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
“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us, so that they world may believe that Thou hast sent Me. The glory which Thou hast given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as We are One, I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may become perfectly one.” John 17: 20-23
Good morning Prayer Team!
The word “Intimacy” or “intimate relationship” is most seen as synonymous with “sex.” And this is one of the things that is very wrong in our society. While sex is most certainly an act of intimacy, intimacy is about much more than sex. In today’s reflection, my use of the word “intimacy” will not be about sex at all.
We discussed in a previous reflection, the Greek words “agape,” “filia” and “eros,” which are all translated in English as “love.” In Greek “agape” is the highest form of love, a sacrificial, intimate love that one reserves for a spouse, a parent, a child, and perhaps a close friend. “Filia” is a friendship love, which shows a level of commitment and feeling. Both of these rank higher than “eros” from which we get “erotic,” a romantic and in some cases, sexual expression of love.
Agape is the kind of love where one would die for someone. This is the kind of love that God has for us. This is the kind of love we are supposed to have for Him. For agape, or intimate love, is not reserved only for marriage or for family, this is the kind of love we are supposed to desire with God.
Agape is a love where all walls come down, where there is not only acceptance, in terms of tolerance, but there is an embracing of a person, faults and all. Agape is the commitment to love in good times and in difficult ones. Agape, which here I will translate as “intimacy,” is a kind of love we not only all want, but a kind of love we all need. We need to know that we are loved, despite our imperfections. We need to know that other people love us despite our shortcomings. And we need to know that God loves us as well.
I tell couples that are getting married that intimacy is what you have when you close the doors of your home to the world and share not only your deepest feelings and desires, but your deepest fears, your greatest hopes, your greatest sorrows, your greatest dreams.
Intimacy is when the whole world seems to be falling apart but someone says “Don’t worry, I’m still with you.” It doesn’t matter if we are married or not, whether we are old or young, we all need this kind of “intimacy.”
We also need and desire (whether we consciously know it or not) an “intimacy” with the Lord. We want the Lord to accept us. We want to be assured of His love in good times and in bad ones. We want assurance that He still loves us even when we’ve strayed. We want a closeness to Him. This is why genuine prayer is one of the most intimate things a person can do, a pouring out of thoughts, of joys, or sorrows to our Creator and our Savior. This is why the most intimate gesture you can make towards another person is to pray for them, to lift their names and needs to the Lord. This is why the most intimate thing a person can do is become one with the Lord in the sacrament of Holy Communion, for our sinful lips to touch the Lord, for the Lord to come and touch us.
“Intimacy” should be the goal of many relationships. It doesn’t happen instantly. It takes time to trust, to empathize, and to love. The crowning mark of a relationship is where people embrace others for who they are—but also challenge others to become even greater. Intimacy brings a loving sense of honesty. Intimacy allows for disagreement and even disappointment. Because it comes from a good place, a committed place, a patient place.
We read in I John 4: 18-19, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us.” Fear and love cannot co-exist. The intimate relationship seeks to be free of fear and filled with love. Even a difficult truth is spoken of with love, rather than fear.
Intimacy should be the goal of our relationship with Christ. He has done the greatest thing one can do—He died for us. There is no greater love, no greater intimacy, than to give it all up for someone. That’s what He did for us. And there is no greater intimacy than a oneness with Christ which is as close as a genuine prayer and a humble heart. As Orthodox Christians we have the greatest blessing, to be intimate with Christ in the sacrament of Holy Communion. We are invited to draw near with faith and with love. And we are invited often.
Intimacy (from a spiritual perspective)—On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rank yourself on the following questions: Do I meet God on God’s terms or on my terms? Do I accept Christ as my Savior, the source and center of my life? Do I share with God completely? Do I ask God to transform me or only tweak aspects of my life?
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Prayer asks Christ to come into us. Communion is the physical manifestation of Christ within us. As we seek intimate relationships with others, the most important, most intimate relationship we can have is with Christ. So, crave intimacy with Christ on a daily basis.
Intimacy (from a relationship perspective)—Do I let people I, or do I build a wall around myself and keep things at a surface level? Do I allow myself to be vulnerable? Do I try to minister to others when they are vulnerable? Do I take advantage of the frailties of others? Do I create fear in others? Do I accept people as they are?
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Develop meaningful relationships with people. Not every relationship is going to be a close or “intimate” one. However, a few relationships should have a healthy emotional and spiritual intimacy. Because if loving our neighbor helps us understand how to love God, and if loving God inspires us to love our neighbor, then intimacy with Christ can lead us to more “intimate” relationships with our neighbor, and understanding how to have an “intimate” relationship with our neighbor will help lead us to a more intimate relationship with Christ.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right Spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit form me. Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing Spirit. Psalm 51: 10-12
It is incumbent on us to separate “intimacy” from “sexuality” and learn that the greatest connection to our neighbor is not physical, but spiritual, while ironically, the greatest connection with the Lord is physical, becoming one with Him in Holy Communion.
Photo credit: Aslan Roars
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