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
Listen Now. We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.
ENGAGED: The Call to Be Disciples
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 28:19-20
Caring About the Salvation of Others
“And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Acts 20: 32
In our last reflection, we discussed the two basic commandments, of loving God and loving our neighbor. We can all think of tangible ways to help our neighbor. We can hold a door open, or wash our neighbor’s car, or mow his lawn, or help her carry groceries. There are many ways, and hopefully we are showing love to our neighbors in many ways and on a daily basis.
One critical way in which we are to show love to our neighbor, one way that is often overlooked, is to show concern for the salvation of our neighbors. That’s right, one way in which we love our neighbor is to care about his or her salvation.
One reason why we belong to a church community is because we’d lose our faith in isolation. Put someone on a deserted island for twenty years alone, and they’d lose their faith. Put even one person with them and that would make a difference. But total isolation would be detrimental to faith. Even monks who live as hermits come back to the monastery occasionally to worship and for encouragement.
Our services are done almost entirely in the plural. Only the Creed is recited in the first person. Time and time again, we hear “Let us commend ourselves and ONE ANOTHER, and our whole life to Christ our God.” (From the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Trans. by Holy Cross Seminary Press, 2015) This is a reminder that we are all in this together, that the salvation of my neighbor should be as important to me as my own salvation. And to ignore the salvation of my neighbor is going to be detrimental to my own salvation. Again, this is something we don’t think about. We tend to think that the priest is the only one charged with worrying about the salvation of everyone collectively. We all pray the petitions for “the salvation of our souls,” and thus it is a collective responsibility for us to care for the salvation of the souls of our neighbors.
It is very difficult to write this, but I can honestly say that there have been times in my life, even in my priesthood, that if others didn’t care about my faith, I might have lost my faith, or at least lose interest in living out my faith. There have been times when it seems like my faith is holding on by a thread. And the thing that keeps that thread from breaking is someone else. It is the encouragement from someone else. It is the prayer from someone else. Priests need encouragement. A large segment of priests, pastors and ministers suffer from depression and burnout. This might be situational, in regards to a particular circumstance. It might be seasonal, it may affect someone for a certain time in their ministry. And if unchecked, and untreated, without the proper help, it could become a lifelong struggle.
The same can be said for others who are in positions of being encouragers. Parents, bosses, coaches. Even encouragers need encouragement. And everyone needs encouragement to keep the faith, especially those who are charged with spreading it.
Sometimes we fall down in our faith and we need someone else to lift us up again. Sometimes we need someone to tell us that it’s okay to cry, or it’s okay to be upset, or it’s even okay to be upset with God. When life beats us down, and it beats all of us down, we need the support and encouragement of others to keep going. Again, this is why when something traumatic happens, the church responds. In times of sorrow and distress, the church has a service called “Paraklesis”, where we gather and offer up specific names and needs to Christ, the Virgin Mary and the saints. When someone dies, the funeral is held in the church community. Memorial services are done regularly, in the context of community. (Many people have complained over the years that we offer memorial services too frequently, or why bother the whole community when it’s one family that is offering the memorial service? The answer is precisely so that family doesn’t feel alone in their grief, so that they feel supported in their time of need by the community.)
Here are some questions to ponder today: How often do you think about the salvation of others? What are the “others” you think of? How much do we worry about the salvation of our neighbor, including the people we don’t really know? How much encouragement do you give to your neighbor?
We give thanks to Thee, O God; we give thanks; we call on Thy name and recount Thy wondrous deeds. At the set time which I appoint I will judge with equity. When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars. I say to the boastful, “Do not boast,” and to the wicked “Do not lift up your horn; do not lift up your horn on high, or speak with insolent neck.” For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up; but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another. For in the hand of the Lord there is cup, with foaming wine, well mixed; and He will pour a draught from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs. But I will rejoice forever, I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. All the horns of the wicked He will cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be exalted. Psalm 75
Part of belonging to the church includes caring about the salvation of others.
With Roger Hunt providing today’s Daily Reading: Listen Now.
These readings are under copyright and is used by permission. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, in print or on other websites or in any other form, without the prior written authorization of the copyright holder: Reading © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA, Apolytikion of Abbot Marcellus © Narthex Press, Kontakion of Abbot Marcellus © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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