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.
Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:10
Charles Darwin wrote a book called “On the Origin of Species” in 1864 in which he shared theories on biology and evolution. Herbert Spencer, after reading the book, coined the phrase “Survival of the fittest.” Lots of people use this phrase, not only when talking about the broader survival of a species in evolutionary terms, but they use it in sports, in work, in fact anywhere where there is any kind of competition. The strongest survive, or make the most money, or get the preferential treatment or whatever the honor is.
“Survival of the fittest” is not a phrase that belongs in a Church community. In fact, in the context of a church community, members are supposed to be concerned about the survival of all, from the “fittest” to the (perceived) “weakest”. And weakest doesn’t mean the one with the least strength, it might mean the one who has had the toughest life, or who has been kicked to the curb by life’s circumstances, someone who is carrying a heavy burden or has been the victim of great misfortune.
Salvation is not out there for the one who tramples over people on the way to having the “greatest faith” or greatest outward expression of “faith.” Salvation is for everyone. It is for those who are strong in faith and for those who haven’t discovered the faith yet. An important step on the path to salvation is for the one who is strong in faith, to help the one who isn’t. Another crucial step on the path to salvation is for the one whose life seems filled with blessings to help carry the one who is struggling, so that he or she can walk on their own.
A critical part of our participation in the life of the church is caring not only about our own salvation, but for the salvation of others. I have to not only desire salvation for myself, but desire for you. And if I desire it for you, then I have to help you and encourage you in your journey. That doesn’t mean I make the journey for you. It means that I help you make your journey.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, a lawyer questions Jesus asking Him, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29) He is hoping for an answer that has quantity, like “These specific people are your neighbors.” When Jesus tells us the parable of the Good Samaritan, the message is that our neighbor is everyone, even our enemy. And we are to minister to everyone, even our enemy.
Logically speaking, if our neighbor is everyone, even our enemy, then certainly we are to look at the person in the pews next to us at church as our neighbor. We should know the names of our neighbors. One thing I’ve learned as a priest (one of many things) is that every Sunday, people tend to sit in the same seats. It’s very easy to tell who is not there because as I look around the church, I know where everyone sits. Another thing I also know is true is that people do not even know the names of the people who sit next to them, or behind them or in front of them, even though it is the same people who sit there week after week, year after year. If we are supposed to love our neighbors and help our neighbors, and most importantly, care about the salvation of our neighbors, we’ve got to start by knowing the names, and then the needs of our neighbors.
Here is a suggestion: The next time you go to church, introduce yourself to the people who are next to you in your pew. They are probably the same people who sit there every Sunday. For those of you reading this who are clergymen, consider one Sunday, intentionally asking everyone to introduce themselves to their neighbors while the offering is being taken, or during antithoron.
Every member of the church, as we have discussed, should be part of not only the worship circle but of the fellowship circle. There should be a sense of unity in the congregation not only during worship but outside of it. If we are all commissioned to be apostles and apostles spread the faith, then a critical component to spreading the faith is knowing our neighbor, so we can bring Christ to our neighbor, or encourage a deeper relationship with Christ to the neighbor who already knows Him. Being an apostle requires us to care about not only our own salvation, but the salvation of our neighbor. And so our involvement in the church must include fellowship—knowing our neighbor, so that we can help our neighbor, and help our neighbor get to Christ, because ideally we care about the salvation of our neighbor as much as we care about our own salvation.
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein; for He has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the rivers. Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in His holy place? He who hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false, and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of his salvation. Such is he generation of those who seek Him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors! That the King of glory may come in. Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle! Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors! That the King of Glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory! Psalm 24
The journey to salvation is not about the salvation of the fittest, but about the salvation of all!
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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