You give them something to eat."
What!? How can a band of poor and homeless guys feed thousands of people? Even if they did have enough money to buy food, there was no way to bring it out into the desert.
I think these words were foreshadowing of the apostles' mission - bringing the spiritual food, the Gospel of Christ, salvation, to the whole world. And as I said, this has not really changed for us today. We are the disciples of Christ, we are also the apostles, we witness to Christ's Gospel. We have an opportunity for Christ to nourish the people through us both physically and spiritually.
When the disciples gave all the food they had to Christ, all of five loaves of bread and two fish (!), He took "the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds." This is significant because we still do the same thing today. During the Divine Liturgy, at the main part called the Anaphora, when the gifts of bread and wine are consecrated by God and become the Body and Blood of Christ, we also look up to heaven and bless the gifts. And then, right before the Communion, the Body of Christ is "broken," meaning separated into smaller parts for everyone to partake.
Notice, Jesus Christ did not go around Himself giving out the food, He gave it to His disciples and they gave it to the crowd. This also is still done today. The Holy Gifts are consecrated by God through the prayers of the whole community (not just the clergy), but then the clergy give it out to all the faithful. And this is perhaps the only difference between the clergy and the laity - distributing the Communion.
The clergy are not any more special than, let's say, a doctor in a crowd. What separates a doctor from most other people? He had special education and training to become a doctor. Same thing with the clergy, they had special education and training in order to lead their communities in prayer and distribute the Holy Communion.
One last cool note about the passage - "and all ate and were filled, and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full." The Church teaches and we believe that in the chalice during Communion we have the Body and Blood of Christ, meaning Christ Himself. We partake of Him, we receive ALL of Him. From Liturgy to Liturgy, it is the same Christ in the chalice. Moreover, the liturgies are done throughout the whole world, and in each case it is the same Christ. All of us partake of the same Christ, even if we receive Communion in different geographical locations.
We will continue to partake of Christ until the end of the age (unto ages of ages). This was prefigured in the abundant leftover of the bread and fish at the miraculous feeding of at least five thousand people. No matter how many of Orthodox Christians there are, there will always be enough of Christ.
Yours in the Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest