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
Three Things Disciples Do—Deny, Take Up Cross, and Follow
Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.” Mark 8:34
Good morning Prayer Team!
If we decide to be a disciple, there are three things Jesus says we are to do—deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow.
Most people see denial as some form of punishment. During Great Lent, we fast and deny ourselves certain kinds of food that we like. Many people associate fasting with punishment. Like we fast to atone for sins. We fast in order to discipline ourselves, not as some kind of Christian torture.
The denial Jesus is talking about is to deny ourselves not only of food but of other things. Many times a DAY (not month or year but every DAY), we are faced with a choice to do something either Godly or ungodly. For instance, someone cuts us off in traffic. One impulse that we’ve all had (whether we’ve acted on it or not) is to want to cut that person off or stick our fist out the window. To deny ourselves is to not act on that impulse and instead to do that Godly thing and forgive. And fasting actually helps us with this concept of denial of self. Fasting helps us practice denial by choosing to deny ourselves of certain kinds of food. The goal of fasting is not punishment, but to prepare ourselves to deny ourselves of anger on the road, or power, greed, lust and other things we desire but are supposed to deny. To deny oneself is to choose what is Godly over what is ungodly, and this is a choice we have to make multiple times a day. It means letting go of our agendas and following His.
What does it mean to take up the cross? When I went for confession recently, I was telling my Spiritual Father about a particular struggle that I have that doesn’t seem to be getting any better. I pray about it and I pray about it and nothing seems to happen. He said to me in a very kind way, that God has provided a path to sainthood for each person. He told me to look up at the icons on the walls of the church and see that God laid out a path to sainthood for each of the saints and that path for all of them involved suffering, courage and in many cases, martyrdom. Each of these people carried a “cross” for Christ. Each suffered under its weight, just like Christ suffered on His cross. But these crosses were the ticket to Paradise and to sainthood for the saints. If being “Holy” means “being set apart for God,” then our path to holiness is paved with the crosses we each carry that set us apart for God. So, embrace whatever challenges you face in a spiritual way. See them as crosses, as paths to Paradise, and carry your unique cross in the same way that the saints carried theirs, in the same way that Christ carried His.
Finally, to follow. If one is following, it means that someone else is leading. If a group of people formed a line and I was in front of the line and we took a walk, I would be considered the leader and everyone else would be a follower. If I didn’t tell anyone where we were going, there would have to be a degree of trust by the followers. If the person behind me was short and couldn’t see over me, there would be an added degree of trust, and they would not only not know where we were going, they wouldn’t be able to see where we were going either. To follow Christ means to put Him in the lead. It means to trust in Him even if we don’t know or can’t see where the path He is leading us on is going.
O Lord, rebuke me not in Thy anger, nor chasten me in Thy wrath! For Thy arrows have sunk into me, and Thy hand has come down on me. There is no soundness in my flesh because of Thy indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities have gone over my head; they weigh like a burden too heavy for me. My wounds grow foul and fester because of my foolishness, I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning. For my loins are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am utterly spent and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart. Lord, all my longing is known to Thee, my sighing is not hidden form Thee. My heart throbs, my strength fails me; and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me. My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague, and my kinsmen stand afar off. Those who seek my life lay their snares, those who seek my heart speak of ruin, and meditate treachery all the day long. But I am like a deaf man, I do not hear, like a dumb man who does not open his mouth. Yea, I am like a man who does not hear, and in whose mouth are not rebukes. But for Thee, O Lord, do I wait; it is Thou, O Lord my God, who wilt answer. For I pray “Only let them not rejoice over me who boast against me when my foot slips!” For I am ready to fall and my pain is ever with me. I confess my iniquity, I am sorry for my sin. Those who are my foes without cause are mighty, and many are those who hate me wrongfully. Those who render me evil for good are my adversaries because I follow after good. Do not forsake me, O Lord! O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation! Psalm 38
Mark 8:34 should be a verse we put in places where we can see it—on our nightstand, refrigerator, car, desk, etc. Because the words deny, take up your cross and follow should be words we think of every day, because they are essential to being a disciple of Christ!
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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