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.”
Listen Now. We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.
ENGAGED: The Call to Be Disciples
Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. Matthew 28:19-20
Prayer: Abiding in God’s Love—Part Nine
For where two or three are gathered in My Name, there am I in the midst of them. Matthew 18:20
Good morning Prayer Team!
“Let’s have prayer” is not generally in the Orthodox vernacular. It is very much a thing in other churches. It is not uncommon in other Christian churches for people to pray with one another, such as two people praying together before a meeting or an event. In Orthodox circles, prayer outside of Liturgy occurs generally in one of these ways.
~A family offers the Lord’s Prayer around the dinner table. No other specific prayers are offered.
~Children are encouraged to “say their prayers” before bedtime, but the parents are not present. They just presume when they tell their child to go and pray before bed, that the child actually is doing that. Most are not.
~When someone has a serious problem, they ask people to pray for them. And people will offer “I will keep you in my prayers.” But rarely is it that someone will say “Hey, I’ll pray for you right here, right now.”
~And for the very serious problems, we call the priest. And even at that, we may say to the priest “please keep me in your prayers.” If we muster up enough courage (this is a sad commentary), we might ask a priest to pray over us after services one Sunday.
There is something very special about two or three people gathering in prayer. As today’s Scripture passage says, that when two or three people are gathered in Christ’s name, Christ comes and stand with them.
I had two events that happened in my life within a matter of weeks several years ago that helped me to understand not only the importance of praying with others but gave me the motivation to start doing it even more often.
Most years of my ministry, I have served alone during Holy Week. So, when it comes time for Holy Unction, I do not receive Holy Unction because I don’t want to anoint myself, I feel that anointing should come from the hand of another priest. I always have arranged for receive Holy Unction before Holy Week so that I can receive it from another priest. This particular year, I asked a priest to anoint me at a Lenten retreat. As he went to anoint me immediately, I asked him if he could say a prayer for me before anointing me. He answered “Why? Did you do something wrong?” I answered, “No, I’d just like to have someone pray with me, for my family, my ministry, my faith.” He then offered a quick, rote prayer, which actually really hurt my feelings.
Several weeks later, on Pascha, after the Resurrection service, one of my parishioners asked if they could pray for me, out loud, in the church. It is a custom in the Orthodox Church that priests do not offer their own names out loud in corporate worship when other names are offered. The only time a priest will hear his own name in corporate worship is when another priest or bishop offers it. So, this person in my congregation offered me a great gift—offering my name out loud with me present. I can’t tell you how much joy I felt from that gift. In fact, it is the best gift I ever receive.
Since that time, now many years past, I have made it a point to pray with every person who comes into my office. Every appointment, even people who stop by to drop something off. When I offer, “can I pray with you?” the answer is always “YES!” It seems that many people enjoy receiving the gift of hearing a prayer with their name in it when they are present. It’s more than just an “I’ll have you in my prayers” (later, when you are not around), but “I’ll pray for you right now!” No one has ever told me “no” when I’ve offered to pray with them. Even people who are in a hurry always have a minute for prayer. Once in a while (though it is rare), after I offer a prayer, the person with me will ask to offer a prayer for me. And I always says “YES!” These kinds of prayers are ALWAYS welcome.
We are going to go back to discussing personal and private prayer, but before we do, I wanted to throw out this topic of praying with others. It is something that we are also not very good at, because we were not raised doing this. We were somehow conditioned to think that only a priest can come and pray for the sick, as an example. We can visit people in the hospital, but somehow, the priest is needed to offer prayers. The priest is needed to offer Holy Communion, anyone can pray.
I have told many people who are about to get married that the best way to “bullet-proof” a marriage is to pray together every day. And if they don’t know what to say, to pray simply “Thank you God for the person to whom I am married (their name).” A couple who commits to doing this will never get too far off, because even on days when a couple is angry or not getting along, a commitment to pray together and thank God for each other will keep any disagreement contained. The same thing works in close friendships or working relationships. There is a phrase, “the family that prays together stays together.” Most people just think this means the family who attends church or who offers the Lord’s Prayer around the dinner table. Well, plenty of families who worship or offer rote prayers fall apart. A family, or a marriage, or two friends or co-workers who actually pray together, who offers words of love and concern as well as thanksgiving in prayer will stay together.
We will mention later that God does not grade prayers, and most certainly He doesn’t. It’s also pretty safe to say that people are appreciative of a sincere prayer offered by someone. I don’t grade the few people who have prayed for me. I’m grateful for the prayers. If you want to know a question that people will never say “no” to, it is “can I pray with you?”
Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for He is gracious, and a song of praise is seemly. The Lord builds up Jerusalem; He gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars, He gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; His understanding is beyond measure. The Lord lifts up the downtrodden, He casts the wicked to the ground. Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make melody to our God upon the lyre! He covers the heavens with clouds, He prepares rain for the earth, He makes grass grow upon the hills. He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens which cry. His delight is not the strength of the horse, nor His pleasure in the legs of a man; but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His steadfast love. Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion! For He strengthens the bars of your gates; He blesses your sons within you. He makes peace in your borders; He fills you with the finest of the wheat. HE sends forth His command to the earth; His word runs swiftly. He gives snow like wool; He scatters hoarfrost like ashes. He casts forth Hi ice like morsels; who can stand before His cold? He sends forth His word, and melts them; He makes His wind blow, and the waters flow. He declares His word to Jacob, His statutes and ordinances to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know His ordinances. Praise the Lord! Psalm 147
Consider praying with your spouse, your child, co-worker or a friend. When you gather with another person in His name, you’ll feel Him there, in the midst of you!
With Roger Hunt providing today’s Daily Reading: Listen Now.
These readings are under copyright and is used by permission. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, in print or on other websites or in any other form, without the prior written authorization of the copyright holder: Reading © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA, Apolytikion of Abbot Marcellus © Narthex Press, Kontakion of Abbot Marcellus © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Photo Credit: Prayer Sisters
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