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
As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already on the point of being sacrificed, the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing. II Timothy 4:5-8 (Epistle on Sunday before Epiphany)
Good morning Prayer Team!
Have you ever thought of what you might want as your “epitaph,” what you’d want people to say about you when your earthly life is over? I remember having to do an assignment like this in school a couple of times, where we had to write something for our tombstone and something for our obituary. It was designed to get us thinking not only how we want to be remembered, but are we living a life that will have people remembering us as we hoped they would. I think about this once in a while, and as we begin a new year, it is a good time to think about it again. More important, however, than what people think about me, is what does God think about me? And do my hopes for God’s thoughts about me match what I am currently doing in my life.
On the Sunday before Epiphany, the Epistle Lesson is always taken from II Timothy 4:5-8. And this passage includes the best epitaph you could write for a Christian: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. As we begin a new year, as we seek to grow closer to Christ in this new year, reflect on this verse.
The entire passage is framed around this verse. If you want to fight a good fight, then you have to be steady. Every life experiences its share of suffering. But we also know that it is suffering that produces character. Saint Paul writes in his Epistle to the Romans that “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5) No year passes without something good happening. And likewise, no year passes without some trial or tribulation. The “good fight” is one that is fought with consistency. We do not need to be a “super-Christian”, just a steady one. And we do not want to go through periods of spiritual ecstasy followed by spiritual mediocrity. Better to keep a steady pace, for the race is a marathon, not a sprint.
Part of the “race” is to be an evangelist, to witness for Christ in some way. The easiest way is to love your neighbor. Even if the name of Christ is not mentioned, most of the time a quiet example is more effective than a vocal teaching. But there will be times this year, there will be conversations, where you will think about Christ, where you will think, “should I offer to pray here?” and then you will make a choice. We will all experience this. We will all have occasions to bring Christ or prayer into a conversation and it will come up naturally. What will you do at that moment? Go for what you are supposed to do? Or be frightened and timid about mentioning the name of the Lord?
Marathon runners do not think of the entire race at one time. They think about the race in increments, in miles, in markers. They focus on running one mile at a time, they focus on the pace of a single mile, not the pace of the entire race. The race is won by running each individual mile well. Put the miles together and you have a well-run race. This year, we will run a segment of our life “race”. Some us of are running the first mile or two (if you are young or a new Christian), others are somewhere in the middle and some are close to the end. Focus on running YOUR mile well. Focus on the mile ahead of you. For those who have not run well to this point, it doesn’t do much good to look back and lament. Look forward and focus on running the next mile well. The good news with God is that He doesn’t expect anyone to WIN the race, only to FINISH the race. St. Paul didn’t write, “I have won the race,” or “I have put my opponents to shame.” He wrote, “I have finished the race.”
And how does God want us to cross the finish line? He wants us to have kept the faith. There are many times when I minister to people who are at the end of life. They may be very sick, very tired. They may have had wonderful successes which have been forgotten because they lived twenty years past their retirement. And I will encourage them to “keep the faith.” What good does it do the marathon runner to lead the entire race and then stop in the last mile? I’m reminded of watching the Indy 500 one year where one driver was out in front by a comfortable margin and inexplicably crashed into the wall with one turn to go. The announcers had all but declared him the winner, and then he didn’t win. I’ve seen other races where the driver ran out of gas with only a few hundred yards to go and went from winner to not finishing. Again, we don’t need to win anything—we are in competition with no one. We need to finish the race, and we need to keep the faith while finishing the race. God promises a reward, a crown of righteousness, to those who finish.
So, as we begin a new year, focus on running a steady race each day. Don’t let hardships ruin your steady pace. And don’t let disappointments threaten your faith. Fight a good fight, run today’s segment of the race (string days and years together and then finish, but focus on running today’s segment today) and keep (and grow) in the faith.
Our God, the God who saves, You teach us justly to thank You for the good things which You have done and still do for us. You are our God who has accepted these Gifts. Cleanse us from every defilement of flesh and spirit, and teach us how to live in holiness by Your fear, so that receiving the portion of Your Holy Gifts with a clear conscience we may be united with the Holy Body and Blood of Your Christ. Having received them worthily, may we have Christ dwelling in our hearts, and may we become the temple of Your Holy Spirit. Yes, our God, let none of us be guilty before these, Your awesome and heavenly Mysteries, nor be infirm in body and soul by partaking of them unworthily. But enable us, even up to our last breath, to receive a portion of Your Holy Gifts worthily, as provision for eternal life and as an acceptable defense at the awesome judgment seat of Your Christ. So that we also, together with all the saints who throughout the ages have pleased You, may become partakers of Your eternal good things, which You, Lord, have prepared for those who love You. (Liturgy of St. Basil, trans. by Holy Cross Seminary Press)
Run steady 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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