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.”
Listen Now. We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.
ENGAGED: The Call to Be Disciples
Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. Matthew 28:19-20
The Benefits of Being a Disciple—Rewards You Can Reap Today—Part Fourteen
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death He might destroy him who has power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. Hebrews 2: 14-15
Good morning Prayer Team!
Christ is Risen!
Perhaps the greatest fear in life is the fear of dying. The thought of it paralyzes many people. There are many people who refuse to write a will or talk about advances directives for medical care because the thought of doing these things makes the possibility of death more real. It’s as St. Paul says in Hebrews 2:15, this fear of death makes us subject to lifelong bondage. Saint Paul says that we should NOT have that same fear of death. Rather he writes that one of the reasons Christ came was to deliver all of us whose fear of death made us subject to lifelong bondage and fear.
Before the time of Christ, death could be considered comparable to a wall. If you run into the wall, the wall first will hurt or kill you, and secondly, the wall was impenetrable, it could not be gotten through. Death was really the end. Now let’s imagine that there is a large, impenetrable wall that is 5,000 feet high and that wall is 1,000 miles away from wherever you find yourself reading this message today. That wall represents death. If you go outside your house, you won’t be able to see anything that is 1,000 miles away, so you won’t think about it. Let’s say then that you have 50 more years to live, and that you have to walk 20 miles a year towards that wall. For many years, moving at 20 miles per year, you won’t see the wall. But when you are still 5-10 years off you’ll start to see the wall, and as you walk towards the wall and it gets larger, taller and closer, you’ll start to become more and more afraid of it. This is what death was after the Fall and before the Resurrection.
At the Resurrection, the wall was transformed from being a wall to being a door through which we go home, back to Paradise. Jesus said in John 10:9, “I AM the door; if anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” In today’s scripture passage from Hebrews, St. Paul tells us that Jesus became like us so that through His death He could destroy the power of the devil land deliver us from fear of death, but transforming death from a wall to a door. Imagine now instead of the giant wall 1,000 miles away, that there is a door that is 1,000 miles away. And behind that door is Paradise. As we walk towards that door in faith, we are not scared or afraid or sad, but actually become eager, for the door to open so we can partake of what is on the other side. Death, for the Christian, is not the wall ending, but a doorway by which we enter eternal life.
If death is now this “great positive”, is it still okay to grieve, for those who have died, or for ourselves as we approach death? In I Thessalonians 4:13, St. Paul writes, “But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Saint Paul doesn’t tell us that we are not going to grieve, either for the death of others or for our own death. He tells us, however, that we are not to grieve like others, who have no hope. Christian grieving when it comes to our own death, says “the best is yet to come.” And Christian grieving for loved ones who have fallen asleep says “I’ll see you again.”
Relationships don’t end with death. This is why we commemorate the dead in the preparation of Holy Communion, because we still share a “communion” with those who have passed away. If they are in heaven, they help us, they pray for us, to get there. In the Orthodox Church, there is a tradition that on the stole of the priest, there are two layers of fringe, one representing the “Church Militant” (the segment of the church that is alive on earth) and the “Church Triumphant” (the segment of the church that has passed on). For even the smallest gathering for worship (a priest hearing a confession with one other person), the stole is always worn, reminding all of us visually that those who have passed on are enjoining their prayers with our prayers.
One of my favorite verses from the Bible is I Corinthians 2:9, where we read, “But as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him.’” In our deepest sorrows, and as we approach death, this verse should bring us hope. If we continue to love God and place our hope in Him, this beautiful picture that St. Paul paints will indeed come alive for us when we die.
O Lord, Who blesses those who bless You and sanctifies those who put their trust in You, save Your people and bless Your inheritance. Protect the whole body of Your Church. Sanctify those who love the beauty of Your house. Glorify them in return by Your divine power, and do not forsake us who place our hope in You. Grant peace to Your world, to Your churches, to the clergy, to those in public service, to the armed forces, and to all Your people. For every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from You, the Father of Lights and to You we give glory, thanksgiving, and worship, to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and unto the ages of ages. Amen. (From the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Trans. by Holy Cross Seminary Press, 1985)
The life of the disciple means we should have no fear of death. Death is not a wall but a door through which we go to get home. And what greater hope is there than that!
With Roger Hunt providing today’s Daily Reading: Listen Now.
These readings are under copyright and is used by permission. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, in print or on other websites or in any other form, without the prior written authorization of the copyright holder: Reading © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA, Apolytikion of Abbot Marcellus © Narthex Press, Kontakion of Abbot Marcellus © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Photo Credit: Hope Church
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