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
Prayer: Abiding in God’s Love—Part Twenty-Six
And Jesus withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, “Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Thine, be done.” And there appeared to Him an angel from heaven, strengthening Him. Luke 22: 42-43
Good morning Prayer Team!
Can you imagine what it must have looked like to see Jesus pray. Imagine if you had been in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before Jesus’ Passion. Imagine His agony, but then imagine what it must have looked like to see Jesus in communion with His Father, pouring out His soul, surrendering His will. And then at the height of His agony came the comforting of an angel, sent from heaven to console Him. From agony to ecstasy. To go from sorrow to comfort.
This is what prayer is in its highest expression. We take our lives—our joys and our sorrows—we lay them down before the Lord, we surrender them to Him. We go to Him in a posture that says “whether I feel great or feel bad, whether I’m succeeding or failing, whether my prayers will be answered or whether they won’t, I will abide with You, Lord. I love You, Lord.”
One of my favorite spiritual short stories is called “The Three Hermits” by Leo Tolstoy. It is too long to quote, so I will summarize it as follows:
A bishop was on a boat on his way to a monastery, when he overheard a conversation about three hermits who lived on a deserted island, who focused on praying for one another. The bishop was interested in meeting the three hermits. When he arrived at their island and met them, he asked them how they were praying. They told him that the only prayer they knew was “Three are Ye, three are we, have mercy on us.” The bishop told them that the correct way to pray was to recite the Lord’s Prayer. All day he tried to teach the hermits who just could not remember the words. The lesson continued late into the night. Finally, after he thought they had the prayer memorized, he told the hermits firmly to pray as he had taught them. Then the bishop departed. As his boat was sailing across the water, the bishop turned and saw the three hermits running across the water, as if it were dry land. When they reached the boat, they told the bishop they had forgotten the prayer and asked him to teach it to them again. The bishop replied that their simple prayer would reach the Lord as they were praying it. And he asked them to pray for him. (Google, “The Three Hermits” by Leo Tolstoy and read the full story—it is not very long).
The lesson of this beautiful short story is that it is not the number of words we pray, or the length of our prayers, or the depth of our knowledge that allows us to abide with God. It is the sincerity of the prayers and the disposition of the heart that allows for this. These hermits lacked knowledge. They lacked vocabulary. They lacked religious training. But they knew God in a way that the educated bishop did not. This is why they could “walk on water” while he could not.
I am no master of prayer. I have struggled my whole life to pray consistently and to find joy in prayer. Prayer, on many occasions, is an act of obligation, rather than an act of joy. I remember when a wise priest told me once how his prayer life changed the day that prayer stopped being an obligation and started to be a joy. The good news for me and for many of us is that he was older than I am and had been a priest for longer than I have been one when his prayer life really took off. So there is hope for me, you and all of us.
I have, however, had occasions in prayer where prayer was so deep and so connected that I felt that I was abiding in God, standing in His very presence. These occasions have been marked by two things—first, I gave time to prayer. It was not a 30 second experience. And second, and most important, I totally surrendered. I was in a place where I desperately needed something, but rather than demand what I needed from God, I surrendered my need to God and let Him answer the prayer in His way.
As we conclude this unit on prayer, prayer is simply an encounter with God. The purpose of prayer is to abide in God. The reason to keep praying is because we love God. And the amount of prayer ideally is to surrender our life to God, doing all things under the umbrella of prayer (pros-efhi), under His blessing.
The goal of prayer is to encounter God. The moment we start we’ve met the goal. Prayer is an act of love by God. He has given us this way to encounter Him at any time in any place. Prayer doesn’t mean doing something for God, but it means accepting God’s love and letting ourselves be loved by Him.
Save me, O God by Thy name and vindicate me by Thy might. Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth. For insolent men have risen against me, ruthless men seek my life; they do not set God before them. Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. He will requite my enemies with evil; in Thy faithfulness put an end to them. With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to Thee; I will give thanks to Thy name, O Lord, for it is good. For Thou hast delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies. Psalm 54
Encounter the Lord in prayer today, and every day!
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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