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.”
Scriptures of the Triodion
Third Sunday of Great Lent–Veneration of the Holy Cross
Jesus said “For what does it profit a man to gain the world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life?” Mark 8: 36-37
Good morning Prayer Team!
In Orthodox Churches around the world today, a colorful procession will be held. During the procession, the priest will carry a tray decorated with flowers around the church. In the middle of the flowers will be a cross. The reason for this procession is that as we come to the half-way point of Great Lent today, the church reminds us of where we are heading—to the cross and ultimately the Resurrection of Christ. The Gospel lesson, as we examined yesterday, reminds us that as Christians, we, too, are asked to take up the cross and follow.
There is one critical error in the Gospel translation, which is the word “life” as it appears above. Where the word life appears, the original Greek does not say “zoe” (or life). It says “Psihi” which means “soul.” Read correctly, it says “What does it profit a man to gain the world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” There are many people who have sacrificed their lives—the saints, soldiers, police officers, fire fighters, and other heroes who have stepped in to save someone only to die themselves. They lost years of an earthly life in doing so. They are heroes. For to lose one’s life for someone else is to save one’s own soul. The worst thing that happens when someone loses a life prematurely is that they lose their years on this earth, with their family and friends. However, worse than losing a life is to lose a soul, because the soul lives eternally. To lose one’s soul has eternal consequences. More on that in a minute.
Back to the procession, as the priest who will carry the tray of flowers, the procession provides a metaphor for the Christian life. In my parish, over 300 people will attend the Divine Liturgy today. So, on our tray, there will be nearly 400 flowers (some people will ask for an extra one so we plan for that). They will be beautiful, yellow, daffodils, with a spray of basil (or vasiliko) near the top of the tray. The tray will look beautiful in any church, particularly in churches in cold weather climates, as it will show signs of life and springtime. But even in sunny Florida where I live, the tray will look stunning. When I pick up the tray, it will be heavy, as it always is, and I will feel confident, like I always do, that I can carry the heavy load around the church. As I begin to carry the tray over my head, I too, will gaze at its beauty and at the cross aloft on the top. As I proceed around the church, I will start to get tired, my arms will start to weaken, and at points I may wonder will I really be able to keep this tray of 400 flowers and this cross over my head for several minutes? What was beautiful a few minutes ago will become very difficult to manage. But I will keep walking, slowly making my way towards my destination, a table in front of the church. And eventually I will get there. Sometimes I am wiped out from the journey and other times I arrive feeling alright. But I always feel a sense of accomplishment and joy that I arrived, even during the years that I have struggled to carry the tray.
I love this yearly procession, because it provides a metaphor for the Christian life, and specifically for my Christian life. On first glance, the Christian life is beautiful, especially the Orthodox Christian life—with our icons, our beautiful services, our wonderful choirs making harmonious melodies. Anyone who has ever felt the peace of God, even one time, wants to come back again for more of that.
The Christian journey, however, is not all beauty and glory. The journey at points becomes hard, heavy and discouraging. The cares and disappointments of life threaten to crush the joy of our Christianity. And this is where we need to reach down deep, and reflect on the words of the Gospel. What will I give in return for my soul? Will I put down this tray if it costs me my soul? Sure, maybe I will be tempted to put it down to rest my arms, but will I put it down if it costs me my soul?! Will I let the cares of life rob me of my soul?
Maybe today finds you off track in your marriage, with your children, or with your finances, or in some other way. But if you are reading this message and you are alive today, the salvation of your soul can very much get on track, even if the other areas of your life are a little off. In fact, getting your soul on track won’t necessarily save your finances, but it can save marriages, friendships and other things. The message of today is to keep carrying YOUR tray, and don’t put it down. Keep your eyes on the destination. And think about your soul. One more thing—in today’s procession, the priest must carry the tray on his own around the church. The rubrics don’t say that the people can help if he gets tired. In real life, we are SUPPOSED to help each other carry our crosses. So, if someone is struggling to carry his cross and his tray, help. That’s what we are supposed to do. And if you need help, ask God and ask others, that is what we are supposed to do.
During the procession today, offer three prayers. Offer a prayer for yourself, that God will give you the strength to carry your cross. Offer a prayer for others, that God will give them strength. And offer a prayer for your priest, the man who is carrying the tray, that God will not only give him strength for the procession today, but that God will give him strength to help others to carry their crosses, even as he struggles to carry his own.
Let us joyfully cry aloud and in odes let us magnify the all-precious Cross and salute it with a kiss. And let us cry out to it and say, O Cross ever venerable, by the power you possess, sanctify us in every way, soul and body too. From all manner of injury arising from our enemies preserve us who venerate in piety. (From the Praises of Matins of the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Guard your soul at all times, carry your cross, ask God for help, and help others carry theirs!
Photo Credit: Voices from Russia
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