Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” (Matthew 8:23-27)
Metropolitan Anthony Bloom discusses the Gospel narrative by contrasting the storms of life which surround us all as versus the ones that get inside our minds and hearts:
And then you will see that you can pray in every single situation in the world, that there is no situation which can prevent you from praying. What can prevent you from praying is that you allow yourself to be in the storm, or you allow the storm to come inside you instead of raging around you.
You may remember the story in the Gospel of the storm on the Sea of Galilee: Christ asleep in the boat and the storm raging around. At first the apostles work hard and hopefully in order to survive. Then at a certain moment they lose heart, and the storm that was outside comes inside—the storm is within them too. Anguish, death no longer simply circle round, they come inside. And then they turn to Christ and do what we very often do with God: we look at God in time of stress and tragedy, and we are indignant that He is so peaceful. The story in the gospel underlines it by saying that Christ was sleeping with his head on a pillow—the final insult.
They are dying and he is comfortable. This is exactly what we feel about God so often. How dare He be blissful, how dare He be so comfortable when I am in trouble? And the disciples do exactly what we do so very often. Instead of coming to God and saying ‘You are peace, you are the Lord, say a word and my servant will be healed, say a word and things will come right’, they shake him out of His sleep and say ‘Don’t you care that we are perishing?‘ In other words, ‘If you can do nothing, at least don’t sleep. If you can do nothing better, then at least die in anguish with us.’ Christ reacts, He gets up and says ‘Men of little faith!‘ and brushing them aside, he turns towards the storm and, projecting His inner stillness, His harmony and peace on the storm He says, ‘Be still, be quiet‘ and everything is quiet again. (BEGINNING TO PRAY, pp 89-90)
Metropolitan Anthony says it so well – we cry aloud to God in our times of trouble, and God remains blissful and silent. And we wish that if God is going to do nothing to change or improve the situation we are in, if God is not going to save us from the crisis, then the least God can do is be with us as we sink beneath the waves of the tumultuous storm into the depths of the abyss, rather than leaving us alone or abandon us to our fate. Perhaps we have even felt like the followers of Baal in 1 Kings 18 who cried aloud to their god but Baal remained silent. The Prophet “Elijah mocked them, saying, ‘Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is musing, or he has gone aside, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened’” (1 Kings 18:27). We may have felt at times like those worshippers of Baal –our God remains silent despite our critical problems or our desperate prayers. The disciples felt such abandonment as Christ peacefully slept while they were terrified by the raging storm. To live in the peace of Christ, no matter how the storm rages around us or in us, is our spiritual goal.
It is also right to note that when Christ calms the storm raging around the disciples, He simultaneously calms their troubled hearts as well. We can be comforted if God intervenes in the storms raging around us or in us! As we proclaim in the Akathist, “Glory to God for All Things”:
“The dark storm clouds of life bring no terror to those in whose hearts Your fire burns brightly. Outside is the darkness of the whirlwind, the terror and howling of the storm, but in the heart, in the presence of Christ, there is light and peace, silence.“
Orthodox scholar Nonna Verna Harrison notes that in each human thing Christ, the incarnate God, did He blessed it, including sleep. His peaceful sleep in a world of trouble reminds us that all of life’s troubles are of limited duration and meaning. In Christ, we have the ability to unite ourselves to eternity, overcoming all the tribulations of the world (John 16:33). Harrison notes:
In Christ, God becomes present in the most ordinary of human activities… when Jesus is tired he blesses fatigue, when he sleeps he blesses sleep too, and when he weeps he blesses tears. (FESTAL ORATIONS, pp 34-35)
Even when we sleep or weep, Christ is with us.