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”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth he went and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4: 12-17
Good morning Prayer Team!
Today is the third of three reflections on the “job” of the Church. We’ve been discussing, in very simple terms, what is the role of the church? It starts with the Great Commission—to go, make disciples, baptize and teach. We’ve discussed that the three main ministries of the church are preaching, teaching and healing. And we’ve discussed the story of Zacchaeus, that we are to “seek and save the lost,” (Luke 19:10) and that Zacchaeus is everyone who wants to know who Christ is. Remember that Zacchaeus was an active seeker. He wanted to know who Christ was. He wanted to see Him.
In today’s reflection, we will discuss in simple terms one more “job” of the Church, which is bringing the Light of Christ to those in darkness. Simply put, this means shining the Light of Christ on those who don’t know Christ. Maybe they haven’t heard of Him. Maybe they once knew Christ and then left Him. They are not active seekers.
As I reflect on this idea of bringing Light to those in darkness, my mind immediately goes to the verse in Matthew 4, the fulfillment of the Prophet Isaiah, “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and the shadow of death light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16) We’ve all seen old movies where prisoners are kept in dark cells. In “the hole” there is no light, no activity and certainly no joy. There is a longing for the light to shine again, there is a longing for something better. When the guard opens the door, initially the prisoner recoils at the brightness of the light. As his eyes adjust to the light, he is happy to see, happy to move, happy to no longer be in the darkness.
Many people feel like the solitary prisoner. They feel lonely, trapped, unsure, scared, without hope and many other negative emotions. They long for something greater. They long to feel better but perhaps aren’t sure how. It is our work as Christians to shine the Light of Christ on all people, in all corners of society. Their reaction may be the same reaction as the prisoner. They may recoil initially at the Light of Christ, because it is such a contrast to their life in darkness. But as they come to know Christ, His light provides warmed, hope, security and all the things that they lacked.
How do we shine Christ’s Light on other people? Do we force the Light on them? Do we have to be priests to shine His Light? One answer is found in Matthew 5:16, when Jesus tell us “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven.” It’s not just hard work or lucrative work that makes work “good”. It is Christ-centered work that allows the Light of Christ to shine through. Christ-centered work is based on love, compassion, mercy, hope and other Christ-like qualities. How many jobs promote these things? How many job actively work against these things? How many jobs are all about money and not much else?
I read in a book recently that “about 70 percent of the US workforce is disengaged at their job—hate it actually.” (From the book “Didn’t See it Coming” by Carey Nieuwhof, p. 180, based on a report by Carmine Gallo, “70% of Your Employees Hate Their Jobs,” Forbes, November 11, 2011) The author concludes that to become re-engaged in what we are doing, we have to do it for a higher purpose than ourselves. Living for Christ, living in Christ, and letting His Light shine through us will ultimately give us more satisfaction than any job can give us.
Letting His Light shine through us, and shining it on those in darkness does not require us to become a priest, or work for the church full time or have a theology degree. It requires us getting outside of ourselves and living for He that is greater than us—Christ. That can begin simply by “laboring” for Christ at your workplace.
The work of the Church is to bring that Light to people. The joy of Christ is not going to shine through because of a successful fundraiser or a beautiful building. It’s not going to shine because the youth group won a basketball tournament or a dance contest. It’s not going to shine because we had a great dinner dance or because we’ve got immaculate church grounds. The Light of Christ shines through the Church when the Church is intentional about shining it. The Light of Christ shines through the Church when the Church feeds the hungry, expecting nothing in return; when the Church its first-fruits to charity, and doesn’t wait to see if there is anything left over; when the Church community prays together, cries together and rejoices together; when the Church community invites others to join the community, and embraces them not only in worship but in fellowship.
We’ve put emphasis for a long time on material things—like the bank account balance, or buildings and grounds. If this is the focus of the church, it shouldn’t be any surprise if the same percentage (70%) that are disappointed with their jobs are also disappointed with the Church. Because for the Church to be successful in her mission, it can’t just be about the finances and the buildings. It has to be about Christ and shining Him on those in darkness—whether they are the person in the pew who has lost the joy of Christ, or the person in the dark hole who has never felt the Light of Christ.
Lady full of grace, rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos, for Christ our God, the Sun of righteousness has risen from you and He illumined those in darkness. And you, righteous Elder, be glad in heart, receiving in your embraces the One who liberates our souls and bestows on us the Resurrection. (Apolytikion, Feast of the Presentation Christ, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Think of Christ as you work today. Work for Him today and not just the paycheck. In working for Him, His Light will shine through you, especially on those in darkness.
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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.
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