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.”
How many times do we do something “without condition”? We work for a paycheck. Or we go to school for a degree—we study to pass a test. We strive for the praise of others. We work hard for acceptance. It seems that in almost everything we do, we put a condition on that.
We put conditions on relationships—we love one another so long as we get along with one another. We are guarded when we share thoughts and feelings, fearful of the consequence or whether another will look down on us. We even put conditions on spouses, family members and friends. And because we put conditions on so many things, our freedom is compromised. We express ourselves or we work to meet certain conditions or to avoid others. Our complimenting one another seems conditioned as well.
It is very difficult for us to let go of all conditions, to accept and love someone unconditionally. It is very difficult for us to tear down our own protective walls and let another person come in. Yet, when we express ourselves openly and without reservation, we experience true freedom and joy as God intended us to have them. Unfortunately, these moments are few and fleeting.
Christ’s death on the cross showed us His unconditional love for us—He didn’t put conditions on His love, extending His love and forgiveness even to those who were crucifying Him. He showed unconditional love and mercy to a thief who repented in his last moments. He showed unconditional forgiveness by restoring Peter, who denied the Lord three times, to his position as the rock on which our church is built.
If we are to indeed experience a true relationship with God, we must do two things: We must seek to love others without conditions, and we must seek to love God without conditions either. We must open up with humility and vulnerability, to express our love for one another, not only in word but in deed; and we must open up our hearts and our souls to express our love for God, not only in word but in deed; not only in deed but in prayer.
I had another moving season of Lent and Holy Week, made possible because I witnessed and experienced unconditional love in my community. I saw dozens and dozens of people come before God in the Sacrament of Confession and, with unconditional repentance, own up for past wrongs and make pledges to do better. They experienced and accepted Christ’s unconditional give of forgiveness and left the sacrament as new people. I also have had a few encounters with close friends where sentiments of unconditional love were exchanged. These conversations are memorable and powerful. They are what sustain our church and also my priesthood.
Where there is fear, there cannot be love. Where there are many conditions, there comes fear. There is no fear in love, we are told in I John 4:18, and perfect love casts out all fear. Where there is love of God, there cannot by definition be any fear. Perfect love is possible where there is no fear and no conditions, only free and total giving and receiving of loving sentiments. Unconditional love is the mark of the ideal relationship, any kind of relationship—whether it is your relationship with your spouse, or your friends, or with God. Eliminate conditions, love unconditionally, and watch love grow in you—love for God, love for one another. The memories of these moments of unconditional love and acceptance, these will sustain you in times when love is hard, or love seems absent.
I wish to thank those with whom I have shared these moments. And I thank God for His unconditional love for us!