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
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God. Luke 2:13
Good morning Prayer Team!
There are four elements that should comprise a prayer: Praise, Thanksgiving, Confession and Supplication. Most of us are familiar with the supplication part. Many prayers include supplication only. And unfortunately, many people “pray” only when they want to ask God for something. Prayer should include confession/repentance, an examination of what we’ve done wrong on a particular day and how we can do it better next time. Prayer should include thanksgiving to God for what He does for us.
Prayer, however, should begin with “praise and worship” of God. Merely invoking the name of God is worship. “Dear God,” “Heavenly Father,” “O Christ our Savior,” “Almighty Lord,” “Our Father” are all ways that we are familiar with opening prayer. “Lord, have mercy” is one of the shortest prayers. But even this prayer, which asks for “mercy”, begins with a statement of worship, “LORD, have mercy.”
To praise God acknowledges that God is greater than us. And we come to God not in self-righteousness but in humility.
In Luke 18: 10-14, Jesus tells us the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee:
Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, “God, I thank Thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.
The prayer of a righteous man does not boast of what one has done, but what he has yet to do. And praise of God is not about congratulating ourselves about how far we have come, but acknowledging humbly before God how far we have to go, and asking for His help in getting there. Worship and praise of God are done to help us get closer to God. So worship and praise can only be effective if we acknowledge that we have a ways to go to get to God.
The “postures” we take in worship help us understand what “praise” of God is. We stand in order to present ourselves at attention. This is why there isn’t a lot of sitting in church, because when we sit we relax and are casual. When we stand we are at attention. When Christ healed the Paralytic, He commanded him to “rise, take up your pallet and go home.” (Mark 2:11) Even though we are sinful, when we receive Communion, we stand at attention, presenting ourselves fully to God for the spiritual healing that comes through receiving Him in Communion.
Bowing is part of our worship experience. We bow our heads to pray. When we are called to worship at the Small Entrance, we sing, “Come let us worship and bow down before Christ.”
And we kneel in awe of God. As we call the Holy Spirit “upon us and upon these Gifts here presented,” we get on our knees in awe of God’s presence among us through the descent of the Holy Spirit in our midst.
If Christianity is about loving God and loving our neighbor, then the posture we take in prayer when we praise God should also be the posture we take as we serve our neighbor. When our neighbor is speaking, we should be at attention, listening attentively. When we serve our neighbor, we should “bow” in humility. It’s not always about us winning or succeeding. Serving our neighbor is about putting our neighbor in front of us and our needs. And we should hold our neighbor in respect, if not awe, since our neighbor is made in God’s image and likeness, just like we are.
I will end today’s reflection by telling the story about a man named “Jim” (not his real name). I didn’t know Jim for most of his life, as Jim had not been a faithful Christian for most of his life. Jim was diagnosed with cancer at a relatively young age. And he only lived about six months between his diagnosis and death. During those six months, as he waged a losing battle with his disease, by God’s grace, I helped him wage a winning battle for his soul. This man who never went to church, was in church every Sunday. This man who had never read the Bible, read it cover to cover. This man, who had hardly ever spoken to a priest, was talking to me almost every week. When I heard his last confession a few days before he died, as he lay in bed very much in pain, he asked me if I would help him get on his knees so I could offer the prayer of absolution over him while he was kneeling. When I told him that that wasn’t really necessary, that I could offer the prayer with him lying in bed, he looked at me, and with tears in his eyes, said to me “Please, Father, help me to get on my knees. I want to kneel in front of God one more time before I go to Him for the judgment of my soul.” It took four of us to lift him out of bed, gently place him on his knees on the floor, and then to put him back in bed. I will never forget the sincerity of his last prayer and the humility of this last request, a witness of faith that still inspires me to this day.
The angels who shared the good news with the shepherds, who praised God in the skies over Bethlehem, were not making a show of themselves. They were joyfully witnessing for God. Let us be inspired to do the same. It is not possible for every word we say to “praise God.” But it is possible in every, and any, breath, to give God praise.
Let every breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise Him in the highest. To You, O God is due our song. (The Praises, Orthros of the Nativity, Trans. Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Praise God 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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