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.”
We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.
The Journey to the Cross and Resurrection of Christ
When Jesus had finished all these sayings, He said to His disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of man will be delivered up to be crucified.” Matthew 26:1-2
Good morning Prayer Team!
In the Holy Week narrative, during the early days of the week, Jesus, according to the Gospel accounts, spent time both in public in the temple and in private with His disciples. While the Gospels are explicit about where Jesus was staying, most likely He was staying in Bethany, with Mary and Martha and Lazarus. Bethany was a short two miles from Jerusalem. Because the feast of Passover was about to occur, thousands of people were making their way to Jerusalem for the feast, and houses like Mary’s and Martha’s would provide lodging for pilgrims who would then commute into the city each day. During daylight hours, Jesus sat in the temple, and this is where the castigation of the temple leadership would have taken place. At night, I imagine Him sitting around a fire, or around a table with His disciples, speaking intimately with them about the Kingdom of God.
On Holy Tuesday morning, at the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy, we read from the Gospel of Matthew, chapters, 24 and 25, and the first two verses of chapter 26. I chose these verses from chapter 26, because today’s invitation is to sit with the disciples, and these verses offer that what is previous to them was said, not to the multitudes, but to the disciples.
If you are not planning on attending the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy on Holy Tuesday, I encourage you to read Matthew 25 today, to put yourself in the shoes of the disciples as you read three parables that are challenging, scary, and ultimately pave the way in very succinct terms of how to reach the Kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 25: 1-13 is the parable of the Ten Maidens. In the parable, we meet five maidens who were wise and five who were foolish. The wise maidens had ample oil, so that when the bridegroom was late in coming, they slept and then awoke, trimmed their lamps and were ready to meet him. The foolish ones, on the other hand, awoke to find that their oil had gone out and they had no extra oil. Jesus says that the Kingdom of heaven will be like this parable. The oil is faith. And those who have faith, when the bridegroom comes to call them to the feast, will be the ones who are invited in.
Matthew 25: 16-30 is the parable of the talents. In this parable, three men are given a certain amount of talents—one receives five, one receives two, and one receives one. No one receives nothing—everyone receives something. The talents are given by a master who departs for a faraway land. While he is gone, the one with the five and the one with two double what they were given. They now have ten talents and four talents, respectively. The one with the one talent buries it in the ground. After a long time, the master comes back and asks each what he did with what he had received. The ones with the ten and the four are rewarded equally. The one with ten is not rewarded MORE than the one with four. Rather they are rewarded equally, because they did well with what they had been given. The man with the one talent, who did nothing with it, is punished. Jesus says that the Kingdom of heaven will be like this parable. Because faith is not enough. One has to “live” the faith by using the talents that he or she has been given by God.
Matthew 25: 31-46 is the account of the last judgment. In these verses, Jesus tells His disciples succinctly that the works of faith are feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and visiting the imprisoned. We may extrapolate that there are many people who are hungry not only for food but for friendship, for affirmation, for encouragement, for empathy. Continuing, there are people who are in prisons of poverty and disability. The Parable tells us that those who have served the least of their brethren have served Christ. And that when we fail to serve our fellow man, we are failing to serve Christ as well.
These three powerful messages show us how to live a life that will lead to the Kingdom of heaven. They show us the path to holiness. They were shared in a very beautiful way with the Disciples, who despite their human frailties and doubts, sincerely wanted to share a closeness with Christ. Yes, they were all going to run and hide with fright during the Crucifixion, (and let’s be honest, we all run and hide sometimes when the going gets tough), but these teachings paved a foundation for them to become leaders of the church, who quickly understood what it meant to serve, and who also eventually were not afraid to die for Christ, who had first died for them.
Today’s invitation is to come and sit with the Disciples. Open the Bible with an open heart. Open the heart with prayer. Let the words that you offer and the words you hear through scripture inspire a closeness between you and the Lord. Build a strong foundation. So that you also can be an “apostle,” one who teaches and encourages faith.
Come, O believers, let us labor with zeal for the Master. Since He distributes His wealth to His servants, let each of us correspondingly increase the talent of grace that we received. Let one acquire wisdom by means of good deeds. Let another celebrate the Liturgy with splendor. Let the believer communicate the Word to the uninitiated, and let another disperse wealth to the poor. And so let us increase that which was lent to us, so that as faithful stewards of grace we may be counted worthy of the Master’s joy. O count us worthy of this joy, Christ God, since You love humanity. (From the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy of Holy Tuesday morning, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
I invite you to come and sit with the Disciples.
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.
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