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
But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. Luke 2:19
Good morning Prayer Team!
I read in a book recently that saying “I’m busy” is akin to saying “I’m alive.” Who, after all, is NOT busy these days? Many of us even say that we are “crazy busy.” If you think about it though, we ALL have mental down time. Even when we are “working”, we are not mentally occupied at all moments of the day. If I’m running copies at the office, I’m working with my hands, but not necessarily with my mind. If I honestly audit my time, I actually find that I have a lot of time that I’m not mentally engaged. What fills the time when you are driving? Noise on the radio? What fills your mind while you are getting dressed, or combing your hair, or brushing your teeth, cooking, mowing, vacuuming? You get the idea.
So in the mental free time that we all have, how much, if any of that, is spent pondering the things of God? We’ve all spent time pondering on what we would do if we won the lottery. We all spend time wondering about life, the world, our children, what it will be like to have a better job, what our garden will look like in spring, what our house would look like if we painted it and a myriad of other thoughts.
The Virgin Mary experienced things that probably seemed almost unbelievable. Even she must have wondered at times, is this really happening to me? The visit from the angel, the virgin birth, all of these people showing up to “worship” a new born baby? How could this not just be overwhelming?
I’ve shared with people many times that if I really thought long enough and hard enough about what I’m doing as a priest, I’d probably run away in shame. After all, who am I to touch THE Body of Christ at every Liturgy? And yet, someone has to do that. If you thought long enough and hard enough, you might run away from Holy Communion. After all, who are any of us to be receiving THE Body and Blood of Christ? And yet, Christ calls us to receive Him.
In my own life, I find that the more I ponder on the things of God, the more convicted I feel in my faith, the more confident I feel in practicing my faith, the more confident and joyful I am to celebrate the Liturgy. During Holy Week as an example, I feel so close to God and feel so much power coming from God because during that week in particular, so much of my time and thought is centered around God. I am “pondering” Him almost non-stop. At other times, when the Lord feels far away, when I think about it, I realize that MY thoughts of Him are far away. So, when I am pondering on the things of God, when I am praying, when I am contemplating the things I say I believe, when I am engrossed in scripture, then my faith is growing and strong. When I do not do these things, then my faith is not as strong.
One of the reasons we worship at the Divine Liturgy each Sunday is to REMEMBER what Christ did for us. We go not only to receive Him in Communion, and not only to pray to Him, and to thank Him, but we go to REMEMBER Him and what He did for us. Before the Consecration of the Gifts, the priest prays: “Remembering therefore this Divine Commandment of the Savior and all that came to pass for our sake, the cross, the tomb, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, and the enthronement and the right hand of the Father and the Second and Glorious coming.” (From the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, c/o Holy Cross Press) We go to church in order to worship and in order to PONDER on the things of God, to remember all that He has done for us, and all that it to come.
The Virgin Mary “kept these things and pondered them in her heart.” She was careful with what she saw and did. She kept these special things in her heart, in the most special place. Remember many reflections back when we discussed having room in your heart for God. Well, one room in your heart should be the “pondering room”, a special place to store special thoughts of God that can be recalled at any moment, particularly at the tough moments in life. This is the place we store key verses of scripture, special moments we’ve shared with the Lord, so that when we are faced with a challenge, we have a place we can retreat for comfort and reassurance.
We spend so much of our life “pandering”, trying to get people to like us, dealing with peer pressure, trying to get people to “buy our product” (whatever idea or thing we are trying to convince people of), that we often forget to “ponder” on the things of God.
I’m reminded of the oft-quoted passage:
Watch your thoughts. They become words.
Watch your words. They become deeds.
Watch your deeds. They become habit.
Watch your habits. They become character.
Character is everything.
To which I would add, watch your character, because this is what God is going to judge in order for anyone to inherit everlasting life.
The starting point of our character is our thought patterns. Fitting God into your thought pattern each day, keeping God’s Word safely in your heart, pondering on the things of God in your mind, these things help us form good spiritual habits that shape our characters, which shape our lives, which prepare us for Eternal Life.
Mary, why are you amazed and awed by what was done in you? And she answers, “For in time I have brought forth a timeless Son. But I have no understanding of His conception. Husbandless am I: How can I bear a son? Who has ever seen seedless childbirth? But where God wills, the order found in nature is overcome, as it is written.” So Christ was born from the Virgin Maiden, in Bethlehem of Judea. (Kathisma from the Orthros of the Nativity, Trans. Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Think about Christ today!
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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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