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.”
We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.
The Journey to the Cross and Resurrection of Christ
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ John 1:17
Good morning Prayer Team!
Every time we celebrate the Divine Liturgy, we hear the words “Drink of this all of you, this is My blood of the New Covenant.” So, what is the “new covenant” and if there is a new covenant, what was the “old covenant?”
First of all, a “covenant” is a solemn agreement or promise. God made the first covenant with Abraham, that we read about in Genesis 15-17. (I encourage you to read these chapters). In it, God promises Abraham that if Abraham will put his faith in God, that God will number his descendants as many as the sands. If Abraham will show faith in God, then God will be God to Abraham and to his descendants. There was a sign of the covenant, which was circumcision—every male child needed to be circumcised. And in every circumcision, there was a cutting of flesh and a shedding of blood, a blood sacrifice.
There was a covenant given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Ten Commandments were the sign of this covenant. In the Old Testament, we read about how the Israelites carried the “ark of the covenant” which was displayed prominently in the temple. The Ten Commandments were a concise way for God’s people to understand His expectations of them. There were many more than Ten Commandments, however. There were 603 additional commandments. The 603 commandments were impossible to keep. They were impossible to even learn. And even the Ten Commandments proved formidable. How many of us can keep all Ten Commandments? How many of us can even name all Ten Commandments?
The “new covenant” is Christ Himself. Christ summarizes all of the commandments into two commandments—to love Him and to love one another. The sign that we are Christians is love, not sacrifice. And Christ offers Himself as a blood sacrifice, shedding His blood for our sins on the cross. Because the covenant is Christ Himself, we partake of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. We eat His Body and we drink His blood. Our Liturgy is a “sacrifice without the shedding of blood.” We no longer need bloodshed in order to be united with God.
We unite with the Lord through the Eucharist. We do not follow a cumbersome law—we follow a law of love. We no longer shed blood of animals, or of ourselves. We partake of His blood. And as the verse in John states, the Law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. The Law set up a system of order, but Christ set up what it means to love.
The Old Covenant was based on law and order. The New Covenant is based on grace and truth. Law and order breaks down because we are not perfect and we constantly violate the law, creating disorder. Grace and truth help heal the disorders of our souls and bodies. This is why the grace and truth of Jesus Christ lead us to heaven, rather than law and order. Because the law did not provide for forgiveness, repentance, or grace. And we now know that the law alone cannot save us.
In the Old Testament, every time the people of Israel went anywhere, the Ark of the Covenant went before them. They were reminded constantly of their covenant with God. As Christians, living a New Testament, New Covenant faith, we must keep the New Covenant in front of us at all times. This is why frequent Communion is important, because we are partaking in the bloodless sacrifice by receiving the Eucharist. And this is why even more frequent prayer and scripture reading are important. Because in scripture, truth is revealed. And in prayer, we receive grace. It’s not enough to follow the law and be a person of order. We need to be people of grace and truth, partaking frequently in the New Covenant, Jesus Christ.
Today’s prayer is a portion of a prayer called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” and is in honor of St. Patrick, who is commemorated as a Saint in both the Orthodox and Catholic traditions, since he lived in the fifth century, before the Great Schism of 1054. He is commemorated in both churches on March 17.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
Experience the grace of Christ through prayer today, and His truth through the scriptures!
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: Historical Foundations of Christianity
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