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
Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flows the springs of life. Proverbs 4:23
Today’s topic also is taken from the Prayer Team “email bag.” Today’s question is this:
I have concluded after reading several reflections that staying on the right path as much as possible is the only way to go. This requires vigilance as I heard our priest recently say. Wondering if you might give a multifaceted definition of vigilance as it pertains to refraining from sins? I would also appreciate various ways in which vigilance can be used effectively in our spiritual battles on a day to day basis. In other words, how can we keep ourselves “on guard” during the course of the day and night?
The ancient word for vigilant is “grigoreo” which means “to be awake” or “to watch.” In Matthew 25:13, at the conclusion of the Parable of the Ten Maidens, Jesus tell us “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of Man shall come.” This is where the word “grigorite” which is the vocative or command form of “grigoreo”. Despite our greatest efforts, we will all continue to sin. Vigilance or watchfulness can help us sin less, but the sinful state plagues each of us.
At my house, we have a patio that for some reason angles slightly towards our house rather than away from it. Water pools up against our back door when it rains a lot and when the water dries, often there is some dirt left on the patio. Occasionally, I will go and wash off the patio with a hose. I stand closest to the house and spray away from the house so that the water and dirt go into the grass. As I do this, the water begins to flow back towards me and the house. I have to continuously move the spray nozzle from side to side to keep the water from coming back at me. While I’m spraying against one end of the water pool, the other end begins to flow back. It is a continuous struggle.
This reminds me in some way of our sins. We begin to manage certain sins and then other sins creep in. For instance, we work on humility to stave off pride only to become proud of our humility. We work on speaking less and then speak out to tell others about the virtue of speaking less. Vigilance means keeping tabs on all facets of sin and temptation.
To be vigilant means to be disciplined. Discipline is closely connected to being watchful. A disciplined eater will carefully watch what he or she eats. A disciplined person will make sure he or she gets enough sleep each night, balances work, family and leisure, watches what he or she does, says and even thinks. To be vigilant and disciplined requires intentionality and management. One has to be intentional about managing thoughts, actions, time, etc. One who is carefree or careless cannot be vigilant, because to be vigilant means to be watchful, and carefree or careless does not. One who is vigilant puts thought into things, keeps emotions under control, and stays even keel. The vigilant person does not have “knee-jerk” reactions to things, does not “fly off the handle.” The vigilant person has eyes that look around at possibilities—possibilities to succeed, to fail, and even possibilities to help others. Many of us struggle with vigilance because we are continuously looking down at our phones, rather than looking around.
There is another Greek word to mention that is related to vigilance and that is the word “agripnia”which means “vigil.” A “vigil” is a group of worship services strung together to make one lengthy period of worship. In monasteries, it is common for the monks to celebrate all night vigils. There are two things that one needs to keep in mind in order to successfully participate in an all-night vigil. First, one needs to really concentrate. Standing for hours and staying awake through the night require concentration and will power. Second, one needs to pace himself, especially if he is singing. One cannot sing for many hours without some kind of intentionality. If one sings with his greatest effort, his voice can be gone in an hour or less. If one is going to sing for many hours, he needs to have a good pace, loud enough to be heard, but not too loud so as to become tired and worn out.
If our lives resemble a vigil, we have to keep the same two things in mind. We need concentration—at work, at school, with family, even at leisure. We cannot let down our guard because it is when we let down our guard that we slip into sin. So we must be concentrating at all times. Second, we need to go at a good pace. We can’t pray for hours if we’ve never prayed before. We can fast super strict if we’ve never fasted before. We can’t do charity work full time if we’ve never done it before. Vigilance is a marathon, not a sprint, and we must be vigilant for the long haul, not the short term.
I’m reminded of the oft-quoted Lao Tzu, who wrote:
Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.
Vigilance begins with watching our thoughts. It means watching what you think about in the morning, when you go to bed, when you are frustrated and angry, when you are tired, and even when you are joyful. Filling out thoughts with thoughts of gratitude will keep us focused on God and away from greed. So thoughts of gratitude are a good place to start.
Today’s prayer is from the Compline Service, which is prayed before bed, because it mentions having an alert mind, prudent thinking and a sober heart, all marks of vigilance.
And grant to us, Master, as we depart for sleep, rest of body and soul, and preserve us from the gloomy slumber of sin, and from every dark and nocturnal pleasure. Arrest the drives of passion; extinguish the burning arrows of the Evil One which insidiously fly in our direction; suppress the rebellions of our flesh, and calm our every earthly and material thought. And grant to us, O God, alert mind, prudent thinking, sober heart, light sleep free of any satanic fantasy. Awaken us at the time of prayer rooted in Your commandments and having unbroken within us the remembrance of Your ordinances. Grant that we may sing Your glory through the night by praising and blessing and glorifying Your most honorable and majestic name, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Be vigilant at all times!
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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