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.”
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:4-5 (From the Gospel at the Divine Liturgy on Pascha) Friday of the 4th Week of Pascha
Good morning Prayer Team!
Christ is Risen!
Allow me to share with you a view from the priest’s perspective for a moment. Just before midnight on Pascha, all of the lights in Orthodox churches are extinguished, save for one light that remains on the altar table. From that light, the priest lights a single candle. He then emerges from the royal doors of the altar with the one light and then that light is spread to the rest of the congregation, quickly illuminating what was a “darkened” church only moments before.
In our church in Tampa, we close a curtain over the gateway to the altar. This makes the church very dark. But in the altar, it is as if we are “bathed” in the glow of that one candle that sits on the altar. I can still see the faces of the altar boys, and the gold on the Gospel and the other furnishings still shines with majesty. What might look like a space that is dark and gloomy actually feels “filled” with light and warmth.
One of the greatest feelings I experience as a priest is to turn around from the altar, holding that one candle, watching the curtain open and then stepping into the darkened church, and singing “Come, receive the light from the unwaning light, and glorify Christ, who has risen from the dead.” Even though the church is darkened, this one flame seems to fill it with light. In my ministry, I have always had the tradition of asking three women to receive the Light from me. There were three women who went and found the empty tomb, so in remembering this event each year, three women come to receive the light. Our choir stands on either side of the solea (chancel area between the altar and the pews) and sings “Come, receive the Light” several times. The three women kneel in front of the altar step, and I kneel also to give them the Light. This moment, four people bathed in the light of the Resurrected Christ, with the voices of the choir in the background, to me, this moment is a foretaste of heaven. Christ at the center of four friends, with a choir of angels singing behind. There is no “noise”, no “busy-ness” just the Light shining in the darkness, bringing peace and joy.
The world is busy. The sun is shining brightly outside as I write today. But outside the “sanctuary” of my office, the “light” of the world is filled with “darkness”—so much stress and strife that makes even the brightest of days sometimes seem “dark.”
God’s world is just the opposite—Among the times I feel closest to God is at the Resurrection service, because a little of HIS Light is what fills the dark spaces of life. We know that darkness is the absence of light. And where there is even a little light, there cannot be darkness. Where Christ’s light shines, there is no darkness in life. I can be in the dark church and His Light makes me feel like I am in heaven. I can be having the worst day, and His Light, experienced through prayer, worship, and faith—the knowledge that He is Lord, and that I am His child—are enough to make me feel “light” in my worries.
The difference between a “light” life and a “strife” life is Christ. In Christ is life, and the opportunity for eternal life, this is what brings “light” to our stressful lives. The light of Christ’s promise shines in the darkness, and no darkness can overcome it.
The greatest miracle in life is the potential for eternal life, to experience the “heaven” I described earlier—friends around the light of Christ with a choir of angels all around us—forever. And this miracle is always on the table for us. Even when life is “dark”—when one has had a bad day, or lost a job, or had a death in the family, or has a serious illness, or is facing his or her own death, the Light of Christ and the potential of eternal life are always on the table. No “darkness” can overtake that. This is what gives joy on even the most stressful days. That miracle is on the table for all. There have been times when people who are seriously ill have asked me “Do you think I am going to get a miracle?” And many times I am answering them, “You will either get a miracle of healing, or the miracle of eternal life. You will get a miracle either way.”
In every Orthodox Church, there are supposed to be two things that remain constant. One is that there is a tabernacle on the altar table that contains the Body and Blood of Christ. So, Christ is present at all times in the church in the Eucharist. And in front of the tabernacle is a vigil light that is supposed to burn at all times. It is called the “Akimiton Fos”, the Light that never sleeps. Every year during Holy Week, the Eucharist that remains in the tabernacle is consumed by the priest and a new “reserved Sacrament” is placed in the tabernacle for the upcoming year. But the Light in front stays the same. Since I arrived in Tampa many years ago, I’ve changed the candle in front of the tabernacle every few days, but I’ve moved the flame from candle to candle, so that the flame, the Light, has stayed the same for all the years I’ve served here. It is indeed a flame that never sleeps. What’s amazing is to think of how many things have changed in the world in the past years. But one thing that hasn’t changed is that Light of Christ. He was, and is and ever shall be, the same—our Light in the darkness, the Light that the darkness can never overtake.
It is the Day of Resurrection! O people, let us glory in splendor! Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha! For Christ our God has transported us who sing the triumphal hymn from death to life, and from earth to Heaven. (From the Katavasias of the Paschal Season, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas)
Remember your life has the Light of Christ in it, no matter how stressful today is!
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