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 land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, towards the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, Light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach saying “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4: 16-17 (Gospel from Sunday after Epiphany)
Good morning Prayer Team!
Wow, what a journey we have had. We’ve prepared for and celebrated two great feasts of the Nativity and Theophany. We have brought our gifts to the manger and have seen the Lord as a baby. We have stood on the banks of the Jordan River and have seen the Trinity revealed.
Having gone through this journey, I pray that you have seen more of Christ’s Light, that there is less “darkness” and mystery about the Incarnation, and that there is now more “light” and therefore joy, as you hopefully now understand more.
I have studied the Nativity as I never have before. I know more than I ever did before about this great feast. I thank God for His inspiration in writing this series. I thank Him for those who have encouraged and helped me along the way. I thank Him for those who are reading this message, and I thank YOU who are reading this message. I thank you for your prayers and for your encouragement.
Our journey to salvation does not end today. Our pursuit of knowledge of God does not end. Neither does our desire to grow in faith.
The last verse of the Gospel we cover for today gives us a goal for every day of our lives. “Repent!” Repentance is a continual (not a one time) change in our orientation so that we are growing ever closer to Christ. Repentance is a continual refocusing of our efforts to grow towards Him, and away from sinful tendencies.
And WHY do we need to continue to repent? Because repentance is the way we grow closer to Christ. And why is THAT important? Because “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
In the span of eternity, our life on this earth is a small blip in time. Our judgment to be found worthy of God’s Kingdom is just around the corner. Even if you are destined to live for many more years (and NO ONE knows that for sure), in the span of eternity, the end of your earthly life is just around the bend. This is a big motivation to repent, to change and to grow, knowing that at the end of life there is a judgment that is between us and the kingdom of God. And many will fall short and be judged worthy of condemnation rather than salvation.
But “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” is not just an end of our life thought. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand means that we can experience the Kingdom TODAY!!! It is as close as a prayer. You can open the Bible and be in the Kingdom. You can love another person and be there. You can go to church and worship. You can touch the Divine God through Holy Communion. Through Christ’s love, you can be in the Kingdom from NOW and to eternity.
However, just because you have Christ, just because you repent, and even though you may experience God’s kingdom frequently does not mean that there won’t be difficult days or dark times. With Christ though, those dark times never defeat the Light that is Christ. In John 1:5, we read that His “Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” And in John 11:9-10, Jesus tells us “If any one walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if any one walks in the night he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
We are not in darkness. We have seen the Light. Let us do the work of the Lord today. Let us continue to pray for one another, support one another, and love one another. So that one day we can all be in His Heavenly Kingdom!
Our Savior, grace and truth, appeared in His Epiphany in the streams of the Jordan; and those who lay once in the dark and shadow He illumined now. He has come and appeared, the Light unapproachable. (Kontakion of Epiphany, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
To Him be the glory to the ages of ages. Amen.
This ends the Advent series of reflections. The Prayer Team will continue in the following manner. On Saturdays and Sundays, I will be continuing a series of reflections on the Divine Liturgy. On Monday-Fridays, I will continue to write on various topics. There will be a special series for Lent beginning in late February 2016. For those who have been on the prayer team since its inception and for those who are new, I hope that you’ll continue to remain part of this ministry. I will continue to offer daily reflections and daily prayers. I hope that you will continue to pray for me and for our parish in Tampa. Thank you for being part of this awesome journey!
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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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