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” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, for He was before me.” John 1:29-30 (Gospel from Feast of St. John the Baptist)
Good morning Prayer Team!
Today is the feast of St. John the Baptist. (In Orthodox practice, when there is a major feast day, the day after the feast day is the day we commemorate the “secondary” figure of the feast. So, January 6 commemorates the Baptism of Christ, and January 7 commemorates St. John the Baptist). We know that Saint John the Baptist was a cousin of Jesus, born to Elizabeth (and Zacharias) who was a cousin to the Virgin Mary. And that as he grew up, he began his work as the “forerunner” of Christ. He was baptizing people not only in the Jordan River but at “Aenon, near Salim” (John 3:23) and presumably in other places as well. John had a group of “disciples” and also others who were curious as to who he was. In John 1, we read about how John told everyone that he was not the Christ, and endorsed Jesus as the Christ:
And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” And he answered, “No.” They said to him then, ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’ as the prophet Isaiah said”. . .”I baptize with water; but among you stands One whom you do not know, even He who comes after me, the thong of Whose sandal I am unworthy to untie”. . .”I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on Him. I myself did not know Him; but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God”. . .The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples; and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. (John 1:19-37)
John knew that he was not the Christ. He knew that his role was to prepare the way for Christ, to steer others towards Christ. He knew that his role was to give glory to Christ. Along the way, John had disciples and his own amount of “popularity”, but he tempered that by constantly referring to Christ, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, for He was before me.” (John 1:29)
In John 3:25-30, we read:
Now a discussion arose between John’s disciples and the Jews over purifying. And they came to John, and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to Whom you bore witness, here He is, baptizing, and all are going to Him.” John answered, “No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him. He who has the bride is the Bridegroom; the friend of the Bridegroom, who stands and hears Him, rejoices greatly at the Bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
If we really believe that “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17) comes from God, then we need to look very seriously at the role of John the Baptist, and adopt this role for our lives. I have a healthy ego, sometimes it is too big. But one thing that I TRY to do when someone gives me a compliment, is to try to say “Thank God” instead of saying “Thank you.” I try to infer instead of “Thank YOU for complimenting ME” to infer “Thank You God who allowed me to do the thing for which I am being thanked.”
As we wind up this series of reflections, again we go to the beginning, and that very first sin of ingratitude. If it’s all about God and not about us, then we are thanking God for His blessings constantly. We are decreasing in our own sense of self-importance and letting Him increase in us. We are giving glory to God for our successes rather than attributing every good thing to ourselves.
In dying for our sins, Christ made it all about us. After all, who is going to die as an act of ego? Death is painful and it is permanent. In dying for us, Christ made it all about US and not about Him. In living for Christ, we have to make it all about Him and not about us. Our successes should be for His glory. Even our struggles should be done in a way that gives Him glory. We should look to Him even in our failures. John the Baptist was so correct in preparing the way of the Lord. The way we prepare the way for Him in our own hearts is to see Him as the bridegroom and see ourselves as the bride—to rejoice in Him, to submit to Him, to become one with Him.
In order for Him to increase in us, we (our egos, our ingratitude, our sinful tendencies) must decrease. That is a challenge for sure. As John says though, when He increases and we decrease, this is when our joy is the most filled. This takes faith and this takes discipline. As we are still in the early stages of a new year, reflect on specific ways that He can increase in you. Even by overtly saying “Thank God” often, you are giving glory to God and witness that He is working in you.
It’s interesting when you watch sports, there are certain athletes who when they do something amazing point towards themselves, like “yeah, I’M all that.” And there are others who point a finger to the heavens, ostensibly giving God the glory. When you make a mistake, learn to point the finger at yourself, asking forgiveness and pledging to do better. When you have a success, point the finger upward at God—it’s all about Him. We are here because of Him. We have the potential to be saved because of Him. We have talents because He gave them to us. Our purpose in life is to honor Him. Our entrance into heaven is up to Him. And if we are blessed to go to heaven, it will be all about being one with Him. So, find a way to honor Him each and every day!
Saint of God, intercede for us. Coming from the desert, the Forerunner’s voice to all points out the Word who for our sake has visited us bodily; full of joy he prepares himself to baptize Him who has arrived, the one who purifies our souls from the ancestral sin through faith in Him. (9th ode of the Orthros of the Feast of St. John the Baptist, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Make it all about Him 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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