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.”
Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate, and asked for the Body of Jesus. And Pilate wondered if He were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether He was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that He was dead, he granted the Body to Joseph. And he bought a linen shroud, and taking Him down, wrapped Him in the linen shroud, and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where He was laid. Mark 15: 43-47 (From the Tenth Gospel on Holy Thursday Evening) Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Lent
Good morning Prayer Team!
Joseph of Arimathea is, in my opinion, one of the honorable figures in the Passion narrative. He was, as we read in the Gospels, “a respected member of the Council,” who at the same time “was also himself looking for the kingdom of God.” He did not pretend to be a “know it all” as some of his contemporaries were doing. Instead he was seeking something greater than himself. Pontius Pilate had a moment where he contemplated “what is truth” but then couldn’t allow himself to see truth for fear of what it might cost him. Joseph, on the other hand, not only contemplated “truth,” but he “took courage” and did something—He “went to Pilate and asked for the Body of Jesus.” This was a courageous act that could easily have led Joseph to suffer a similar demise as did the Lord. After all, Joseph was going to the very man who had handed down a death sentence. Pilate had no reason to be loyal to Joseph. Though perhaps, having washed his hands of the whole thing, Pilate was anxious to have the whole episode behind him and the faster someone could bury the Body of Jesus, the quicker the whole thing might go away.
We are told in John 19:39 that Joseph was accompanied by Nicodemus, who had approached Jesus secretly (John 3) to ask Him questions. Nicodemus had also defended Jesus, reminding his peers in the Sanhedrin that the law required a trial before a person could be judged. (John 7:50-51) Nicodemus was a Pharisee, so this was a courageous act for him as well.
As I reflect on the story of Joseph and Nicodemus, two men of authority in the Jewish temple who were also courageous “seekers”, it leads me to three classifications of people who witnessed the Crucifixion: masters, attendees and seekers. The “masters” were the Jewish and Roman authorities who were directly responsible for the death of Christ. They carried out the event with violence and arrogance, masters of tragedy, masters filled with hatred and ego. They weren’t interested in hearing about Christ, they had already made up their mind what was truth.
The “attendees” were all those who stood silently by. If they believed, they lacked the courage to express it. If they felt an injustice was being done, they didn’t step forward to stop it. It is probably unfair to say that they were complicit with the “masters” in carrying out the execution of the Lord. But we also know that while hatred is a sin, indifference can be as well.
The “seekers” are those who had not necessarily “grasped” the entire truth of Christ, but they were eager to learn more. The “seekers” included Joseph and Nicodemus, as well as the myrrh-bearing women who ministered to Jesus in death.
Many Christians fit into one of these three categories. In contemporary context, there are the “masters” of the faith, who in some cases, work against the faith. There are entire books written on the subject of “Antagonists in the Church.” There are some Christians who are not necessarily antagonistic, but who have no desire to learn more about Christ—they know what they know and are content with that. Even as they get older, and become concerned for their mortality, they are closed off to growing in their faith. The irony is that there are no “masters” of the faith—we ALL have a ways to go. Only saints who have lived in Christ and died in Him can truly be considered masters of the faith.
There are some Christians who are “attendees”. They “attend” services, either seldom or even regularly, but they really don’t grasp what is going on. They attend in body, but the mind and the spirit do not attend with them. They also seem content to not stretch their comfort zones when it comes to growing in the faith.
Which brings us to the category of “seekers”. To be a “seeker” one has to be an “attendee,” he has to be present in body. To be a “seeker” one has to realize that he is not a “master,” that he still has room to grow in his faith. In order to be a “seeker,” one must be present not only in body but in mind and in spirit, with a mind that is humble enough to admit it doesn’t know everything, and a spirit that is open to pushing the bounds of one’s comfort zone in order to more deeply experience the faith. Indeed, it takes “courage” to be a seeker.
Joseph and Nicodemus inspire and motivate me because, while they didn’t start off in the right place (masters), they certainly ended up in the right place (seekers). This inspires me that there can be hope for anyone who comes to God as a seeker. The scriptures confirm this in their use of the word “seek”. Notice how Jesus’ teachings below do not use the word “attendee” or “master,” but rather emphasize the importance and the reward of being a “seeker.”
“Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)
As you attend services this Holy Week, and as you approach your Christian life in the months and years to come, do not consider yourself a “master,” or be content with being an “attendee” but come to Christ continually as a “seeker” because it is the seeker who finds Christ!
You Who clothed Yourself with light as a garment, Joseph with Nicodemus, brought down from the Cross, and seeing You dead, naked and unburied, felt deeply a sympathetic lament, and in grieving said: “Woe to me, sweetest Jesus! Whom, but a short while ago, when the sun beheld You hanging on the Cross, enshrouded itself in darkness, and the earth quaked in fear, and the veil of the Temple was rent asunder. But lo, I now, see, that You willingly underwent death for my sake. How then shall I array You for burial, my God? Or how shall I wrap You in a shroud? And with what hands can I touch Your sacred Body? Or what dirges shall I chant for Your funeral, O Merciful One? I magnify Your Passion; I praise in hymn Your Burial, with Your Resurrection, crying aloud: Lord, glory to You.” (Doxastikon of the Vespers on Good Friday Afternoon, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas)
Be a seeker today!
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