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.”
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
I am Called to Belong
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. . .For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. I Peter 1: 15-16
Good morning Prayer Team!
In the last reflection we discussed encouraging others and how we all have the ability to offer encouragement and how encouragement is necessary for any of us to get to Christ. One of the best reasons to join a church community is to receive encouragement from others. In the Epistle of First Peter, we read that “The body does not consist of one member but of many.” If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.” (I Peter 1: 15-16)
This means that EVERY member of the body of Christ, every member of the church is important. In the church, we are all called to belong. We may have different talents and interests and needs, but we are all called to belong. This means that we should not just worship at the Divine Liturgy and then leave, but rather we should become part of the community, we should belong. We should each find a ministry to which we can belong, and if there is no ministry connected to the church that speaks to our hearts, we should create new ministries, to connect us with the church, to connect us with others and to connect others with the church.
Likewise, we are all expected to call others to belong. When someone is new in a community, many times they need encouragement to come to coffee hour, or to a Bible study, or to join the choir. There is a “circle” of members if you will who worship. And there is another “circle” of people who participate in the ministries and in church fellowship. The worship circle and the fellowship circle ideally overlap entirely. Ideally, there aren’t people who go to worship but are not engaged in ministry, and certainly there shouldn’t be people who are active in ministries but who never worship. Those two circles—worship and fellowship/ministry—should overlap and be one.
Many successful churches have what are called “small groups.” So that when someone joins a large congregation, in addition to worshipping with hundreds, or thousands, on Sunday, they have a small group that meets during the week to which they belong. This could be a men’s Bible study group, or a middle-aged women’s quilting group, or a women’s Bible study, or the choir, or a men’s philanthropy group, or any number of other kinds of groups. The point is that in these small groups, people look out for each other, pray for each other, and are ready to support one another through life’s triumphs and challenges. Many people live far from family and so the small group becomes like a surrogate family. When there is a health crisis and someone needs a meal cooked, or someone to sit with while a family member is in surgery, it may be the people from the small group who jump in to help.
One of the things that makes me sad as a priest of a community are the people in the community who seem to not have anyone they can lean on in the community. Perhaps the community hasn’t been welcoming enough. Or perhaps the people haven’t made an effort to get to know anyone. In order to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” as we read in Galatians 6:2, we have to know one another’s burdens. And in order to know one another’s burdens, we have to create environments where it is safe to share burdens and know that others will help in carrying them.
A small fellowship group is a great way to do this. If you belong to the church choir, that can be your “small group.” The choir members should look out for the choir members, pray for the choir members, help out a choir member who needs help. Imagine if a choir member had a serious illness, they shouldn’t feel like they should have to suffer alone—there should be a “ready” group of people eager to step in and offer support. Same thing for the teenage group, the parish council, the Bible study group, theSunday school teachers, etc. There should be many small groups in every parish and everyone should belong to one.
The purpose of the choir is to sing at the worship service and the purpose of the Parish Council is to administer the church, but each group should have as part of its work, to offer spiritual support (prayer), emotional support, help as needed and overall encouragement to the group members.
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. When I declared not my sin, my body wasted away though my groaning all day long. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”; then Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to Thee; at a time of distress, in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. Thou art a hiding place for me, Thou preservest me from trouble; Thou dost encompass me with deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not keep with you. May are the pangs of the wicked; but steadfast love surrounds him who trusts in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in the Lord! Psalm 32
I encourage you to join a small group ministry at your church, and if there isn’t currently a small group that interests you, find a group of parishioners and form a small group (with the blessing of your priest) to share something that is of mutual interest and also to provide needed support and encouragement for group members.
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.
Photo credit: St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church
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