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. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros 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
Jesus said to His Disciples, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of Mine that bears no fruit, He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the Vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in Me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. John 15: 1-10 (From the First Gospel on Holy Thursday Evening) Third Sunday of Lent—Veneration of the Holy Cross
Good morning Prayer Team!
Have you ever considered what it would be like to not have a place to call home? That is an unfortunate reality for many people. I have never been homeless, and I pray that will never experience what that would be like. I have wondered, however, what it would be like not to have a home—how would I be protected from the cold of winter, or the heat of summer, the rain and the wind. How would I find food, and how would I cook it? How would basic things like laundry and personal hygiene be taken care of? If I didn’t have a place to live, it would be hard to hold a job, because my house is my home base. It is where I rest, where I eat, where I prepare to go to work and where I wind down after work. It is the building that protects me from the elements, which provides warmth on a cold day, and coolness on a hot one.
In these verses from John 15, we read the word “abide” many times. The word “abide”, each time it appears in the original Greek text, is derived from the Greek word “meno” or some derivative form of it. “Meno” means “ to live”. Reread these verses and change the word “abide” to “live,” and see what that does to the meaning.
The image that the Lord paints for us is of a vine, where the main stem is the Lord, and we are the branches coming off of the stem. Cut a stem off of a vine and it will die rather quickly. Cut a stem off of a vine and it quickly becomes useless. It loses its beauty and its vitality. Apart from the vine, the branch is nothing. With the vine, each branch lives, and has its own beauty.
When we do not live in God, and we don’t invite Him to live in us, we are like the branch that has separated from the vine. Many times at funeral services, someone will say, after seeing their loved one “they don’t look anything like they looked in life.” And why is that? Because the God-part of them, the soul, is gone, and with the soul goes not only our life, but our beauty. A person who is “alive” in the sense that they live and breathe, but whose soul is not aflame with God, does not radiate the beauty which God intended for us to radiate. We bear spiritual fruit and grow in spiritual beauty when we remain with the vine, with the Lord.
When I’m trimming trees in my yard, and I see a dead branch, I prune it from the tree, because the dead branch is useless. It takes away beauty from the tree and if diseased, could even harm other branches. Jesus speaks of the Father as the “vinedresser,” the one who prunes off the bad branches so that the vine can be healthy and beautiful. If God is the vine, then we are the branches. Stay on the vine and be healthy. Separate from the vine and it will cause one to wither and die.
What if you are separated from the vine? The answer comes from a special plant that you will see in church today, the third Sunday of Lent. The plant is “Vasiliko,” or “basil” in English, and it will be placed near the Holy Cross on a tray that will be carried in procession around the church today. Vasiliko is the exceptional plant that can come back to life, even after it is cut off from its main “vine.” Place a piece of cut basil flower in water, and it will eventually regrow its roots and “come to life” again. When St. Helen went to find the precious Cross of Christ around the year 325, she found basil growing on the hill of Golgotha, where the cross has been buried after the crucifixion. Underneath the basil, the cross of Christ was unearthed. Vasiliko means “of the King”, and in this case, refers to the King of Glory, who “died” and then “came back to life”. Vasiliko does the same.
When we feel spiritually dead, remember the Vasiliko. Get in some water and regrow your roots. How is that possible? For the non-believer, it is through the water of baptism. And for the Christian, it is through the water (“tears”) of repentance. If you are on the vine, stay on the vine that you may bear much fruit. If you feel like you are separated from the vine, tears of repentance will “graft” you right back onto it.
Now, re-read the passage above and exchange the word “abide” with the word “prosper,” which means to “live well.” If we “abide” in God, and He abides in us, that means that we “live in Him,” and that He figures into our daily living. And if we “live” in Him, and allow Him to live in us, eventually we will “prosper” in our faith. If we seek to “abide” in God’s love on a daily basis, we will be in good stead to “abide” in His love on a permanent basis in His Heavenly Kingdom.
Our God, the God who saves, You teach us justly to thank You for the good things which You have done and still do for us. You are our God who has accepted these Gifts. Cleanse us from every defilement of flesh and spirit, and teach us how to live in holiness by Your fear, so that receiving the portion of Your holy Gifts with a clear conscience we may be united with the holy Body and Blood of Your Christ. Having received them worthily, may we have Christ dwelling in our hearts, and may we become the temple of Your Holy Spirit. Yes, our God, let none of us be guilty before these, Your awesome and heavenly Mysteries, nor be infirm in body and soul by partaking of them unworthily. But enable us, even up to our last breath, to receive a portion of Your holy Gifts worthily, as provision for eternal life and as an acceptable defense at the awesome judgment seat of Your Christ. So that we also, together with all the saints who through the ages have pleased You, may become partakers of Your eternal good things, which You, Lord, have prepared for those who love You. (From the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, Trans. by Holy Cross Seminary Press.)
Abide in God today! Let Him live in you today!
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