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.
And one of he 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, ‘ 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 our strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall loves your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12: 28-31
We all have people in our lives that make us nervous. I’m not talking about our doctors. Yes, many of us get nervous when we go to the doctor, but it is not because of fear of the doctor, but fear that we might be sick. I’m talking about someone who, when we are calling them on the phone, our palms are sweating and our heart is beating faster. I’m talking about the person who raises our blood pressure when they walk into the room. I’m talking about the person who makes everyone uncomfortable at the parish meeting. I’m talking about the person who will gossip about whatever they hear, who actually go around looking and prodding to get the latest scoop to share. The simple question for today is: Are you that person? Do people feel safe around you?
At summer camp, the number one goal is “Everyone goes home in one piece.” In other words, safety is first. Someone once challenged me and said “Isn’t the number one goal of this camp getting the kids to know God better?” And I answered, “No, actually it isn’t. Safety is the number one goal, because if kids don’t feel safe here, they are not going to want to learn anything.” The number one goal for a church community is to be a safe place for people to gather to worship, to talk and to just be. If people don’t feel safe at church, they will not have a good experience of worship. If people don’t feel safe in fellowship, if they feel judged or demeaned, they are not going to want to be part of a church community.
People crave safe spaces. Sadly, many people have very few safe people to be with. Some actually have no one they consider safe. The two main reasons people go to therapists and counselors are for guidance, and in order to have a safe space in which to put their thoughts, their doubts and their problems. Think about it, if you are having a real problem, you probably can’t talk to your boss about it, you probably can’t talk to your clients or customers or patients or students about it, so where do you put it? Where do you feel safe to just be you? Hopefully for many the answer is with their spouse, though that isn’t the case for everyone. For many the answer is hopefully their parents, though not necessarily for everyone. Hopefully everyone has a close friend or two who can help carry their burdens. And you’d hope that in a church community, one could find friends through fellowship where they feel safe to talk, to lean, to cry, and to just be.
I personally would be mortified if someone told me that their blood pressure rose when I walked into the room. I personally would be saddened if someone told me that they didn’t feel I was a safe person to talk to. Friendships occasionally end in everyone’s life, and they usually end over an issue of safety. Not that a person has made someone feel oppressed. More often neglect marks the end of friendships, as much or more than missteps. This is inevitable in our fallen world, but when one of my relationships fails, it is always a cause of sadness, not indifference.
If we are all part of the church community, then it is everyone’s job to make sure that the environment is a safe one. That doesn’t mean we can’t disagree if we don’t like something or feel free to speak our minds, but we have to do so in a safe way, in a respectful tone, not in an antagonistic one. Christ spoke honestly, and many times very boldly, but He never spoke in a tone that was antagonistic or disrespectful. He even welcomed His enemies to a table to dialogue. I can’t think of any place in the Bible where people ran away from Jesus in fear. Jesus was a safe person to be around. As His followers, we should be as well.
Being a safe person is a personal choice we all make. If you are not a safe person, you can always choose to become one. Just focus on respect, humility, listening and making others feel at ease around you. Make sure you know how to keep a confidence so that people will feel safe confiding in you. Learn how to empathize and avoid judging others. As we are learning, spreading the Christian message is very much dependent on creating the environment where the message can be given, heard and shared. Encouragement and engagement are important parts of this environment. However, the foundation, even before the Message itself, is a safe environment in which to hear it. And we all play a role in that.
Help, Lord; for there is no longer any that is godly; for the faithful have vanished from among the sons of men. Every one utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak. May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boats, those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is our master?” “Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the Lord; “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.” The promises of the Lord are promises that are pure, silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. Do Thou, O Lord, protect us, guard us ever from this generation. On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among the sons of men. Psalm 12
Be a safe person in your church community!
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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