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.”
When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. Matthew 2:9-10
Good morning Prayer Team!
There are many young people, and I’m so proud that many of them are in my GOYA in Tampa, who read these daily messages and today’s title is for them in particular. Many young people like (are obsessed with) this British band called “One Direction.” I read somewhere that one of the band members came up with this title because he thought the band had to go in “one direction” to win “X Factor UK”, a singing competition like “American Idol.” While they didn’t win this show, they did “win over the world”. Today’s reflection is about signs that may not win us a competition, but they will help us “win it all” and keep us pointed in that crucial ONE direction.
Every year when I go to summer camp, I try to spend an hour on one of the nights that I am there lying on my back and staring up at the stars. This is something that I can’t do in Tampa (where I live), because the bright city lights do not allow for good viewing of the stars. In fact, if someone grew up in Tampa, or another big city, and never got out into the country, it would be hard for them to even understand what a star is, or know that there are literally millions of them. Yet, when you go out into the country, away from the busy city, the amount of stars in the sky on a clear night is overwhelmingly beautiful and powerful. I’m always reminded of the verses of Psalm 147: “He determines the number of the stars, He gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power.” (Psalm 147:4-5) This experience of the stars, one insignificant person lying out under the blanket of the heavens, always reinforces for me that there is a power much greater than any of us at work among us, and that power is none other than God. This experience takes one back to the first thing needed to have faith, the first “sign”, which is that someone greater than us made us.
The Magi were guided by a star. They kept it in front of them at all times. They rejoiced when they saw it. They kept their “eye on the prize”, the star that directed their journey, from its beginning to its ultimate destination.
As I mentioned in the last reflection, the “star” shines over the destination. It provided the Magi the direction to their ultimate destination. In the Nativity narrative, that destination was a home where Christ was. For us, the destination is our salvation, the Kingdom of Heaven. And our “star”, if you will, is the “Cup of Salvation”, Holy Communion.
During the Stanley Cup hockey playoffs, there are endless advertisements which say “It’s all about the Cup!” And indeed, for the Christian, it is all about the Cup. The central act of the church is partaking of the Cup of Salvation, touching the Divine God through the Eucharist. Take the “Cup” out of the church and you have no church. The Church exists to share the Cup and to bring as many people as possible to it. Ideally, our entire life should resolve around the Cup—we should either be partaking of the Cup (Sundays, and other days when it is offered), or thanking God for the Eucharist, or preparing to receive Christ in the Eucharist. Our whole life should revolve around that. Our identity as Christians should begin and end with the Cup.
For the Magi, the journey was about the Star. When they saw the Star, they rejoiced. Whichever way the star led, they followed. They didn’t exactly know where the star was leading, but wherever it was leading, they were happy to follow. The Bible doesn’t tell us if they ever became angry because the journey was taking so long, or doubtful of where it was going. To be sure, they must have had moments of anger and moments of doubt. The most joyful journeys in our lives have both—think marriage and having children. But the primary emotion of the Magi was joy at the Star that was ever the focal point of their journey.
For us, the contemporary Christians, our star is the Cup of salvation. Does that mean that we never get angry or frustrated, especially at the Lord? No, we can have moments of frustration, even with the Lord. Does the Cup as our focal point mean that we never have a moment of doubt? Certainly not, we can have moments of doubt. But the primary emotion we want as Christians is JOY, and the joy comes from the Lord, and it is fed by the Cup. Every night, the Magi came back to that star and that kept them going. In the same way, we are supposed to come to the Cup each Sunday, that is supposed to be our guide and guardian, what sustains and inspires us.
I love what it is written in Isaiah 40:26: “Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of His might, and because He is strong in power, not one is missing.” Yes, that counts for stars. But it also counts for souls!
The Magi found joy even in the celestial signs, even though Christ wasn’t fully revealed to them and they didn’t have full understanding of Him. May this serve as an example for us to do the same. Faith is believing without fully knowing or fully comprehending. May we have the perseverance of the Magi as we make our journey of faith, keeping our eyes on our “star”.
At the Nativity, for the Magi on their long journey, it was all about the Star. All of their faith and energy was put in that one direction!
As we prepare to celebrate the Nativity this year, and for eternal life, we have to make it all about the Cup. This is our star, our sign, and our faith and energy needs to go in that one direction!
The wise men concluded from their observations of the extraordinary path of the peculiar nova which had lately appeared and was shining more brightly than anything in outer space, that Christ the King was born on earth, in Bethlehem to save our souls. (9th Ode, Orthros of the Nativity, Trans. Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Walk in one (God’s) direction 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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