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, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased!” Luke 2:13-14
Good morning Prayer Team!
What is peace? I’m sure if you polled people in various countries, you’d get a different answer. To the person in the war-torn Middle East, peace is the absence of gunfire. To the monk on Mount Athos, peace is the absence of spiritual conflict. The common denominator in any definition of peace is that it involves an absence of some kind of conflict.
At the time of Christ’s Nativity, there were many conflicts in Bethlehem and surrounding regions. The most obvious conflict was between the Jews and their Romans oppressors. It was a military/political/economic conflict. The Romans held an overpowering position in all of these areas. There was a religious conflict between Jews and Gentiles. The Jews identified themselves as “God’s chosen people,” and were not friendly with Gentiles (non-Jews). Many times in the Bible we read about conflicts between the Jews and Samaritans. There was even conflict among the Jews. A class of elite temple leadership preyed on the Jewish populace, binding heavy burdens on their own people. Even the journey to Bethlehem for the census could not have been a peaceful one. Lots of traffic, lots of people converging on a small town, fighting for rooms at inns (remember they were all filled), food most likely in short supply, and tempers probably flaring as well. The peace of the cave where the Nativity took place and the stillness of the countryside where it was announced to the shepherds were quite a contrast to the upheaval all around. It’s no wonder that the “Prince of Peace,” our Lord, came to us in the peaceful setting where He was born.
Many “protests” have been waged in the name of “world peace.” The running joke in beauty pageant scenes in movies is the answer that every contestant gives to the question of what one thing would you like to change in the world: world peace.
Before we can have peace on a macro level (the world), we must learn to find peace on a micro level (within ourselves and with those around us). Before we can talk about peace in the world, we must find peace within ourselves. We must seek to rid ourselves of conflict. We must bring peace into our marriages, into the lives of our children, into the lives of our neighbors that we see every day.
If peace is the absence of conflict, then we must strive to remove conflict from ourselves and from our relationships. How is this done? It is done with patience that allows us to overlook things that take away our peace. It is done with respect that allows us to speak the truth in love when confronting someone or something that is taking our peace. It is done with honesty, that we can have a conversation with others about the things that threaten our peace and work toward a mutual goal of restoring peace.
Peace in the world begins with peace with yourself. It takes a next step when we seek to be peace makers and not peace-takers. It is when we learn to come into a situation bringing peace and seeking peace, rather than bringing chaos and always seeking victory.
Mother Teresa describes how to find peace in this beautiful quote:
The fruit of silence is prayer.
The fruit of prayer is faith.
The fruit of faith is love.
The fruit of love is service.
The fruit of service is peace.
Indeed, prayer points us to faith, which points us to love, which points us to service. And service is where we bring peace to someone else by serving someone other than ourselves. Thus, peace is found in service to others. Because when I am serving, I am taking something from me and GIVING it freely to someone else. This promotes peace. When I am taking something from someone and making it mind, this is what disturbs and distorts peace and creates conflict.
In our Orthodox Liturgical services, we are called continually to peace:
“In peace let us pray to the Lord.”
“For the peace from Above and the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord.”
“For peace in the whole world, the stability of the holy churches of God and for the unity of all, let us prayer to the Lord.”
Before the Gospel (God’s word), before the Creed (the confession of our Faith) and before Holy Communion, the priest says “peace be with you all.” He says this to remind us that through Christ we can find peace, and that we find Christ by serving one another. In fact, we can only come towards Christ if we have a peaceful disposition. We do not need intellect or fortune, but we do need peace.
Today’s hymn comes from the Orthros of the Nativity. If, as the hymn says, we are to “glorify in a manner fitting God the babe that is born,” then we must learn the meaning of peace and all the things that precede it—prayer, faith, love and service. Christ embodied all of these things. Let us seek to be like Him by doing the same.
Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth. Today Bethlehem receives Him who is ever seated with the Father. Today Angels glorify in a manner fitting God the babe that is born. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and good will among men. (Idiomelon from the Orthros of the Nativity, Trans. Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Be a peace-maker 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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