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.
Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. I John 4:7-8
The word “enthusiasm” is a combination of three Greek words—en Theos ousia. “En” means “in.” “Theos” is “God.” And “ousia” is “essence.” So, enthusiasm literally means “In God’s essence,” in other words, for us to be like God.
Is God an optimist or a pessimist? The answer can be deduced from Scripture. First, let us examine I John 4: 7-8: “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does no know God; for God is love.” So, God and love are synonymous. God is love. For God has all the qualities of love.
Let’s then look at St. Paul’s treatise on love, from I Corinthians 13: 4-8: Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
If God is love, then we can easily swap “God” in place of “love.” Let’s try that for a moment:
GOD is patient and GOD is kind; God is not jealous or boastful; GOD is not arrogant or rude. GOD does not insist on his own way. GOD is not irritable or resentful; GOD does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.
So, if God does not rejoice in the wrong but rejoices in the right, then God is an optimist. He rejoices in what is right and good and true. The pessimist sees the negative, the wrong, and the bad.
If enthusiasm means “In God’s essence,” for us to be “like God,” then we must be optimistic people, and for those who seem to find only the bad in things, they must learn to come at things from a place of good, a place of optimism. We know that God looks at us in an optimistic way, because He showers us with His mercies, even when we don’t deserve it. He generously bestows grace, even though we don’t deserve it. He easily forgives, even when we don’t deserve it. And God rewards effort, rather than success. He doesn’t recognize success as the world recognizes it, in terms of money and prestige and material gain. He recognizes it through effort.
If God is filled with optimism, and we are supposed to approach life with enthusiasm, expressed in being “in God’s essence,” then we should bring optimism to the church and to our faith. We should see God in the good light in which He sees us. We should see the Church in the same light. And we should see others in the same light as well. Not only must we guard against pessimism, but even more again cynicism. Because cynicism and pessimism go hand in hand and both run counter to optimism.
We should speak good things about both God and the Church. While God is perfect and we know that the Church that God created is perfect, the Church in its practice is imperfect, because it is human beings who lead the practice of the Church. No priest is perfect. There are many priests that are far from perfect, who have committed egregious sins and have rightfully been defrocked and even imprisoned. We are not saying to speak positively about them and their sins.
What we are saying is that as we approach the average priest in the average church, we should approach in a way that is optimistic. There are people, because I have experienced this in my priesthood repeatedly, that approach the church with pessimism or more often with cynicism. They love to “Monday morning quarterback.” They look back at every sermon, every decision of the Parish Council, and every financial expenditure with cynicism. They come to parish meetings bent on not allowing progress. They are resistant to change. And they generally have nothing good to say about the Church.
The Church cannot go anywhere with pessimism and cynicism. The Church rightfully should proceed with prudence and discernment. It should rightly protect its faithful from harm caused by anyone. But once it has done these things—once it has created an environment of safety and discernment—it must be allowed to proceed with optimism. And people must also come with optimism. We must strive to see the best in God and in others, knowing there will not always be one hundred percent agreement.
I will forever believe that God is an optimist. Why? Because He gives me chance after chance, blessing after blessing, even after I fail over and over again.
Enthusiasm is an optimistic word. I strongly believe that in order to be a Christian, one must also develop a sense of optimism and enthusiasm. We must learn to rejoice in what is right and true and good.
Praise is due to Thee, O God, in Zion; and to Thee shall vows be performed, O Thou who hearest prayer! To Thee shall all flesh come on account of sins. When our transgressions prevail over us, Thou dost forgive them. Blessed is he who Thou dost choose and bring near, to dwell in Thy courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Thy house, Thy holy temple! By dread deeds Thou dost answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation, who art the hope of all the ends of the earth, and of the farthest seas; who by Thy strength hast established the mountains, being girded with might; who dost still the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples; so that those who dwell at earth’s farthest bounds are afraid at Thy signs; Thou makest the outgoings of the morning and the evening to shout for joy. Psalm 65: 1-8
Be enthusiastic today—it will bring you closer to God’s essence!
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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