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.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. I Corinthians 13:1-3
Before we can develop a plan for what we are going to do, we have to develop a plan for how we are going to do what we do. The concept of core values is something that is important not only in a church context but in any business or organizational context. The next five reflections will examine five core values that our Church in Tampa (where I currently serve) have instituted. We make our decisions and develop our plans now based on these values. And if a decision doesn’t line up with these values, we don’t make it.
At the core of our core values is love. Love was God’s motive in creating the world. Love was God’s motive for redeeming the world. We read in John 3:16, “For God so LOVED the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” The two greatest commandments that Christ gave us were to love Him and to love one another. He said in Matthew 22:30, “on these two commandments depend all the Law and the prophets.” And in John13:35, He said, “By THIS all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Saint Paul tells us in I Corinthians 13, that if we do all kind of things—speak in tongues, have prophetic powers, have faith, and give away all that we have—if we do all these things but don’t have love, we really have nothing, we’ve accomplished nothing. In I Corinthians 13:13, he ranks love above faith and hope, when he writes, “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” In Colossians 3:14, St. Paul writes, “and above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of Bible verses that teach us how love is the primary message of Christ, the primary mark of faith and the primary work of the Church.
There are three main components to love. One is sacrifice. We love someone or something based on how much we sacrifice for it. If we love our spouses and our children, we are willing to sacrifice ideas, plans, sleep, money, etc. for them. People who “love” sports spend a lot of time watching sports. Love is taking from ourselves and projecting whatever we are taking—time, money, effort—and projecting that on someone else. One cannot love oneself. We can’t take from ourselves only to give back to ourselves. We can have self-confidence and self-respect, but I would argue that we cannot have self-love. Because love by its definition involves sacrifice, and in order to sacrifice, there has to be someone to sacrifice for.
Love isn’t all sacrifice though. There is an element of joy in love, and element of joy in sacrifice. We learn to love when we find joy in giving. I don’t love my spouse or my son because of what I take from them, or even for they do for me. My love for them grows because I give to them, and I find joy in giving because I find joy in love. Love doesn’t involve keeping score. We shouldn’t tell someone “look what I did for you, look what I sacrificed for you.” We are supposed to just give, and find intrinsic joy in the giving.
There is one other aspect of love that is important, and that is vulnerability. There can be no love without vulnerability. If we have conversations that include only: “Hi.” “How are you?” “I’m fine, how are you?” “I’m fine, have a great day.” If our conversations are limited to this surface level of dialogue, there will never be love in the relationship. The seed for love is planted when one person says “I’m not doing well,” and the other responds, “How can I help?” Because in admitting one is not well, there is vulnerability. In offering to help, not knowing exactly what kind of help is needed, this is vulnerability as well.
Christ showed the ultimate love when He died for us. After all, what can be more vulnerable than dying for someone? We show love for one another when we serve with joy and show some vulnerability. The strongest churches are built on love, which involves sacrifice, joy and vulnerability. We will come back and develop each of these themes as relates to the church a little later. For now those, as we seek to make our church communities what Christ intends for them to be, we have to start with love as the core of the core values, and then build out from there.
Give ear to my words, O Lord; give heed to my groaning. Hearken to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to Thee do I pray. O Lord, in the morning Thou dost hear my voice; in the morning, I prepare a sacrifice for Thee, and watch. For Thou art not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not sojourn with Thee. The boastful may not stand before Thy eyes; Thou hatest all evildoers. Thou destroyest those who speak lies. The Lord abhors bloodthirsty and deceitful men. But I through the abundance of Thy steadfast love will enter Thy house, I will worship toward Thy holy temple in the fear of Thee. Lead me, O Lord, in Thy righteousness because of my enemies; make Thy way straight before me. For there is no truth in their mouth; their heart is destruction, their throat is an open sepulcher, they flatter with their tongue. Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of their many transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against Thee. But let all who take refuge rejoice, let them ever sing for joy; and do Thou defend them, that those who love Thy name may exult in Thee. For Thou dost bless the righteous, O Lord; Thou dost cover him with favor as with a shield. Psalm 5
Love must be at the core of our identity as Christians and as a Church.
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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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