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 Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Matthew 28: 18-20 Leave-Taking of Pascha
Good morning Prayer Team!
Christ is Risen!
At every Baptism service, the priest asks the person being baptized (when it is a baby, the sponsor answers this question on behalf of the child) a very important question: “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” This question is arguably the most important question that a person is asked in their lives. Because the answer to this question is what confirms that one is a Christian. And even though we are asked this question in a formal way only one time, and for those who are baptized as infants, which is most of us, we didn’t even answer it formally (it was answered for us), it is a question that we must answer every day of our lives.
Of course, to be a Christian, there is only one possible answer, which is YES, I unite myself to Christ. So, if this is our answer, that yes we are united with Christ and wish to be united with Him today and forever, then this answer comes with a “charge”, presented as today’s Scripture passage, which is also called “The Great Commission.” The Great Commission was given by Christ to His Disciples immediately prior to His Ascension. By extension, it is given to all of us when we are baptized and join the Body of Christ. This Gospel passage is read at every Baptism service.
The Great Commission calls on everyone to go out and spread the Gospel. It is our collective responsibility to “baptize all nations.” This is not the job of the priests only. Yes, the priests are the ones who conduct the baptisms. (Ironically, a baptism can be done by a layperson in the event of an extreme emergency, when an unbaptized child is likely to die before a priest can be reached. In this extremely rare instance, a layperson can baptize a child “in the air” by lifting up the child and saying “The servant of God [N] is baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” And this is a valid baptism. What makes a baptism a valid baptism is the invocation of the Holy Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—over a child. While this is normally done in the church, by immersing an infant in water, if an adult is baptized and immersion is not possible, a lesser amount of water can be used. In the case of a child who is not baptized but is severely ill, a baptism can be conducted in a hospital using a small amount of water, or in an extreme case, no water at all. Over the years of my ministry, I have conducted several “emergency” baptisms in hospitals, where I used a syringe filled with water and made “dots” of water over the child invoking the name of the Holy Trinity.) But ALL people are called to recruit others for Christ. The “commandment” (not suggestion, it is a commandment!) to baptize all nations extends to all Christians. We are not to coerce or force people to be baptized, because the Christian faith is one of love, not of fear or compulsion. But we are to “witness” for Christ in a way that encourages others to seek after Him as well. This means that each person’s faith must be such that it is recognized by others as something to be emulated. So that if I know Christ, and others can see what a great joy that brings to me, that they will want that joy for themselves and they will seek after Christ as I have. If, however, I do not give a good witness for Christ, if I live a life that does reflect Christian joy or Christian values, then I can’t be an effective “recruiter” for Christ and I cannot live out this commandment to baptize all nations.
Good news is supposed to travel fast. We all know how fast bad news travels. And in our fallen condition, most of us enjoy sharing bad news through gossip. So, if we are eagerly gossiping, much more eagerly should we be sharing the Good News of Christ with one another. For this is what He has commanded us to do. We are to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them to observe all of the things that the Lord taught us.
Many times in our churches, this idea of recruiting others gets lost. We get involved in building programs and festivals, fundraisers and socials, and we forget the command to “grow” the body of Christ. Indeed, spreading the faith must be a goal for every church community and every priest. And that growth shouldn’t be limited to capturing members of our culture or even members of our faith that have lapsed. It needs to extend to every soul who does not know Christ.
For the final time, I greet you with the Paschal greeting of “Christ is Risen!” Today is the final day of the Paschal celebration, as tomorrow is the feast of the Ascension. As we greet one another with these joyful words, let us do so with the prayer that we will greet each other with them again next year on Pascha, in health and in joy. As I tell my congregation each year on this day, there has never been a year where someone from the congregation did not pass away in between celebrations of Pascha. So let us pray for those who will leave us that they will sing the beautiful hymn of “Christ is Risen” in the Kingdom of Heaven next year, as those of us who remain sing it here in earth.
It is the Day of the Resurrection! Let us shine forth in splendor for the Festival, and embrace one another. Let us say, “O brethren, even to those, who do not love us; let us forgive all things in the Resurrection, and thus let us exclaim: ‘Christ is Risen from the dead, by death trampling down upon death, and to those in the tombs He has granted life.’” (Doxastikon of Orthros and Vespers of Bright Week, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas; Christ is Risen, official version of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America)
Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!
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