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
But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing near, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A bowl full of vinegar stood there, so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to His mouth. When Jesus had received the vinegar, He said “It is finished” and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. John 19: 25-30
Good morning Prayer Team!
Over the course of my life, I have seen many movies depicting the Passion of Christ. These movies have cemented in my mind what the various scenes may have looked like. The garden of Gethsemane was dark. There was an air of uncertainty and trepidation as the disciples made their way there. Jesus cried out in agony as He was praying, His sweat becoming like drops of blood. The disciples slept restlessly nearby. An angel came and comforted Jesus, the last loving embrace before His death.
Suddenly soldiers came with torches and weapons. The quiet of the night was disrupted with noise and chaos as Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, and He was quickly bound and led away.
In the house of the high priest, He was ridiculed, slapped and spat upon. The Lord of love and mercy was shown neither. The disciples fled in fear. Peter followed but even he denied knowing Christ. As day was breaking, Jesus was led to a hastily arranged trial before Pontius Pilate. Pilate asked one of the most existential questions of the Bible, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) Confused by the whole thing, he washed his hands and gave into the blood-thirsty mob who demanded that Jesus be crucified.
Jesus was then beaten and bloodied, tortured and whipped, and had a crown of thorns placed on (and into) his head. By this time, dehydrated and disoriented, a heavy cross was placed on His shoulders and the whipping continued as He carried it to Golgotha. Jesus suffered as no man had ever suffered. He was so broken down that He could not carry His cross and a man named Simon of Cyrene was conscripted to help. (Even the Lord had help carrying His cross, which is why we should help one another to carry our crosses, and we should also accept help in carrying our crosses).
Reaching Golgotha, Jesus was laid on the cross and had spikes driven through his wrists and ankles, affixing Him to the cross from which He would hang. The soldiers mocked Him. The passers-by gawked and made fun of Him. The sun hid its light. Day turned into night. Through all this, the words Jesus spoke were words of love and forgiveness. He forgave those who had crucified Him. He offered forgiveness to a repentant thief. He made sure His mother was taken care of. And then He finished what He had come to do—He bowed His head and He died.
The earth shook. The curtain of the temple was torn. The centurion who presided over the Crucifixion converted and became a Christian. Jesus’ lifeless body was taken down from the Cross and laid in a tomb. A day of chaos ended with the death and entombment of the Son of God.
These events are not just a story retold in movies, or relived in our Holy Week services. These events reversed the fall of humanity. Where Adam and Eve fell through partaking of the fruit of the forbidden tree, Christ hung from a tree and set us free from the fall. Where Adam and Eve fell to temptation, Christ remained strong in the face of every temptation and pain inflicted upon Him. Where Adam and Eve showed ingratitude, disobedience and dishonesty, Christ showed forgiveness, obedience and love.
The story is simple. The meaning is profound. Without a prayerful heart, the story remains just that, a story played out on the movie screen or in front of the church congregation. With a prayerful heart, the story comes alive. It provides an example. It provides direction. It provides clarity. It offers hope.
So, come stand at the cross. Don’t run away like the disciples. Do not deny Him like Peter. Do not give up like Judas. Come and stand at the cross. Remember what He did for you. And prayerfully consider how that affects you, and what it can awake in you, so that you can leave the experience ready to do for Him, ready to love Him more, ready to love others more.
Today, He who suspended the earth in the waters in suspended on a cross. The King of the Angels wears a crown of thorns. He who wraps the sky in clouds is wrapped in a fake purple robe. He who free Adam in the Jordan accepts to be slapped. The Bridegroom of the Church is fixed with nails to the cross. The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear. We worship Your Passion, O Christ. Show us also Your glorious Resurrection. (15th Antiphon of the Matins of Good Friday, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
I invite you to come and stand at the foot of Christ’s cross.
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: Icons and their Interpretation
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