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
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1
Good morning Prayer Team!
We are about to take a journey. Whether one is a devout Christian or doesn’t know Christ at all, we are all about to take a journey that will see Christmas decorations go up, lines at the malls get long, and stress levels go up. Such is the modern celebration of Christmas.
But there is another journey, a journey of faith that some choose to take and others choose to ignore. The journey of faith is a daily choice to follow Christ. But each year on November 15, as begin the season of Advent, that journey takes on a new focus. For forty days, we prepare to celebrate the Nativity of Christ. We fast. We pray. We worship. And when the Feast of the Nativity comes, there is something to celebrate. But most important, when the Feast of the Nativity has passed, there is something more than gifts to return, decorations to take down and credit cards to pay off. There is joy. And joy is what overcomes sadness. There is hope. And hope is what overcomes sorrow.
So, I invite you to share a meaningful journey to Bethlehem this year. Over the next forty days we will examine scriptures and services. We will study the characters in the Christmas story in a way that perhaps you haven’t thought of them before. In preparing to do this project, in studying and praying over the scriptures, in trying to identify 40 distinct topics from only three chapters of scripture, I saw things in scripture that I never slowed down to appreciate. The hustle and bustle of the season has even permeated how I’ve read these most important passages.
People greet the feast of Christmas in different ways—some are happy to see it come, and others dread its coming. And when Christmas is over, some are sad to see it go, while others are relieved. I feel blessed as an Orthodox priest, that I celebrate Christmas all year round. Each time I celebrate the Liturgy and prepare the Gifts that will become the Body and Blood of Christ, I gaze upon an icon of the Nativity at the table of preparation (Prothesis) in the Holy Altar. The first prayer of the service of the Preparation of the Gifts (the Proskomide) is a hymn of Christmas:
O Bethlehem, prepare, Eden is opened unto all. And be ready, Ephrata, for the Tree of life has in the grotto blossomed forth from the Virgin. Indeed her womb is shown to be spiritually a Paradise, in which is found the God-planted Tree. And if we eat from it we shall live, and shall not die, as did Adam of old. Christ is born, so that He might raise up the formerly fallen image. (Trans. Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
As I cover the Bread on the Paten with the “asterisk”, I offer words from the Gospel of Matthew: “And the star came to rest over the place where the child was with Mary His Mother.” (Matthew 2). The service concludes with the dismissal from the Nativity services, “May Christ our True God who was born in a cave and lay in a manger for our salvation. . .” So, it’s always Christmas in the church. And the lessons of the Nativity are things we should meditate on all the days of our lives.
The format of these daily writings will include some scripture, a short reflection, and a prayer. The prayers will be taken from services associated with the feast of the Nativity. As we pass this Holy time of preparation, I humbly ask for your prayers. I humbly offer mine as well.
O Bethlehem, welcome the Mother-city of God, for she is coming to give birth to the never-setting Light. Angels in heaven, marvel; people on earth, give glory. Magi from Persia, bring your triply precious gift. Shepherds in the field, sin the Thrice-Holy Hymn. Let everything that breathes praise the Lord who does all things. (From the Matins on the Feast of St. Andrew, November 30, Trans. Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Thank you for your interest in taking this journey together.
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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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