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 He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man. Luke 2:51-52 (Gospel Reading-January 1)
Happy New Year Prayer Team!
Today, by God’s grace, we enter into a new year. I often thank God that He has fixed the day at 24 hours and the year at 365 days, that we constantly have opportunities to make new beginnings provided for us and we don’t even need to go and seek them out. Today marks a new year. It is a day that we greet with joy—we’ve lived to see another year. It is a year that we should greet with optimism—whatever happened last year is over, we all start with a clean slate. At 12:01, no one had had a bad moment in 2016 yet. And we begin the year, many of us, with resolve. We make resolutions to do new things, or to do things we’ve done but do them more consistently.
Most resolutions fade in short order. Plans for strict dieting or rigorous exercise, to the person who has never done either, usually do not last long. That’s why whatever resolution you make should be something small and manageable. You can always resolve to do MORE later on.
On your list of New Years’ Resolutions should be some spiritual resolutions. And while everyone will have some different spiritual resolutions, based on where you are in your Christian life, you should model your resolutions around today’s scripture verse.
Obedience-Without order, there is chaos. That is true in households, in businesses, in society and in spirituality. There has to be some order to our spiritual life and the order is found in the commandments of God, and in being obedient to them. Today’s verse is from the Gospel passage about Jesus visiting the temple at age 12. He visited Jerusalem with His parents and after His parents had left, He stayed behind in the temple. He had His own idea, to be with the temple teachers. This disappointed His parents, and the Gospel says that even Jesus changed course, returned to Nazareth and was obedient to His parents. In the New Year, resolve to be more obedient to the commandments of God, even when they don’t match with your own interests and ideas.
Keep the things of God in your heart—We keep important things and important people close to our hearts. We think often about the people who are important to us. We have sports allegiances, mottos and other things at the forefront of our minds and hearts. Keep the things of God front and center in your mind and heart. You do this by checking in with God on a daily basis—talk to Him through prayer, listen to Him through scripture. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy session. A few minutes is all it takes to keep the things of God in the forefront of your heart. If you are only checking in once a week at church, it is much harder to keep God in the forefront. It’s like He’s on the front burner on Sundays and on a back burner the rest of the week. Make sure He occupies your front burner at least for a few moments each day through prayer and scripture reading.
Increase in wisdom and stature—Everyone should have a goal to be better at whatever they are doing by the end of 2016. I hope at the end of 2016, I am a better husband, a better father, a better priest, a better friend, a better Christian than I am as we begin the year. We should always strive to be better in our lives. Better does not mean quantitative increase, but qualitative increase. Better does not necessarily mean I need to earn a better salary or drive a better car. The “better” we are shooting for should be for improvement in positions we hold—to do a better job at the things we do, not necessarily to reap a bigger financial reward.
And in favor with God and man—If you have a goal to be a better Christian in 2016, the easiest places to start are working on your relationships with God and your fellow man. If we want to increase in favor with God, we can do that by resolving to spend more time with God. For those who do not pray regularly, start off with a couple of minutes every day dedicated to prayer. If you are already praying regularly, read a page or two of scripture each day. For those who are already doing both, consider reading a few pages of a theology book or a spiritually uplifting book each day. For those who do not worship regularly, make it a goal to get to church each Sunday. For those who are already doing this, try to add one additional weekday service every month of two. Make a small incremental change this New Year and make it a permanent change.
As for finding greater favor with “man”, this comes through additional gestures of love and concern toward your fellow man. One worthwhile resolution is to try to do one act of unexpected kindness every day. I remember from my years as a Boy Scout, our slogan was “Do a good turn daily.” Make a conscious effort to do one unexpected act of kindness each day.
Visit us with Your goodness, Lord; manifest Yourself to us through Your rich compassion. Grant us seasonable weather and fruitful seasons; send gentle showers upon the earth so that it may bear fruit; bless the crown of the year of Your goodness. Prevent schism in the Church; pacify the raging of the heathen. Quickly stop the uprisings of heresies by the power of Your Holy Spirit. Receive us all into Your Kingdom. Declare us to be sons and daughters of the light and of the day. Grant us Your peace and love, Lord our God, for You have given all things to us. (From the Liturgy of St. Basil, trans. by Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary Press)
Have a great first day of the New Year!
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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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