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
A Call to Be a Friend
Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give it to you.” John 15: 13-16
Good morning Prayer Team!
The first call of Jesus wasn’t to go and do incredible things, or even to do things. It was simply to be with Him. The call to be a disciple is a call to friendship with Him.
Calling Jesus a “friend” is something that is very foreign to most Orthodox Christians. The word “friend” seems to have too casual of a context. We “hang out” with our friends. We “cut up” and laugh with our friends.
If we believe that Jesus is calling us in the same way that He called the first disciples, His first call to them was one of friendship. He didn’t call them and say “Hey, come and worship Me.” Or “Come and be My servant.” Yes, He called His disciples “friends.”
This would seem to make sense. Let’s talk about building a relationship with anyone. The first thing we do in any relationship is respect someone, so that they feel safe around us. The second thing is to invest time, to communicate, to find things we share in common. After time and communication comes the ability to be vulnerable, after which comes trust and then love grows from that. We don’t tell someone we don’t know or have just met that we love them. We don’t show vulnerability to people we don’t know.
For those who think it is too casual to call Christ a friend, there is an “ekphonesis” (a liturgical phrase that specifically praises God) that is used in several services that reads in Greek “Oti agathos and FILANTHROPOS Theos Iparhis,” which translates “For You are a good (agathos) and ‘Friend of man’ (filanthropos) God.” Obviously, this is not exactly what our translations say. They usually say “For You are a good and loving God” or “For You are a merciful and loving God.” However, the word “filanthropos” is made up of two Greek words “filos” which means “friend,” and “anthropos” which means either “man” or “mankind.” If we call Christ a “filanthropos” in Greek, it is totally appropriate to call Him a “friend of man”, a friend, in English.
In John 15, today’s verses, Jesus calls His disciples “My friends.” (John 15:13) This discourse was given at (or after) the Last Supper, before Jesus was arrested and crucified. He continues on “I have called you friends.” (15:15) And says “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.” (15:16) Going back to the last reflections, we lack the imagination to put ourselves at the table with Christ, to hear those words being spoken to us, just as they were spoken to the Disciples nearly 2,000 years ago.
Jesus then tells them that the greatest expression of friendship is to die for a friend. In John 15:13, He says “Greater love had no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus then went and did that very thing. He laid down His life for His disciples, His friends.
Jesus doesn’t ask us to do something that He was unwilling to do. He asks us to be His friends, not His subjects. He laid down His life for us, His friends. And He asks that we also put Him first in our lives, to lay down our lives for Him.
Going back to being friends, we love to spend time with our friends. We look for extra opportunities to be together. We should treat God with that same joy with which we treat our friends, cherishing our time together, looking for extra opportunities to be together in prayer and worship.
Lord, You have granted us to offer these common prayers in unison and have promised that when two or three agree in Your name, You will grant their requests. Fulfill now, O Lord, the petitions of Your servants as may be of benefit to them, granting us in the present age the knowledge of Your truth, and in the age to come eternal life. For You, o God are good and love mankind (filanthropos), and to You we offer glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen. (Prayer of the Third Antiphon of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Trans. by Holy Cross Seminary Press, 2015).
God is not only our Maker and Lord. He is also mankind’s best friend.
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: Bible Odyssey
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