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
For God so love the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
Good morning Prayer Team!
Together with these blessed powers, merciful Master, we also proclaim and say: You are holy and most holy, You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit. You are holy and most holy, and sublime is Your glory. You so loved Your world that You gave Your only-begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. He came and fulfilled the divine plan for us. On the night when He was betrayed, or rather when He gave Himself up for the life of the world, He took bread in His holy, pure, and blameless hands, gave thanks, blessed, sanctified, broke and gave it to His holy disciples and apostles saying:
Today’s reflection is based on an inaudible prayer offered by the priest as the people sing the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy.” As I wrote at the outset, the purpose of these reflections isn’t to take the “mystery” out of the Liturgy but rather to help us understand and appreciate the “miracle” that happens before us each time the Divine Liturgy is celebrated. I want to make comments on this brief prayer, which is generally not heard during the Liturgy, because it highlights God’s divine plan for us.
In a previous reflection, we examined the prayer that takes us back to the creation and the fall: You brought us into being out of nothing, and when we fell You raised us up again. God’s divine plan was to create us to experience a oneness with Him. God existed as Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—in a perfect oneness before the Creation of the world. In trying to explain the story of creation to some young people at summer camp, I said to the campers, imagine if only three of us were at this camp, and had access to the beautiful facilities. The three people would desire to share the experience with more people, so imagine that the three people created more people to share the experience, just like them. They wouldn’t create slaves or robots, but they would create people, just like them, to experience the camp, just like them. Of course, they would give these people the freedom to leave if they wished to.
This is why God created us—He created us to be like Him, to enjoy a oneness of purpose and love, as He enjoys it. He created a paradise for us to live in with Him. And He gave us the freedom to leave, by putting a tree in the Garden of Eden that we were told not to touch. The divine plan was for us to choose to live with God forever. He didn’t make us His servants or His slaves. He made us like Him, with the ability to live in eternal bliss, in His image and likeness. The prayer affirms God as Trinity, confirming the eternal divinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The fall of mankind was not in God’s divine plan. That was the choice of humanity to go away from God. God, out of His love and mercy, created a new plan, so that the fallen humanity could again be united with God in Paradise. The plan involved sending His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into the world, to not only die for our sins, but to show us how to live in unity with God. Christ personifies love, obedience, service and all of the God-like qualities we are to practice in order to make it back to Paradise.
When someone asks me, “what do I have to believe in order to be a Christian,” I point them to three chapters of the Bible. The first is Genesis 1, that God created us, and created us in His image and likeness. One greater than us made us, and made us perfect. The second chapter is Genesis 3, where mankind decided to go away from God, which we call “The Fall.” The world is no longer perfect and we, not God, are the cause of it. The consequences of the fall are sin, hardship, and ultimately physical death. The third chapter is John 3, specifically John 3:16, which is that salvation is possible through the saving work of Jesus Christ. Humanity can be saved through Him. We will all still die a physical death, but our souls can be resurrected with Christ, and live again eternally with Him in paradise, as mankind did before the Fall. This is why the prayer references John 3:16: You so loved Your world that You gave Your only-begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
Christ fulfilled the divine plan when He gave Himself up for the life of the world, paying our debt of sin by dying on the cross. He suffered the physical death that is the result of the fall, even though He is perfect God and never committed a sin. And He rose from the dead, showing us that by dying with faith, the resurrection is possible.
However, it is not merely dying in faith that gets us into Paradise. And it is not only through death that we can share a oneness with God. The divine plan tells us that we are to live with faith. And that we can experience a oneness with God in this life, right here and right now. This is possible through prayer, through service to others, and most especially in a physical and tangible way, in the Holy Eucharist. This prayer sets the scene for the consecration of the Holy Gifts, which is about to happen.
Heavenly Father, thank You for creating the world. Thank You for creating human beings in Your image and likeness. Thank You for not giving up on us when we fell away from You. Thank You for opening up a path back to Paradise by sending Your Son to die for our sins. Help me to understand the significance of Christ’s death and Resurrection. Help me to live as He taught us to live. Help me find my way back to Paradise at the end of my life. Help me to maintain joy in my journey in this life.
Remember God’s plan for your life today!
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