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.”
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12: 28-31
Good morning Prayer Team!
Commemorating our most holy, pure, blessed, and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever Virgin Mary, with all the saints, let us commit ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God.
As we continue our journey through the Liturgy, we come across another petition that is repeated several times throughout the service, in fact this petition is found in most of the services of the Orthodox Church. Today’s “take away” if you will concerns committing not only ourselves but also our neighbors to Christ.
The Two Great Commandments, upon which all of the Law and the Prophets were based, were a commandment to love God and love our neighbors. We love our neighbor in many ways—first, we should see God in our neighbor and serve our neighbor as if we are serving God Himself. Secondly, we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves, we should care for our neighbor as we care for ourselves. To put it plainly, if you are making a sandwich for your neighbor, make a sandwich that you’d want to eat. If you are mowing your neighbor’s lawn (which I enjoy doing), treat that lawn as if it were your own, meaning put your best effort forward.
Here is another way for us to love our neighbor, something we don’t think about very often. We should be concerned for our neighbor’s salvation. How many of us have been going to church for years, sit in the same section of the church, by the same people, talk to the same friends at coffee hour, and sit in the same social circles? And how many of us, in our small group of friends, have ever brought up the topic of salvation. I know many people talk when someone dies that “when we all get there, we’ll keep playing cards every Friday,” which is actually a very secular and in my opinion disrespectful view of heaven. Standing in the presence of God will evoke a sense of awe, not a desire to play cards. But seriously, in the social groups where we spend the most time, how often does the topic of salvation come up?
A group setting too big? How about talking about salvation one on one with someone? I’m not talking in a preachy way, but rather, how many times has the subject of salvation come up? Have you ever asked someone who knows they are dying, if there is anything you can do for them in a spiritual way to help them prepare for death? If the answer is no, don’t worry, that’s probably the answer of most people reading this column today.
As we pray through the Liturgy, and we internalize what each line means for our lives, this is one thing to take away from this petition. Talking about the Lord is something we should strive to feel more comfortable doing. If I was dying, I’d want someone to talk about the Lord with me, to ask me about my salvation, to give me an opportunity to give testimony while I still can. Salvation is not just about our own souls, but our journey to salvation includes our neighbors. We should be concerned with their salvation as much as our own. And this starts with making opportunities to pray for our neighbor and to talk about salvation with our neighbor. To not only work at committing ourselves to Christ, but helping our neighbors commit to Him as well. And, additionally, when WE are having a hard time committing our lives to Christ, our neighbor should be there for us to offer encouragement. That’s one of the reasons I started this Prayer Team concept in the first place—so that not only can I encourage you through writing, but so that you can encourage ME through your prayers. It’s not just about committing ourselves to Christ but committing one another as well.
Lord thank You for giving us commandments to guide our lives so that they can be more focused on You. Thank You for giving me neighbors—the people who live near me, my friends, the people in my church, the people at work—thank You for giving me people who care about me, and people who I can care about. Help me not only bring my life closer to You but to also encourage my neighbor to do the same. Help me to look for opportunities to witness for You, and may Your Light shine in me so that those around me can come to know You through the things I do in my life, and may those things bring glory to You—Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Have a great day!
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The Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) is an official agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops. OCN offers videos, podcasts, blogs and music, to enhance Orthodox Christian life. The Prayer Team is a daily devotion written by Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis, the parish priest at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, Florida. Devotions include a verse from scripture, a commentary from Fr. Stavros, and a short prayer that he writes to match the topic.
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