Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual song, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.
Ephesians 5: 18-20
We thank You, Lord our God, for You have raised us up from our beds and put into our mouths words of praise, that we may worship and invoke Your Holy Name. We ask Your mercies which You have always shown us in our lives. Once again, send Your help upon those who stand in the presence of Your holy glory, in expectation of Your abundant mercy. Grant that they may always worship You in awe and in love, praising, singing and worshipping Your inexpressible goodness. For You belong all glory, honor and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
(Adapted from the Translation by Narthex Press of the 12 Orthros Prayers)
There are twelve prayers that a priest offers during the Orthros (Matins) service which are never heard aloud. Each has a theme that sets the tone for the day. I don’t think there is anything wrong with me sharing these prayers or for anyone to pray them. I enjoy sharing thoughts about faith and about Christ each day, as well as giving you occasional insights into the priesthood. I hope the reflections on these prayers will give all of us something to think and add to our spiritual journeys. I’m changing the format of the Prayer Team for these reflections—both the scripture verse and the prayer will precede the reflection for this unit.
Years ago, my first thought every day would be a negative one, some iteration of “Darn the alarm!” One day I had a talk with a priest about the subject of gratitude, and how his first thought every day was a thankful thought. I realized that my first thought every day was a negative thought, perhaps even an angry thought. I made a conscious decision to change that thought pattern. It took several months, as it usually takes a while to create a new habit, but eventually I got into a habit of having the first thought in my mind be a thankful one. For years now, regardless of how busy I am, or how quickly I have to get out of bed, I pray, at the very least, “Thank You God that I am alive today.” Even when facing the worst day, or a day that I dread, I still manage to have my first words, if not my first thoughts, be a thanksgiving to God for even being alive to greet the day. I’ve written this before, but my spiritual father has often said “80% of life is just showing up.” That’s because showing up makes things possible. Nothing happens when we don’t show up. Thus, even when facing the worst day, just showing up makes things possible, and even more important, than showing up for people, showing up for the Lord.
For many years, I have encouraged people who don’t know how to pray to start their day remembering the numbers 5-5-5-1. The numbers represent the following: Five things I am thankful for; five people I want to pray for; five things that I need TODAY; and asking God for the opportunity to help at least one person today. One can mention five things for which they are thankful in mere seconds. On many days, I will pray: Thank You God that I am alive. Thank You God for my wife who is next to me. Thank You God for our son sleeping down the hall. Thank You God for the roof over my head and food in the fridge. Thank You God that I have someplace to go today.
I work hard to open each corporate prayer with a word of thanks. Even under dire and sad circumstances, when thanking God seems to be the farthest thing from people’s minds, I will still pray “thank You God for the opportunity to pray to You.”
The opening line from this first prayer is so beautiful, and such an appropriate way to begin any day: We thank You, Lord our God, for You have raised us up from our beds and put into our mouths words of praise, that we may worship and invoke Your holy name. To me, this is saying, “regardless, Lord, of whatever may happen today, I am thankful to wake up, and to worship and invoke Your holy name. If I accomplish nothing else today, or if nothing else goes right today, I have at the very least worshipped and invoked Your holy name.”
I’ve heard it said that we don’t have to be thankful for everything but we should be thankful in everything, in all circumstances. We don’t have to thank God that we have an illness, or a struggle, or a setback or a failure. However, we can still be thankful in these moments. In fact, perhaps what defines us as Christians is to be able to muster some thanks, even when it seems like we have nothing to be thankful for, even when it seems like everything is going wrong. It doesn’t take much faith to be thankful in the good times. It does take faith to reach to God, especially in those times when things aren’t going so well.
Finally, the prayer mentions the words “awe” and “love,” as the ways we should approach God in worship. Imagine if the words of this pray could hold true for each of us, to always come to God with a sense of awe (respect) and love, even in our worst moments, even on our most difficult days. It takes a lot of grace, mercy, wisdom and strength to do this. Which is why this is such a great prayer. It leads us to a posture of gratitude, it reminds us that God gifts us His mercies, and it reminds us that if we can keep a posture of awe (respect) and love for God, it will be easier for us to maintain an attitude of respect and love for one another.
Encouragement for today: Start off each day with a thankful thought. Incorporate thanksgiving into each prayer.
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
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