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.”
John bore witness to Him, and cried, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, for He was before me.’” And from His fullness have we all received, grace upon grace. John 1:15-16 (From the Gospel at the Divine Liturgy on Pascha) Thursday of the 5th Week of Pascha
Good morning Prayer Team!
Christ is Risen!
Back in the reflection on Holy Tuesday, I wrote about a cup, rocks and water and used these to illustrate the concepts of faith, works and grace. Faith is the cup, the structure of what believe. But without works, the cup is empty, just like without works, our faith is empty. The rocks are the works, but done outside the structure of faith, the works become ends to themselves. So faith and works go hand in hand. Fill a cup with rocks and there are still empty spaces. This is where the water comes in. Pour water into the cup and it will fill all the empty spaces, the cup will be truly filled.
The water represents the grace of God. And “grace” is what fills the cup. However, we don’t receive grace as a “flood” of water. We receive grace “spoonful by spoonful” in Holy Communion, and in small portions through daily prayer, meditation on scripture and acts of charity.
When I think of this verse, “grace upon grace,” I think of how grace is not something we receive only one time, but something we receive on a continuous basis, grace upon grace upon grace upon grace. As we receive more of God’s grace, we become more filled with Him and less affected by the emptiness that accompanies life’s struggles. The empty spaces of our lives become filled. The more grace we seek, the more grace we receive. And the more grace we receive, the more “refined” we become.
Let’s go back to the example of the Grand Canyon. Why is the Grand Canyon so magnificent? Because it has been “refined” and reshaped by water. The Colorado River, which runs through the canyon, has continually shaped the massive rocks into the majestic landscape they have become. Glaciers did the same thing with Yosemite Valley, a deep valley in central California that is lined with massive and magnificent monoliths of granite, rising thousands of feet into the air. These natural wonders were not created in one moment but refined bit by bit over a long period of time. Similarly, we as Christians are not transformed in one moment, but we are refined on a daily basis, as we receive “grace upon grace.”
When I trim bushes at home, in order to make them look “perfect”, it is a multi-step process. I pass by first with the hedge trimmer to take the majority of the branches off that I want to cut. Then I pass by a second time with the hedge trimmer and round the edges. Then I pass by a third time with a hand clipper and prune the bottom of the bushes to get them off of the ground. Then I pass by with a rake to collect the majority of the clippings. Then I bring a leaf-blower to blow out the excess leaves and blow them onto the lawn. Finally, I mow the lawn so that even the small pieces of the bush that were scattered on the lawn are no longer visible.
To become a Christian, to become “filled with grace and truth” (John 1:14), in order to truly see Christ as “ranking before” us (John 1:15), it takes a long time, and lots of “refining”. We have to make “many passes” to prune our souls. We have to pass by in prayer, we have to pass by in scripture, we have to clean up through confession, we have to purify through Communion, and we have to renew ourselves on a daily basis.
I do not trim the bushes “one time for all time”. They require regular maintenance. It is the same thing with our souls. “Grace upon grace” should be a daily pursuit, with a goal to partake in some way daily of the grace of God that is available to us in so many ways.
Let the God-inspired Prophet Habakkuk keep with us the divine watch, and point out the light-bearing Angel, who with a vibrant voice declared: “Today, salvation comes to the world, for Christ has risen as Almighty.” (From the Katavasias of the Paschal Season, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas)
Experience God’s grace in prayer today and every day!
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