Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”
Then He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up His hands He blessed them. While He blessed them, He parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. Luke 24:50-53 Tuesday after the Ascension
Good morning Prayer Team!
There are many “seasons” in life, seasons that are anticipated, seasons that are endured, seasons that are enjoyed, seasons that end, sometimes even seasons that come again. There are childhood years, then teenage years, high school, college, young adult life, single life, married life, child-rearing years, working years, retired years, perhaps years of sickness and decline, until finally the years end. As I look back at my life today, besides a mother and brother whom I’ve known all my life, everything else can be classified under the umbrella of a season. And even the season of parent and sibling could end at some point.
The only thing in my life that is not seasonal is this—“continually in the temple blessing God.” That’s the only thing I’ve done my entire life. I used to take piano lessons, be part of the Boy Scouts, play soccer, and go to college. I used to live in California, Massachusetts, Connecticut and North Carolina. I currently live in Florida, serve a church in Tampa, direct a summer camp, and enjoy mowing the lawn. And I may one day travel to Europe, have a grandchild or retire. The ONLY thing that is going to be part of every season of my life is “continually in the temple blessing God.”
I admire people who are really old who come to church. People who are in the sunset of their lives, who walk a little slower, who have fought all their battles, and have all their scars and who are still “continually in the temple blessing God.” Because it means that even their seasons of disappointment and frustration haven’t shaken their faith or their hope in God. Sometimes the dissatisfactions in life cause people to stop coming to the temple to bless God. However, it is important to maintain “vigil” in the temple, even when the seasons of life disappoint us.
The ultimate hope for the Christian life is to be in heaven, where we will continually be blessing God. This is why it is so important to be in the temple blessing God in this life, because it prepares us to do it in heaven for everlasting life.
There are three distinct phrases in this verse that merit acknowledgement. First, the word “continually”. Continually means constantly. It doesn’t mean once in a while or when we feel like it, or twice a year on Christmas and Easter. Continually means all the time. Worship of God and living the Christian life is something we are to strive to do continuously, not only when it is convenient, and not only when life is good. In fact, when life is challenging that’s when we want to go to God even more. And when life is good, we want to go to God in gratitude. Prayer and worship, scripture and charity should be constants in our lives.
“In the temple” means coming to the Lord in both a corporate and sacramental context. Many people joke that they are “continually with God” on the golf course or while fishing. I’m glad that people think about God while relaxing, that is a great thing. We know that God is not only in the temple. He is everywhere. And we can connect with God and encounter God anywhere. However, it is critical that we connect with Him “in the temple”. For the temple gives us two things—it gives us fellowship with others who are making the same journey. And it gives us Christ Himself in a way that we can only experience Him in the temple, in the sacrament of Holy Communion. So, it is important to be in the temple continuously.
And finally blessing God is what we are to be doing when we come to the temple. It really saddens me when people come to church habitually late, or when they never receive Communion, or when they come to turn on the coffee machine or sell tickets to the dinner dance in the hall but never actually worship in the church and think that somehow passes for worship. When we come to the temple, the purpose in doing so is to bless God and for God to bless us. We come to church to GIVE blessing to GOD. If we are not coming to glorify God in our worship, why come? And we come to receive something from God, His blessings. So if we come late, or come distracted, or come angry, or even come just to check box, we’re really not receiving the blessing God intends to us to have.
The ending of Luke’s Gospel, which is today’s verse, shows us that as the Disciples saw the Lord ascending in glory, they knew that the season of His earthly ministry was over. But they also knew that a new season was beginning, and it was going to be the first “season” that had no end for them, the season of continually being in the temple blessing God, in preparation for receiving His blessings, forever in the heaven to which Christ ascended. He showed us the way to the Kingdom, an important component of which is continually blessing God, so that He can continually, and eternally bless us.
The unoriginated and pre-eternal God, having in mystical manner now deified the human nature He assumed, has on this day ascended. AS He was proceeding up into heaven with glory great, Angels who had run ahead pointed Him out to the Apostles; and worshipping before Him, they cried aloud, Glory to you, O God, who has ascended. (Kathisma, Orthros of the Ascension, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Make sure you get to “the temple” this Sunday!
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