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.”
THE ENCOURAGEMENT PROJECT
So Peter was kept in prison; but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. Acts 12:5
Good morning Prayer Team!
I scheduled a Paraklesis service this past Wednesday night. There was no reason in particular, other than I looked at the calendar for October, which is a light month for weekday services and decided I wanted to have an additional weekday service. I didn’t know if anyone would come, or if anyone would offer names of people to be prayed for at the service.
Interestingly enough though, in the several days before this service, I had several prayer requests from outside of my church community—from a young man in college whose fraternity brother had recently committed suicide; from a young woman who was having an important interview; from someone who had been called upon to help a victim of a sexual assault; and from a family whose father was having serious surgery. So, by the time the service began, I had a list of people to pray for. Surprisingly, there was a large number of people in church, who all brought not only names but specific needs to be prayed for.
Earlier this week, someone called me and just asked me to pray with them over the phone. I used to actually think this was awkward, as if God couldn’t hear prayer over a phone. I texted mutual friends and asked them to pause for a moment and to pray. Within minutes several texts of encouragement and prayer had come for this person.
My friends, this is the work of the church. When there is a need, the church must respond in three ways—first with prayer, second with encouragement, third with tangible help. And who is the church? The church is the people. When a person has a need, the people must respond with prayer, with encouragement and with help. It is not the priest alone who does these things. The church building doesn’t do these things. The by-laws of the church do not offer prayers.
I often become discouraged because we obsess about DO-ing church rather than BEING the church. We are good at lighting candles, cooking gyros and arguing about our rights as parishioners. The church, however, is not by-laws, buildings, budgets and bureaucracy. The church is the people—praying, encouraging and helping.
I actually recorded voice memos on my phone of the various people I prayed for who are not from my parish. I texted them the audio files of these prayers, so that people could hear them in their far flung cities. And then I get messages back saying that these gestures meant a lot. I’m not saying this to brag so please don’t read it that way. Whatever I did didn’t change the situations I was praying about. What it did was let people know that they were not alone. That God is watching over them. That the church, the people, are praying for them. And this in itself is a powerful thing, the knowledge that one is not alone. This is one of the reasons Christ gave us the church. He said in Matthew 18:20 “where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.”
Pray. Encourage. Help. This is what the church is all about. We need to shift the paradigm from “doing church” to “being the church.”
Lord, thank You for the gift of the church. Thank You for giving us a place to grow in faith. Help us to include the people of the church community so that no one feels alone. Help us to reach out to those in need. Give us the courage to ask for prayer from others. Give us the courage to answer that call to pray with others, give us the words to say to offer comfort. Help us to understand what it means to be the church and give us the courage to be the church rather than to just do the church. Lord, be with people who are in urgent need of prayer today—those who grieve the loss of people who have committed suicide, victims of sexual assault, people who are nervous about exams and interviews, people who are facing serious medical crises. Be with all those who need you. Send ME to those who need you. Bring those who need you into my life. And give me the wisdom, the love and compassion to be the church to them. Amen.
Be the church!
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