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.”
Then opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts—gold, frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. Matthew 2:11-12
Good morning Prayer Team!
In the Old Testament books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, one will find 613 commandments. Of these, there are the Ten Commandments, which most of us are familiar with. There are 603 others ones that we are not as familiar with. The Old Covenant between God and His people was based on these commandments.
In the New Testament, the Lord established a New Covenant, which summarized the Old Covenant with two commandments:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22: 37-39)
And Jesus further condensed the two commandments into one word: LOVE.
He said to His disciples: “A new commandments I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13: 34-35)
So, our faith is built around a single word—LOVE.
In the next two day, you will have the opportunity to offer gifts. You will offer gifts to your family, your friends. And you will have the opportunity to offer a gift of yourself to Christ. How will you offer these gifts? Out of obligation? Or with love? Will you offer a gift out of love and after Christmas still hold a grudge with the person to whom you gave the gift? Offering a gift, whatever gift that may be, should always be done as a gesture of love. And if perfect love does not exist between you and the person you are giving to, or if it does not exist at this moment between you and the Lord, then the gift should be offered in a spirit of reconciliation, with an expressed desire to work towards a more perfect love.
In the next two days, you will also receive gifts from your family and friends. How will you receive them? Will it be with anger, or with gratitude? Of course, the answer is with gratitude, at least on the surface. No one is going to receive a gift and not offer at least a polite “thank you.” The question is, how will we honor the giver? Will we receive with gratitude and still hold a grudge between us and them? Or will our gratitude reflect a spirit of reconciliation, with an expressed desire to work towards a better relationship? The offering of a gift, or the receiving of a gift is supposed to bring giver and receiver closer together. So, give with love, and receive with gratitude.
In the next two days, you will also receive a gift from Christ. Actually, there are many gifts we will receive from Christ. First, we will receive another Christmas, another year blessed with life that comes from the Giver of Life, the Lord. Second, most of us have someone to spend Christmas with—family, friends—another gift from the Lord. Third, the food we eat, the laughter we’ll have, the joy we’ll feel, these are all gifts from the Lord. The most important gift of the Lord will be the opportunity to worship Him this Christmas. To pray in church, to sing hymns of praise to Him, to hear the scriptures once again, hopefully now with new ears and new hearts. And most importantly, to receive Him in the Eucharist, the Divine Thanksgiving.
When you receive Christ, through prayer, worship, or the Eucharist, how do you receive Him? With a sense of entitlement? With a sense of gratitude? Does this encounter between giver (Him) and receiver (you) bring you closer to Him? Or it is done out of mere habit? We are supposed to receive with gratitude, offering thanks to God with our words, and more important, with our actions. I have for a long time corrected those who use the phrase “take Communion” by saying that we “receive” Communion. We “take” things out of a sense of entitlement. We receive things with gratitude. So, receive Christ with gratitude, and after this holiday is over, keep gratitude as part of your daily life. We hear the phrase “Keep Christ in Christmas.” But we need to keep Him in everyday life. And we need to thank Him not only on Christmas, but every day. We need to live for Him and in Him every day, not just on Christmas.
Gratitude is closely linked to optimism. The grateful person sees goodness and God in even the smallest of blessings. Undoubtedly, there will be many children who will be disappointed that they didn’t get exactly what they asked for (especially if it is a very expensive gift). The grateful person finds joy and is thankful for even the smallest of gifts—another day, any expression of love, the smallest kindness. There are times in every life when we are disappointed with one another, and even times we get disappointed with God. This is where gratitude comes in—the grateful person sees opportunity and sees God in everything, even when things don’t go as we wished or planned for them to go.
Will there be a gift that you will leave unopened under your tree? Of course not. We will open every gift, and open them eagerly. Don’t leave the gift of Christ unopened this Christmas. Praise Him, thank Him, and worship Him. Receive Him in Holy Communion.
Many people are sad when they open the last gift. I wonder why. It’s not like we have to wait until next Christmas to get another gift. We are receiving gifts all the time. Giving gifts should also be something that we do every day—and those gifts can be simple kindnesses, words of affirmation and encouragement, a sympathetic ear, and dozens of other examples that cost little in terms of time or money.
As we finish our gift wrapping and in two days our gift giving and opening, remember this very important thing. It is not only on Christmas that we should offer gifts to one another. We should be offering gifts to someone EVERY day. It is not only on Christmas that we should offer our gifts to the Lord. We should offer Him something of ourselves every day. And it is not only on Christmas that we receive the Gift of Christ. There is at least one gift from Him to us EVERY day.
Give to Christ daily. Receive from Christ daily. Have gratitude towards Christ daily.
What shall we offer you, O Christ, because You have appeared on earth as a man for our sakes? For each of the creatures made by You offers You its thanks: the Angels, their hymn; the heavens, the Star; the Shepherds, their wonder; the Magi, their gifts; the earth, the Cave; the desert the Manger; and we, a Virgin Mother. God before the ages, have mercy on us. (Stichera from the Vespers of the Nativity, Trans. Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Prepare to receive your gift from Christ. Prepare to offer your gifts to Him.
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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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