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
THE ENCOURAGEMENT PROJECT
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. But we beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them highly in love because of their work. I Thessalonians 5: 11-12
Good morning Prayer Team!
We began this unit on “Encouragement” with I Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing,” which has served as the basis for this entire topic we’ve been discussing the past two months. As we finish up this unit, I want to examine the verses that follow I Thessalonians 5:11, because each one supports and adds to this topic of encouragement. I’ll begin with I Thessalonians 5:12: “But we beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them highly in love because of their work.
I once heard a story about a monk in a monastery who asked permission from his abbot to go into the city to find demons. The abbot gave him permission. So, he left his small monastery and went to the big city on his quest to find demons. He walked all over the city and found no demons. He finally came to a park where he found one demon sleeping under a tree. He returned to the monastery, disappointed that he didn’t find more demons in the city. As he approached the monastery gates, he saw hundreds of demons coming in and out of the windows of the monastery. He then went to the abbot and said “Why in the big city with thousands of people did I find only one demon sleeping under a tree, and here in this small monastery, where there are just a few of us praying, there are hundreds of demons?” The abbot replied, “My son, in the big city, the people are so busy, they have forgotten about God, there is no work for the demons to do. But here in this monastery, where we strive to pray and do God’s work all the time, the demons come and attack us without ceasing.”
The lesson here is that the devil doesn’t bother those outside the church as much as he bothers those in the church. You won’t find the devil in the strip clubs and casinos. There is no work for him to do there. You’ll find the devil in the churches. Because the last thing the devil wants is strong Christians. Who do you think the devil attacks more? The nominal Christian or the Sunday school teacher? The more effort we make to spread the Gospel, the more he tries to throw us off of our game. This is why we have to pray for and encourage those in church leadership. Our priests need encouragement. So do our Sunday school teachers, our Parish Council members, and our ministry heads.
Many times I get discouraged in my job. I wonder why spreading the Word of God is so hard. I wonder why it is that the whole world seems to be against us. I wonder why in every church, there are people who antagonize and agitate, rather than help in spreading the Word of God. (This phenomenon is in every denomination, by the way, there are entire books written on this subject, one of which is entitled “Antagonists in the Church” by Kenneth Haugk) One of the reasons the prayer team was created in early 2015 was to humbly ask for your prayers for my ministry and for our church. I encourage you, and I humbly ask you, to continue to pray for me, for the health of my community, and to pray for all priests and the health of all church communities. Pray for those who are in leadership in the church, be they our Bishops, the leaders in your own community and leaders in other communities.
By God’s grace, as of this writing, I have served in my parish for over a dozen years. I could not have done that without God’s strength, and with the prayers and encouragement of parishioners. As I try to encourage you in your faith, please continue to encourage me in my faith and my ministry. I need encouragement as much as anyone else. So do all priests.
Lord, thank You for inspiring all those who serve Your church. Thank You for the clergy who strive to preserve and to spread our faith. Be with the clergy who faithfully serve Your church. Strengthen them in their ministries. Keep away from them all those who wish to cause them harm. Guide their decisions, inspire their teaching, encourage their faith. Be with all those who serve in Your holy churches, be they clergy or laity. Inspire the work of all those who are seeking to lead others to You. Amen.
Encourage someone in church leadership today!
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