Questions about the Feeding of the Five Thousand

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QUESTION 1

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There are four accounts in the Gospels where a multitude are fed. Summarize in one sentence each occurrence, and state the Gospel it is found in. Extra credit: When are these various texts Read During the church year?


 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER 1

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In the Gospel of St. Matthew, the "Feeding of the Five Thousand" is recounted, where a multitude of 5000 men "besides women and children", were fed by Christ, who multiplied five loaves of bread and two fishes to the extent that all were satisfied, and the apostles collected twelve baskets of leftovers. (Matthew 14:14-22)

In the Gospel of St. Mark, two separate events are described. The feeding of the five thousand is recounted in Mark 6:32-42. A wholly separate miracle, record in Mark only tells of four thousand are fed, from seven loaves, and a few small fishes, and seven baskets of left over food are collected. (Mark 8:1-10)

St. Luke recounts the feeding of the five thousand in much the same way as St. Matthew, providing the additional detail that the apostles were told to make the men sit "by fifties" in the grass. (Luke 9:7-18)

In the Gospel of St. John, the same feeding of the Five Thousand is recounted, with the additional detail being provided that the bread was barley loaves. (John 6:3-14)

  • Matthew 14:14-22 is read on the 8th Sunday After Pentecost
  • Mark 6:30-45 is read on the 15th Thursday after Pentecost
  • Mark 8:1-10 is read on the 16th Friday after Pentecost
  • Luke 9:7-18 is read on the 21st Thursday after Pentecost

 

QUESTION 2

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The Church particularly values the spiritual truths presented in the "Feeding of the Five Thousand", so much so, that there is a service constructed around this event. What is it, and when is it served? Describe the service.


 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER 2

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The service of Litya is served at most Vigil services (although, in current practice, alas, not at most Saturday evening Vigils), after Great Vespers, and immediately before matins, or in some cases, when the vigil consists of Great Compline and matins, (such as the Nativity of the Savior, and Theophany), after Great Compline.

It consists of long prayers, asking God, by the intercession of many named Holy ones, for mercy, which are chanted by the priest (or deacon), and answered by the faithful with various amounts of "Lord have mercy", sung many times to sweet melody. The service is conducted in front of a table, on which are placed 5 loaves of bread, and small vessels filled with wheat, wine and oil. This table is usually in front of an icon of the Saint or event being commemorated. In Russian practice, the clergy stand at the entrance to the nave, by the narthex, when the long prayers are intoned, then move in front of the table, which is in the center of the church, when the Aposticha are sung. After the Aposticha hymns, sung in sticheric melody, the troparion (troparia) of the feast is sung (3 times), while the table is censed round about on all four sides three successive times. At the conclusion of the troparia, the priest blesses "these loaves, wheat, wine and oil". The bread and wine are brought into the altar, and cut up, and dipped in the wine, for the faithful to partake of after the Gospel reading at matins.

In earlier, more zealous times, this food was the only sustenance the people had for the all night vigil, which went on all night, ending with the Divine Liturgy in the early morning.


 

QUESTION 3

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Why did Jesus enter a ship and cross over the sea immediately after this miracle?


 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER 3

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The people saw Christ's miracle in a military context. They wanted to make him king, mount an army (which would have no trouble with provisions), and drive back the hated Romans. St. John states this plainly:

"When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone." (John 6:15)

Christ avoided this by leaving the area. When the Pharisees caught up with Him, it is evident, as recounted in St. John's gospel, that they did not understand the implications of the miracle, as Christ told them:

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. (John 6:26-27)


 

QUESTION 4

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According to the Fathers, what great virtue is taught by the sharing of the five loaves and two fishes, and the abundance left over?


 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER 4

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Blessed Theophylact comments that our Lord's command to the disciples to "give them to eat" even when there was so little is a clear command to the Christian to exercise hospitality.

Such love will be abundantly rewarded, as the twelve baskets full show, although this reward may be in the next life, for we are told elsewhere that "great is your reward in heaven" (Mat 5:12), and "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal." (Mat 6:19-20)


 

QUESTION 5

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The Lord makes a point to tell the disciples, who are concerned for the people, and have asked Him to send them away to buy food: "They need not depart; give ye them to eat " Mat 14:16) What is the significance of this instruction?


 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER 5

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The Lord gave authority to his apostles, and through them, to the entire church, and their successors, the bishops. We are "given to eat" from the mellifluous flow of their teachings, and the entire mind of the church. Nothing in the Christian life is out of the context of life in the church, and obedience to what we have been taught, from Christ to the Apostles and the Apostles to us. The account given in St. Luke, where the apostles are told to organize the men in "fifties", further illustrates the organization of the divine organism of the body of Christ, the church. He who is not in a group of fifty, obedient to the teachings of the church, which are life, because they have preserved the words and teaching of the one Who is life, is outside of the church. Perhaps such a one is at the base of the mountain, from which Jesus did teach before feeding the people, but he is not on the grass, partaking of the bread of life.

He who has eyes to see, let him see. He who has ears to hear, let him hear, and not be offended unto his own death.


 

QUESTION 6

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Jesus does a very simple thing before having the apostles distribute the food to the people, that we would do well to emulate at all times. What is it?


 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER 6

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"... and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude." (Mat 14:19, partial)

Before we do any task, or eat any food, we must ask God's blessing upon it. This is why Orthodox Christians make the sign of the cross so readily. We ask God's blessing in all that we do. Without this blessing, we cannot expect our actions to be of good effect.

"He looks up to heaven and blesses the loaves, as if both to confirm that He is not opposed to God but that He came from the Father and from heaven, and also to teach us to give thanks when wee begin a meal and only then to eat" (Blessed Theophylact, commentary of St. Matthew)


 

QUESTION 7

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There is a mystical meaning to the five thousand, and the five loaves and two fishes. What is it?


 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER 7

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According to blessed Theophylact: "The five thousand are those who are sick in their five senses, and who are healed by the five loaves".

Our Lord heals the whole man, all five senses denoting the totality of our physical being, and by extension, our whole essence, including our soul which is diseased and in need of healing.

Blessed Theophylact continues to explain that the two fish are the words of the fisherman, preeminently contained in the gospels and epistles. In additions, some have understood the five loaves to signify the Pentateuch of Moses (the first five books of the Old Testament)


 

QUESTION 8

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There is an outer and inner meaning to the twelve baskets full. What is it?


 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER 8

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The leftovers were abundant, and there were twelve apostles called upon to gather them up, in twelve baskets. We see that God will provide for us abundantly, if we only trust in Him. Blessed Theophylact explains that even Judas the unworthy one was called upon to fulfill this task, so that "thus remembering the miracle (he would not) rush headlong into betrayal".

The mystical meaning is very profound, and important. We are poor people, with limited understanding. We fall on our own, but are saved if we become part of the mind of the church, through our actions and beliefs. We are unable to assimilate on our own divine truth, if we do not submit to those who know the truth, the church.

"Twelve baskets were lifted up and carried by the apostles; for whatever we, the multitude, are unable to eat, that is, to understand, the apostles carried and held, that is, they accepted and understood". (Blessed Theophylact, commentary of St. Matthew)

The Christian who wishes to be saved would do well to be humble himself, and lean not on his own understanding, and look to the church for guidance in all things. May you, O reader, find the repository of all truth, and be fed continually from the bread of life, held in the baskets which you have neither the strength or knowledge to hold on your own.


 

QUESTION 9

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According to one account, the is miracle was the precursor to another teaching, wondrous to behold, about another kind of bread. Which?


 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER 9

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After He fed the five thousand, and his apostles crossed over the sea in a ship, in which He joined them halfway into their voyage by walking upon the water, Jesus was met by the unbelieving Pharisees, and another multitude. Then and he expounded those words which are sweet to the believer and terrible and unbelievable to the carnal man. He is the bread of life.

"Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." (John 6:32-25)

"I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." (John 6:48-51)

Then, as now, these words were hard to behold, and require a man to truly believe in Him Who said them.

"The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? {53} Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. {54} Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. {55} For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. {56} He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. {57} As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. {58} This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever." (John 6:52-58)

Do you, O reader, believe the words spoken plainly by our Lord? These very words were understood from the beginning by the apostles (after their enlightenment by the Holy Spirit), and have been in the mind of the church ever since. Are you in one of the groups of fifties, partaking of this bread, or do you subscribe to a foreign interpretation, and invention, unknown even to those outside the church for over a thousand years?


 

QUESTION 10

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The Feeding of the five thousand occurred at what part of Jesus' ministry (early, in the middle, or late)?


 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER 10

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Immediately after the beheading of the honorable prophet, forerunner and Baptist John, Jesus departed into a desert place. Subsequently, after feeding the people with the words of life, he fed them by multiplying the five loaves and two fishes. This was very early in His ministry.


 





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