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
Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. Ephesians 6:14-16
Wisdom. Arise. Let us hear the Holy Gospel. Peace be with you all.
When the Epistle reading has concluded, the priest blesses the person who did the reading. Our attention is then turned towards the reading of the Gospel. The word “Wisdom,” or “Sophia” in Greek is stated without qualification or explanation. There is no “this is wisdom” or “these are words of wisdom you are about to hear.” That is implied.
“Orthoi” can mean to rise, to listen, even to pay attention. From a practical perspective, this is where people rise from sitting during the Epistle reading. But from a spiritual perspective, is it a reminder for our hearts and minds to rise to attention, “to hear the Holy Gospel.”
But before reading the Gospel, the priest imparts a blessing of peace to the congregation. This blessing, “peace be with you all,” is said three times during the Divine Liturgy—before the reading of the Gospel, before the confession of faith (the Creed) and before Holy Communion.
We have already discussed the concept of peace in the early portion of the liturgy, as the word peace has already been used five times up to this point of the service. Before the Gospel reading, we are again reminded of peace, for two reasons—first, the Gospel of Christ is a message of peace. Nowhere in the Gospel does it say to take up arms against a neighbor, or to be unkind or cruel to people. Rather, the central message of the Gospel is one of salvation: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) And the greatest commandments in the Gospel revolve around love:
But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they came together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, to test Him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets. Matthew 22:34-40
Access to salvation and doing acts of love revolve around our pursuit of peace. The Gospel of salvation is essentially the Gospel of peace. Hence, the reminder to us that whatever will be read in the Gospel passage on a particular day calls us to peace.
The second reminder as we hear the blessing “peace be with you all” is for us to have peace in our minds at this moment. If we have been distracted up to this point of the service, it is a reminder to clear our thoughts so we can absorb what is about to be read. Again, on a practical level, much of the Divine Liturgy is the same each time the service is celebrated. But the scripture readings are different. They are unique to each service. So, our hearts and minds should be clear of thought so we can pay attention to what we are about to hear. I remember as a child, being taught that during the Gospel we were not to move. This is why all activity in the church stops—people do not light candles, or enter the nave, or move around—during the reading of the Holy Gospel.
The ultimate purpose of the Gospel is for us not only to become “hearers” of the Word but “do-ers” of the word. In Luke 11:28, Jesus says “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” In order to do God’s word, we must first hear it. And in order to hear the Word, we must be at peace and ready to listen.
Today’s prayer comes from the Liturgy. It is offered inaudibly by the priest before the reading of the Gospel. But it is generally regarded as a great prayer to read before reading any scripture, even outside the context of the Liturgy. It should actually be a part of your prayer life each day, each time you open the scriptures:
Shine within our hearts, Loving Master, the pure light of Your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our minds that we may comprehend the message of Your Gospel. Instill in us also reverence for Your blessed commandments, so that having conquered all sinful desires, we may pursue a spiritual life, thinking and doing all those things that are pleasing to You. For You, Christ our God, are the light of our souls and bodies, and to You we give glory, together with Your Father who is without beginning and Your all holy, good and life giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
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