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. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros 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
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. (Matthew 18:15)
Good morning Prayer Team!
Where there are rules, there is freedom. There is a rule/law/commandment which says that people can’t steal stuff that doesn’t belong to them. Without this rule, none of us would leave our homes and go anywhere for fear that someone would come and take our things while we were gone. There are rules that govern how we are to drive-red lights require a stop, there are posted speed limits. Without these rules, no one would drive, because they just wouldn’t feel safe. While some view laws and rules as limiting freedom, it is actually quite the opposite. Rules make us more free.
What would happen if you made rules in relationships? What if you made a forgiveness rule? What if you made a rule that when you did something wrong, you’d “own it” (rather than making excuses for it) and you’d ask for forgiveness from the person you wronged. If the person who felt wrong wanted to talk about it, there would be a short period to talk about it, and then they would offer “forgiveness.” Now, we’re not talking BIG transgressions, more like the everyday problems that many times are the precursors to bigger problems. I’m convinced that bigger sins occur because smaller sins have either been overlooked, or have not been repented. Or small fractures in relationships lead to a loss of hope, opening the door for bigger transgressions to occur.
This past summer, I went to summer camp for two weeks. It was an intense experience, made more challenging by unexpected changes in the weather and to the schedule, sleep-deprivation that challenges patience, and different personalities have different ideas and ways of looking at things. As the camp director, I had two other people who were my “assistants”. They also happen to be friends. Before camp, before anyone was tired, sleep-deprived, stressed or impatient, we made a couple of rules that we agree to live by.
Rule number one was that we were going to pray together each day, meaning each of the three was going to offer a prayer out loud, and pray for the other two.
Rule number two was that if there was a misstep, we were allowed to “retract” a statement that one of the others took offense to by simply saying “I want to retract that statement,” like saying “I want a do-over.” And if that statement was made, the person was allowed a do-over, no further anxiety on that.
Rule number three was that if a person knew they did wrong, they were to go to the person they offended and say “please forgive me” and the response was “forgiven” and actually forgotten.
And rule number four was, if someone was unsure if they had done anything wrong, they could simply ask “is everything okay?” If someone wanted to really know how someone was doing, they’d ask “are YOU okay?” But if there was uncertainty between TWO people, the rule was to ask “is everything okay?
Rule #1 we did without fail. And I believe because we did, we only needed to use the other rules at a minimum. Rule #4 could be asked as often as anyone felt the need, and we used it every couple of days. Rule #2 was used a couple of times. And surprisingly, rule #3 was never used. It never needed to be.
I encourage people to establish “rules” in their close relationships-whether it is a husband with a wife, a parent with a child, two co-workers or two close friends. Make the rules when you are not angry or under stress. Agree that as you begin these “rules”, you give each other a clean slate, working through and eventually forgiving big things. With a clean slate and a new set of rules, you are ready to work through small stuff quickly, because you’ve clean the slate of all big stuff in the past. With a truly clean slate and these rules (and others can be added based on what you feel is appropriate), you should be able to keep the relationship on track.
If we go to God and ask His forgiveness, and He says to us “forgiven,” why can we not use the same mechanism with each other?! The most important rule in a close relationship is to have a practice of praying together, as well as praying for someone when you are not with them. The second most important rule is setting up a way for a transgression to be worked through quickly, so that forgiveness and restoration of the relationship can occur quickly and honestly.
Lord Jesus Christ, when You were nailed to the cross, You prayed to forgive those who crucified You. Please forgive me also, when I do not know, and when I do know what I am doing, both to You and to others. Help me establish and maintain healthy friendships and relationships. Help me to forgive others easily, in the same way that You forgive us. Give me the opportunity to make conversation with (name) about establishing some rules in our relationship that will make forgiving one another easier. Amen.
Have a great day!
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The Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) is an official agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops. OCN offers videos, podcasts, blogs and music, to enhance Orthodox Christian life. The Prayer Team is a daily devotion written by Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis, the parish priest at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, Florida. Devotions include a verse from scripture, a commentary from Fr. Stavros, and a short prayer that he writes to match the topic.
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