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.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you.” John 20:21
The Great Commission—Part One
The Day of Ascension
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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
Good morning Prayer Team!
The first call of Jesus to the disciples was to “come and see”, the words He used to invite Andrew in John 1:39. In Matthew 4:19, He invited fishermen with the words “Follow Me.” The first call to the disciples was a call to come and be something. It wasn’t to come and do anything but rather to come and follow. If we allow ourselves to imagine what this first call must have been like, it must have been very casual. It wasn’t any kind of cosmic event involving bright lights and angels. Rather I imagine it was a casual conversation between Jesus and fishermen on old rickety boats at the lakeside.
We know that when Jesus was incarnate at the Nativity, it was also a rather private event for His parents. There wasn’t a lot of pomp and circumstance in the cave. Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, and a few animals—a humble birth. His leaving the earth would happen with a little bit more fanfare.
Forty days after the Resurrection, we are told that Jesus took His disciple on top of a mountain. Tradition holds that this was the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem, a hill with a scenic overlook. And on this hill, Jesus commissioned His disciples, a passage of Scripture now known as the Great Commission, which is quoted above. While His first call was to “come,” His commission on each of them was to “Go” and spread the message that we summarized in the last reflection. That Jesus was a fulfillment of the Law and what was spoken by the Prophets. That the point of life was not just moral living and adherence to a set of rules, but salvation. And that the Kingdom of heaven was not just some far off place but through Christ, one can live in the Kingdom right now.
Acts 1 also has an account of the Ascension. In this chapter, we again read a version of the Great Commission, that the disciples were to take the message of the Gospel to the far reaches of the world. Jesus said to them, “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
The chapter continues by describing an event similar to the Transfiguration. At the Transfiguration, Jesus appeared in the clouds, flanked by Moses and Elijah. “His garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them.” (Mark 9:3) At the Ascension, we read that “He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight.” (1:9) While they were staring into the heavens, taking it all in, two men, angels,” spoke to them: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.” (1:9)
The Orthodox icon of the Ascension shows Jesus going up into the heavens with angels on either side of Him, the gates of heaven opening, and the Son going back to sit at the right hand of the Father, having done His work to redeem the world. The journey from the Incarnation to the Ascension began with a humble birth and an almost non-descript childhood. The public ministry of Jesus began with a small, private, and almost casual call to some non-descript fishermen. These men saw Jesus as a friend. They hung out with Him. They traveled with Him. They laughed with Him. Crowds saw Jesus almost as a curiosity at first. Then they saw Him as a teacher and a healer. They started to put some hope in Him, but it wasn’t the hope of spiritual deliverance. Rather they waited for Him to deliver a military victory over their Roman oppressors.
A jealous temple establishment saw Him as a threat, and so did the Roman authorities. A confused mob demanded His death. And He was killed like a common criminal. To this point, the story was one of curiosity for most and hope for some. The disciples didn’t know what to make of all of it. Peter denied Christ. Judas betrayed Him. And the others, save for John, all fled. When He appeared to them after His Resurrection, they were filled with joy. Thomas had a human reaction of doubt, which eventually also turned to joy.
At the Ascension, however, joy turned to glory, as the Disciples saw a cosmic event—the heavens opening and the Son of God rising up to them. Their “commission” wasn’t to hang out as a band of brothers, but to go and spread the good news to the far reaches of the world. No longer would they sit around campfires and on mountainsides with Jesus and with each other. They were not going to GO out and do something. They had come and they had seen and they had stayed with Jesus. That was the first call. The second call was a commission to go.
You ascended in glory, O Christ our God, after You filled the Disciples with joy, by promising to send them the Holy Spirit, and you blessed them and established their faith, that You are the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world. (Apolytikion, Feast of Ascension, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
The first call was a call to “come.” The second call was a commission to “go.”
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.
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