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.”
THE GREAT COMMANDMENTS: WHERE DO YOU STAND?
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. Luke 10:27
Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his Master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:12-15
Good morning Prayer Team!
The “Prayer Team” has been going for nearly two years. It is my intention in writing it to convey “common stuff for the common man.” I am not a theologian, a professor or a professional writer. I’m a parish priest who enjoys writing and enjoys talking about our faith in ways that people can understand it. Many times, these writings are almost like personal journal entries. Because even though I am a priest, I’m still trying to grow, and learn more about my Christian faith. In many areas, I have a long way to go. I may serve as a teacher in this role but I am still a student as well.
I frequently get emails from prayer team members (and I try to answer them all, it sometimes just takes me a week or two) which support and encourage and sometimes even “challenge” what I’m saying. That doesn’t even mean that they disagree. And sometimes these challenges get me to think in a different way.
Yesterday’s message was about friendship. In this unit on evaluating ourselves according to the two great commandments, just about every day, I have a place to evaluate ourselves both in a spiritual way and in a relationship way. Yesterday, I only put a section to evaluate friendship on a relationship level, even going so far as to say that “God is not our friend.” One prayer team member mentioned to me that did this statement, “God is not our friend,” seems to contradict the very verse I had used yesterday, where Jesus called His Disciples His friends. And after some careful reflection, I agree that my categorization, “God is not our friend” is not the correct one. So, please allow me to make an addendum to yesterday’s reflection.
Can we consider Christ to be a “friend”? Well, He is not our adversary, He is not our enemy, and He is not hostile towards us. He is loving, to the point of laying down His life for us, which as He says in the Gospel of John, is the pinnacle of a friendship, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Christ is not “fair-weather” in His relationship with us. He desires a relationship with us in all seasons of life. He still desires a relationship with us even when we have sinned against Him. So, Christ is all the things that a good friend is supposed to be.
If the goal with Christ is to have an “intimate” relationship with Him, an “intimate” relationship in our lives (we’re not talking about a sexual relationship, but rather a relationship where one can share deep thoughts and struggles with someone, where one can share completely, without reservation and without fear of judgment) is generally preceded by a friendship. In fact, with the exception of a doctor or a therapist, who you pay for their services, I cannot think of an “intimate” relationship where there wouldn’t first be a solid friendship.
In the Divine Liturgy, we call Christ “filanthropos,” which means “friend of man.” So, it is appropriate to say that Christ is a “friend.” He’s not a pal, we don’t go hang out and shoot the breeze with Him, and we’re not going to have a drink or throw the ball around the yard with Him. But as with our intimate friendships, we are going to spend time with Him, we are going to be loyal to Him, we are going to expect Him to be loyal to us, and we are going to develop the relationship.
Many people think classifying Christ as a “friend” is not something that is appropriate for Orthodox Christians. I think many of us, even myself at times, have an “institutional” relationship with Christ. We have an icon of Him on the wall, we come to church every Sunday (or less often) to “pay Him homage.” We think of Him as the dollar we put in the tray, or the stewardship pledge we make. We may even serve Him on the Parish Council or in the choir. But do we know Him? Do we make the time for Him that we make for a close friend? Do we share our intimate thoughts with Him? Do we trust Him? These things we are doing in our friendships, are we doing these things with God? And if Christ is called “filanthropos”, friend of man, than do we consider ourselves “friends of Christ?”
For Christ said we are not merely His servants. For what “master” will die for His subjects? Rather we are His friends, friends that He was willing to die for. So, we have to ask ourselves, if Christ is “our friend,” then are we truly His? Christ WANTS a relationship with us. He WANTS us to have a relationship with Him. The challenge then for us is to develop a relationship, a “friendship” that is personal, that is growing, and that goes to a deep level. It is not enough to have an “institutional” relationship. We need to grow a personal friendship, a personal relationship, a personal closeness with Christ.
Friendship (from a spiritual perspective)—On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rank yourself on the following questions: Do I spend time with Christ, as I do with my close friends? Do I confide in Him? Do I trust Him? Am I loyal to this relationship? Am I consistent in it? Is my relationship with Christ personal? Do I know only about Him, or do I seek to KNOW Him? Do I seek to know Him on a deeper level?
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
I spent some serious time evaluating my relationship with Christ yesterday. And of all the ways by which we’ve evaluated ourselves against the two great commandments, this is the one I find to be the most challenging so far. Because I had a hard enough time just saying it correctly. And that’s nothing compared to doing it correctly. Take some time and really think on these questions.
Lord, and “friend of man,” help me to continually come to a deeper understanding of You. Thank You for making the ultimate sacrifice that a friend makes for a friend, that You laid down Your life for me. Help me to be a good “friend” to You. Help me to stay focused, loyal and consistent. Help me not to only know about You, I want to know YOU. Come and dwell in me. Guide me, help me, direct me. May I continually honor You and show You the love of a good friend. Amen.
Be a friend to Christ today!
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