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 Six
Jesus said, “If a man loves Me, he will keep My word and My Father will love him and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” John 14:23
Good morning Prayer Team!
Christ is Risen!
One of the biggest issues that plague our society, in my opinion, is that we’ve lost the meaning of the word “intimacy.” Intimacy is the highest level of a relationship. It is preceded by respect, commonality, trust, and love. Most people think of the word intimacy only in a sexual context, which is the biggest part of the problem. We, as a society, have in large measure lost our ability to build intimate, non-sexual relationships.
Just looking at the basic building blocks of human relationships, it is a challenge getting to the first level, respect. We regularly disrespect people, in people we like, when we speak badly about them. We disrespect people with the way we drive, with the way we play music too loud, or smoke on the beach (a personal pet peeve as I am allergic to smoke). Too often we keep score, we exchange rather than give. We offer something in exchange for something else, or in expectation of something later. We don’t trust by and large, because we are not sure who is going to use something we say against us later, or “have something on us.” Which is why we can’t build healthy, loving relationships, let alone experience intimacy.
“Intimacy” is to let one’s guard down completely, to be vulnerable, and to know one will be accepted and not judged. One will know that his or her secrets are safe. One can share his or her deepest struggles and find a loving ear to hear them. One of the biggest rewards in having a relationship with Christ is a sense of intimacy with Him. How is that possible, you might ask? Well, Christ has done the most intimate thing a person can do for another—He died on the cross for us. There is no greater love, He tells us in John15:13, than for a man to lay down his life for his friends. Christ did that for us. There is nothing more vulnerable than dying for someone else.
We can come to Christ in our most desperate moments, and He will not send us away. We can offer prayer under the most desperate of circumstances, or when we’ve sinned in the worst possible way and He will not turn us away.
One of the most powerful moments of my ministry came nearly 20 years ago, when I was a new priest at summer camp in New England. I don’t remember the person but I do remember the circumstance. I was speaking to a young person who said that he stopped praying to God because he was angry with God. He said that he didn’t think he could speak negatively to God so he just stopped speaking to him altogether. I asked this young man if he ever spoken negatively to his parents. He said, of course he did, when he was upset with them. I asked him what would happen if he could never speak negatively to them, never voice any frustration. He said that he wouldn’t be able to have a genuine relationship with them. I told him it works the same way with God. We can go to God, even in frustration. I told him that I would stand in the back of the chapel where we were sitting and he could say whatever he wanted to God. After screaming at God, he started crying and said he just wanted to love God again.
We can go to God with anything—even complaints! One of the best benefits of a relationship with God is that ability to be “intimate” with God—to tell God anything and know that God will not turn us away. In the book of Revelation, we read a verse that paints a beautiful image for us: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20) It’s beautiful to imagine the Lord standing at the door of your room or office and knocking and asking to come in and sit with you. Even more powerful is imaging the Lord knocking at the door of your heart, asking to come and be part of you. I have seen a picture of the Lord standing at a door and knocking, and on the other side is whatever you want to be there—your home, your office, your marriage, your friendships, your failures, your heart. He knocks on all of these doors.
I can say truthfully that I have struggled my whole life with the intimacy of prayer with the Lord. Some people are raised to be good pray-ers. I am still learning. However, the moments when I have opened my heart fully to Christ, I have felt Him fill the empty spaces. In the moments when I have felt the most empty and most vulnerable, when I’ve actually let Him in, He has come in and filled those sad and lonely spaces.
One of the greatest, if not the greatest, benefit of being a Christian is intimacy with God. This is experienced privately through prayer, can be experiences corporately in praying with someone else, can be experienced in worship, and can be experienced in the sacrament of Holy Communion. For what can be more intimate than touching God. We embrace those who are near and dear to us. To hold our children, to be intimate with our spouses, but to touch God is more powerful than any other kind of intimacy there is. This, of course, presupposes that we approach God with an appropriate sense of vulnerability and awe, not just flippantly.
If you don’t feel you have an intimate relationship with Christ, start off with the basic building blocks of any relationship—respect Christ and His commandments (be obedient to Him, serve others) and then spend time with Him, in worship and prayer. Trust, love and intimacy will follow.
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein; for He has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the rivers. Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in His holy place? He who hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false, and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of his salvation. Such is he generation of those who seek Him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors! That the King of glory may come in. Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle! Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors! That the King of Glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory! Psalm 24
Christ knocks at the door every day. Open the door and enjoy the spiritually intimate relationship that He offers.
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: Hellenic Art
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