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
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” Luke 2:15
Good morning Prayer Team!
Can you imagine if, after the message of the angel, seeing the glory of God and hearing the heavenly choir of angels sing, the shepherds said “well, that was nice, but back to business as usual,” and just kept sitting in the field?
It’s actually easy to imagine if you think about it, because this is exactly what many people do. They attend services on Christmas (and some not even that), have dinner, open gifts, and eventually eat the leftovers, put away the decorations and life goes on as before.
In the Orthodox world, we have a greeting we are supposed to give at the Feast of the Nativity. We say “Christ is Born!” And the response is “Glorify Him!” This is not only a saying but a directive. Christ is born, now go to action. The Nativity was the catalyst for Christ’s earthly ministry. It is supposed to be a catalyst to us as well.
Perhaps the key moment in the life of a Christian is that moment they go from “hear-er” to “do-er.” Many of us have heard the message from our infancy. We come into church as babies and young children. We “hear” but what do we really “understand.” Unfortunately, for many, their faith is like that of a young child—they “hear” and that’s about where it stops.
The next step in the journey is “understanding.” This comes when we “hear” with a mind and a heart that are open to receiving a message, not just hearing a message. This step also involves study. We have to open the Bible, read a theology book, perhaps take an Orthodoxy 101 class, so that we can understand what it is we are hearing.
But the ultimate and necessary step is when understanding translates into action, when we move from “hearers” to “do-ers.” From our infancy we are told to pray. In our youth and young adult life, hopefully we learn how to pray. Then we begin to pray, and start becoming one who prays regularly (a do-er) and then we learn not only what it means to pray but the power of prayer.
Same thing goes for loving our neighbor. At pre-school, we learned “hands are for helping, not for hitting.” In our teen years (and hopefully even sooner), we are exposed to service projects to help us learn the meaning of service and that there are people who are in need of services we can provide. Hopefully as we grow and mature, in life and in faith, we make service to others more central to our lives.
Again, let’s go back to the account of the Nativity. Can you imagine if the shepherds only heard but didn’t go? If the Magi saw the star but decided, “that’s nice, but we’ll stay put in our land”? Or if Joseph had heard the angel tell him to get out of Bethlehem and flee to Egypt so Jesus wouldn’t be killed by Herod, if he said “that’s okay, we’ll just stay here?” Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Isaiah, Peter, Paul—we’ve got dozens of examples in the Bible of people who heard the word of God and then did something about it. Our role is the same—putting what we have heard into action. It is not enough to hear, but to do.
On a practical level, each morning when you wake up, think of something you can do to show your love for God and something else you can do to show love for your neighbor. Make a daily plan to DO something that will glorify God and help your neighbor.
I’m reminded of the story of the boy walking on the beach covered with tens of thousands of starfish that would certainly die if out of the water. The boy picked up a starfish and threw it back into the water. Then he picked up another and another and another. An older man was walking on the beach and said to the boy, “you are throwing many starfish into the water, but there are more starfish here than you can count. What possible difference can you make?” The boy picked up a starfish and threw it into the water, looked at the older man and said “well, I made a difference for that one.”
We can’t change the whole world but we can certainly make a difference in our corner of it. It’s not enough to see the starfish and say “this is a problem.” And it’s not really productive to look at the overwhelming number of starfish and say “I can’t save them all.” The do-er says to himself, “I can make a difference for that one,” and then does it.
Going back to the song I mentioned yesterday, none of us can bring peace to the whole earth all by ourselves. But we can be seekers of peace, and do-ers of things that promote peace. It doesn’t say, “let there be peace on earth and let it end with me.” It says, “Let there be peace on earth and let it BEGIN with ME.” Making a difference in your relationship with God and with your neighbor begins the moment you reach the conclusion that the shepherds did, when you decide “let us go,” and you move from “hearer” to “do-er.”
Come, believer let us see the place where Christ has been born. With the Magj, those three kings who from the orient are, now let us follow to where the star is proceeding. Ceaselessly do Angels sing praises there. Shepherds in the field sing a worthy song, saying: Glory in the highest be to Him who was born today in the grotto from the Virgin and Theotokos, in Bethlehem of Judea. (Kathisma from the Orthros of the Nativity, Trans. Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Go do it!
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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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