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
LET US GIVE THANKS TO THE LORD
I give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart. Psalm 9:1
Good morning Prayer Team!
Today marks the beginning of Advent in the Orthodox Church, a forty day period of preparation for the feast of the Nativity. (In the Orthodox Church, we use “Nativity” or “the Incarnation” to describe the feast of Christmas, so in these writings you will see these terms, and only rare mentions of Christmas.) Advent in the Orthodox Church is a period of fasting, similar to Great Lent. It is meant to be a period of spiritual reflection and purposeful preparation in anticipation of the great feast of December 25. The feasting and the joy of the season come on the twelve days following the Nativity.
Unfortunately, for many Christmas has become a stressful season. And most of the stress relates to gift-giving. What do I need to buy? For whom do I need to buy? How much is this going to cost? I can’t afford this! Why is there so much traffic at the mall? And how many days are left to get this all done? And as soon as the actual day of Christmas arrives, the season suddenly ends.
The goal of this Prayer Team unit is to put our focus on “giving thanks.” In this season of “gift giving,” we must remember that the most important gifts are not things we can buy or material gifts we will receive. The greatest gifts we have ever received are God’s blessings, given to us in so many ways, large and small. In the period of Advent, we prepare again to remember and relive the gift of the Incarnation. The greatest gift we can give to another person is to love our neighbor as God loves us.
Each of us has one heart. The heart is the most important part of the body, because without a heart, one has no life. The heart, then, sets the tone for the rest of the body. It also sets the tone for the spirit. If one has a stressful heart, the mind and the spirit are stressed as well. However, if the heart is joyful, then the mind and the spirit become joyful as well. And the key ingredient to joy is thanksgiving. Because thanksgiving includes both grace and joy, which lead us to God and to the kingdom of Heaven.
The Feast of the Nativity is forty days away. Ask yourself what kind of heart you will bring to the feast. Will it be a heart that is relieved the season is over? Will it be a heart that is stressed out? Will it be a heart that is angry? Or will it be a heart that is joyful, hopeful and thankful.
Our Advent journey this year will focus on the thankful heart, offering practical ways to be more thankful and how to share gratitude with others. We will all come to the manger together on December 25—will we come empty-handed?
Most of us have already given some thought to the gifts we will buy for people this Christmas. We are already planning and stressing and wondering how we will get it all done. As we begin this journey to the Incarnation, I begin by asking an important question:
What gift will you offer to Christ this Christmas?
We will learn in this unit that thanksgiving, grace and joy are all intertwined. And we will seek to wrap our hearts with all three to present to the Lord at His Nativity.
Lord, thank You for bringing me to the start of another Advent season. Watch over me and bless me as I begin this journey. As I prepare to celebrate Your Nativity, allow me to come before You with a thankful heart. Help me again to learn the meaning of the words thanksgiving, grace and joy so that I may bring all three to the manger on the feast of Your Nativity. Amen.
Let’s each resolve to turn this season of stress into a season of joy by making it a season of thanksgiving.
I wish each of you a blessed Advent journey!
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