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
Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:12-13
One of many things that our society lacks today is a sense of intimacy. We have a hard time separating intimacy from sexuality. While sexuality is to be confined to the boundaries of marriage, intimate (non-sexual) relationships should be things we seek after. A healthy friendship, as an example, includes intimate conversation, conversation where we are free to be honest and vulnerable.
Have you ever thought about your relationship with the Lord as being “intimate”? When we go to the Lord in prayer, do we pour out our hearts to Him? Or is our prayer more rote?
The goal in our relationship with Christ is a sense of spiritual intimacy, where there is no topic that is not on the table. As we look at our own relationship with Christ, as well as our relationship with a Church community, a sense of intimacy with Him and with others is perhaps the element that is most profoundly missing. As we are about to wrap up this unit on our participation in the life of the church, we will have a few reflections on this important topic of intimacy.
In order for there to be intimacy in a relationship, there must be three things present. First, there must be sacrifice. One must give sacrificially in order to have intimacy. Christ has already given Himself for us. He has given His very life. What are we willing to give for Him? Time? Emotion? Trust? Faith? Hope? What are we willing to give to one another? Time? Emotion? Trust? Help? Giving is either cursory or it is sacrificial. In order for there to be intimacy, there must be sacrifice. Cursory effort does not breed intimacy.
Sacrifice, however, cannot be with pride or with guilt. We can’t be prideful with our sacrifice, i.e. “look how much I am giving”, and we can’t lay a guilt trip on others for our sacrifice, i.e. “look what I did for you, and look at what it cost me.” Sacrifice has to be with joy, it has to almost be unknown. Christ didn’t die for our sins to make us feel guilty. He laid down His life for us out of love, to give us joy, to give us hope. When we come to Him in prayer, we need to come with joy. When we come to worship, there needs to be joy. And when we serve one another, we must do so with joy.
The third element needed in order to have intimacy is vulnerability. And in order to have vulnerability, there needs to be a deep and abiding sense of trust. God trusted us when He sent His own Son to die for us. Throughout the ages, many have trusted God by laying down their lives for Him through martyrdom. Throughout the ages, many have trusted God by sacrificing their lives in order to be priests, monks, servants, philanthropists, etc. In being vulnerable with one another, there also has to be trust, trust that we will not be judged, trust that confidences won’t be broken, trust that our vulnerability will be met with vulnerability.
It is hard to build intimacy with God if we spend no time with Him. We can’t pour out our sorrows to Him if we never talk to Him. An occasional prayer in time of crisis does not display vulnerability, nor will it lead to a sense of intimacy with God. Intimacy with God comes from making Him a priority, when we give Him the first fruits of our time, the deepest parts of our emotion, the most painful parts of our struggles. Intimacy with others comes from making others a priority, when we listen more than we talk, when we hear and show empathy, when we hear and can keep a confidence, when we talk and are heard, when we speak freely and not be judged.
The world is full, it seems, of things that are fake, processed, mass produced and impersonal. Think about our typical cursory relationships with people—“Hi” “How are you?” “Fine” “how are you?” These types of interactions that we have with most people we know remain cursory. They never become intimate. We can never make deeper relationships if we remain only at a cursory level with others. If the Church is like this, it is not any different than the rest of the world. If the Church is these things, why would anyone want to belong to it? If God is like this, who needs one more “fake” relationship?
God is real. His love is real. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is real, and His Resurrection and the potential for redemption that it brings all of us is real. As we have discussed previously, faith in these things is not enough. There needs to be work and there needs to be grace, and the key to both of these things is our ability to be vulnerable, to be intimae with God and to be intimate with one another. And one of the key elements in developing intimacy, with God and with one another, is to make God and service to one another a priority.
In Thee, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame! In Thy righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline thy ear to me, and save me! Be Thou to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me, for Thou art my rock and my fortress. Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man. For Thou, O Lord, art my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. Upon Thee I have leaned from my birth; Thou art He who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of thee. I have been as a portent to many; but Thou art my strong refuge. My mouth is filed with Thy praise, and with Thy glory all the ay. Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent. For my enemies speak concerning me, those who watch for my life consult together, and say, “God has forsaken him; pursue and seize him for there is none to deliver him.” O God, be not far from me; O my God make haste to help me! May my accusers be put to shame and consumed; with scorn and disgrace may they be covered who seek my hurt. But I will hope continually, and will praise Thee yet more and more. My mouth will tell of Thy righteous acts, of Thy deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge. With the mighty deeds of the Lord God I will come, I praise Thy righteousness, thine alone. O God, form my youth Thou has taught me, and I still proclaim Thy wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, till I proclaim Thy might to all the generations to come. Thy power and Thy righteousness, O God, reach the high heavens. Thou hast done great things, O God, who is like Thee? Thou who has made me see many sore troubles wilt revive me again; from the depth of the earth Thou wilt bring me up again. Thou wilt increase my honor and comfort me again. I will also praise Thee with the harp for Thy faithfulness, O my god; I will sing praises to Thee with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel. My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to Thee; my soul also, which Thou hast rescued. And my tongue will talk of Thy righteous help all the day long, for they have been put to shame and disgraced who sought to do me hurt. Psalm 71
Work to build intimate relationships with God and with others. Make it a priority. Work on sacrifice, joy and vulnerability, with God and with others.
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.
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