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 then said to the Jews who had believed in Him, “If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8: 31-32
Good morning Prayer Team!
Someone once said to me “Without trust, there can be no love.” And without honesty, there can be no trust. As we begin to work on our relationships with the Lord and with one another, having established respect and communication, the next building block is honesty. We need to have communication that is honest.
Many people don’t feel safe in relationships. They feel that in order to stay in the relationship, be it a job situation, a friendship, and sadly, sometimes even a marriage, they have to say what someone else wants to hear, rather than what is the truth.
Speaking on honesty in relationships, the best advice I’ve ever received on this subject is “to speak the truth in love.” If something has gone awry in a relationship, rather than confront it in a destructive or condemnatory way, approach it in a constructive and loving way. Remember that St. Paul wrote in his treatise on love in I Corinthians, that “love does not rejoice in the wrong, but rejoices in the right.” (I Corinthians 13: 6) Creating an environment that makes it safe to be honest is something that takes an effort. And it also takes commitment from all parties to a relationship (tune in tomorrow for a reflection on commitment).
I’m a big fan of creating rules in relationships. Rules that allow for honesty and rules that help us to forgive one another when our honesty comes off in a way that is critical or creates bad feelings. I can’t tell you how many times as a priest, I’ve tried to gently tell someone that their behavior isn’t in line with Christian morals and values. When I say this, I often qualify it with “If I didn’t care about you, I’d just lie and tell you what you want to hear. It is because I DO care that I’m being honest with you.”
I’ve also had the experience of people correct my mistakes. When correction is offered in a destructive or a destructively critical way, unfortunately, that has had a destructive effect on some relationships. But when it has come in a constructive way, a way that seeks to speak the truth in love, not only have I been able to correct things but I have actually grown closer to the people who offered constructive criticism, because they offered it with love, because it came from a good place that was genuinely seeking to help me be the best I can be. So speak the truth, but learn to speak it in love, and you’ll find that honesty will come easier.
Now, speaking about our relationship with the Lord, there is never a need to be less than honest with the Lord because He knows whether we are being honest. We can lie to other people, we can lie to ourselves but we can’t lie to the Lord. I remember one of the most profound moments of my ministry came early on in my ministry when I spoke to someone who said that he had lost faith in God because of something bad that had happened in his life. I asked him if he ever talked to God about it in prayer, if he ever told God how disappointed he was. He said that he thought he could only go to the Lord with good things. I remember asking him if he only said good things to his friends, or if he ever said critical things. He said that of course sometimes he was critical with his friends. I asked him what would happen in his friendships if he only went to his friends with good things. He said that these relationships would be dishonest and probably fall apart. I told him that it works the same way with God, that we have to be honest with God, to pour out our feelings, even when they are less than positive.
I asked him if there was anything honest that he wanted to say to the Lord that he hadn’t said. And I remember him screaming at God how disappointed he was in God but at the end of his prayer, he started crying and said he wanted to have a good relationship with God, and then he thanked the Lord for hearing his pains and his sorrows. That moment of blatant honesty is something I will never forget.
One other comment on honesty. I heard it said recently that the definition of lying is “rewriting history.” A lie happens when one doesn’t like what is true and therefore rewrites his history to paint himself in a better light. For instance, the person who stays out past curfew and concocts a story for his parents as to why he was late coming home does not like his history so he changes it with a lie. If we can discipline ourselves to write a good history the first time around, it won’t be necessary to rewrite it. Focus on getting history done well the first time around and there won’t be a need to be dishonest.
Honesty (from a spiritual perspective)—Do I look at myself honestly when it comes to spiritual things, or do I try to make myself better than I really am, either to others or to myself? Do I offer prayers that are honest? Do I pour out sorrows to the Lord?
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Write down issues that you want to bring to the Lord in prayer. Offer them in a way that asks God for guidance and for comfort. Ask for what you want in prayer, being completely honest with the Lord about your needs, fears, joys and disappointments.
Honesty (from a relationship perspective)—On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rank yourself on the following questions: Do I speak honestly about others, about myself, and do I speak honestly when speaking with others? Do I exaggerate the truth to bring attention to myself? When I need to correct someone, am I unduly harsh? Do I seek to correct with love or with condemnation?
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Write down some ways that you can speak the truth in love. Discuss with friends how to create an environment that makes it safe to be honest. Learn how to correct people in ways that are constructive and always follow up corrections with encouragement.
Lord, help me to be honest and truthful in all of my relationships, beginning with my relationship with You. Hear my prayers, comfort my sorrows, give me patience to deal with my frustrations. Help me to see the good in other people. Help me to foster relationships that are based on honesty, where it is safe and expected to be honest. Help me to correct others in ways that are constructive rather than destructive. And when I do wrong by others, help love to encourage honesty as we work towards forgiveness and restoration. Amen.
Speak the truth in love, to your neighbors and to the Lord in your prayers!
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