But on some points I have written to you very boldly, by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God.
Christ is Risen!
I first heard God’s call when I was seven years’ old. The first time I stepped in the altar, as a young boy, that first Sunday I serve in the altar, I knew that I was never going to leave. I wouldn’t share that thought with anyone until I has 20 years’ old. It would be a private thought that I would wrestle with alone for 13 years. My whole childhood was spent daydreaming about it. My teenage years I struggled with it, and with lots of other things. In my college years, I agonized about it, the knowledge of a call and a fear to answer it kept me up many nights. Until I eventually surrendered, and let the people around me know that my life’s work would be as an Orthodox priest. The daydreams, the struggles and that agony did not end with my answer to the call or even my ordination. I still daydream about ministry, I still struggle with many aspects of it, and I’m still in agony over how stressful this can be at times. I’ve never questioned God’s call for my life. I believe that God calls each of us to something. And I believe He called me to this. So I go, with both joys and sorrows, surrounded by people but still with a profound sense of loneliness, with confidence on many days and with doubt on many others, with a sense of gratitude to God for allowing me to do this and with a sense of foreboding that I’m not doing it well enough, with a sense of God’s presence, and sometimes with a feeling that He is silent (not absent, but silent).
Today marks 25 years since my ordination to the Holy Priesthood in the Orthodox Church. (I served as a deacon for a year prior to that.) As a history major in college, I have always liked keeping track of dates, I keep a notebook of my own personal history of things I have done as a priest actually, some of which I will share below. On the actual day of anniversary, similar to on my birthday, it’s really just another day. On my 50th birthday last year, I celebrated by celebrating the Divine Liturgy. And on my anniversary of ordination each year, including today, I will celebrate the Divine Liturgy. Twenty-five years is a long time to do anything. And I think it is worthy to pause today to think and to reminisce a little bit. I’ve survived and done this for a quarter of a century. Will I be here at the conclusion of fifty years? Only God knows that.
When I think back twenty-five years, ministry was a lot different back then. It makes me wonder what ministry will look like twenty-five years from now, if I am still alive. There were few cell phones twenty-five years ago, and no smart phones. And now we seemingly can’t live or work without them. There was very little internet. And now I’m on the internet many times during the day. The internet has brought us amazing tools, and sadly, amazing temptations. I remember when I first started summer camp, and would hear confessions from the campers. We would rush through the younger kids and get to the older ones who would bring us the “heavy stuff.” Now all of them are bringing heavy stuff. New sins have come about in the past twenty-five years, temptations that were not there, struggles that were not there twenty-five years ago. Everything is now so public with social media, which brings all kinds of temptations and challenges.
The ministry of the priest remains the same. How we do it might differ. But what we do remains the same. The Divine Liturgy hasn’t changed in twenty-five years—I do more English than I did twenty-five years ago, but it’s the same prayers, the same rubrics, the same Holy Communion, the same Lord and the same Holy Spirit who continually send down His grace on us and on the gifts we present. That is a comfort. Even more of a comfort is that celebrating the Divine Liturgy still brings me the same joy as it did back then. There are many aspects of ministry that I have gotten tired of—mostly the administrative side—but I never tire of celebrating the Divine Liturgy, and that is really a beautiful thing. I haven’t even had a valley where I didn’t enjoy it, unlike the valleys we all go through in other areas of life.
When I got ordained twenty-five years ago, there were many things I dreamed of, most of them had to do with the Liturgical life, the appointments of the church, having a strong choir and many services, and I have gotten to accomplish, by God’s grace, all of those goals. I dreamed of having a decent sized parish, with a strong youth group, and people who call on me for pastoral care and confession, and thankfully I have that.
There are some things I never dreamed of twenty-five years ago. I never thought that I would be a director of a summer camp. Youth work was actually something I had no confidence in. I never thought that the highs of the ministry could be so high or that the lows could be so low. I never thought it was possible to be surrounded by so many people and yet feel lonely. I never considered that I would bury over 20 children in these 25 years. That’s the hardest thing I’ve had to do as a priest. And never did I think I would be writing a daily inspiration called the Prayer Team, or author books as a result of that.
So on this day, as I celebrate twenty-five years, I want to say thank you. Thank you to God who called me, and thank you to God who has allowed me by His grace to do this ministry. Thank you to my family that has supported me. Thank you to my parishioners who have loved and encouraged me. Thank you to the Prayer Team for reading what I write, for your encouragement and for your prayers. Please forgive me for anything I have done amiss in this ministry. I make mistakes all the time. The grace of ordination empowers a man to celebrate the sacraments of the Church. It doesn’t make him a saint.
Commenting briefly on St. Paul’s words to the Romans, “I have written to you very boldly” at times, and the only reason I have this platform is “because of the grace given to me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus in the priestly service of the Gospel of God.” I hope what I offer, in ministry and in writing, “may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” I hesitated to include this last sentence, about being “proud of my work for God.” More than proud, I am thankful, and humbled to do this work. I feel very unworthy at times to offer it. I feel that God is so good to me, because I am far from a saintly man, and yet even in my sinfulness, He allows me to go to the altar again and again.
At the end of this message, I’ll list a few historical statistics about my ministry, not to boast, but to say how thankful I am to have participated in so many services. Thank you, Prayer Team members, for your support and your prayers, and for allowing me to pause today to reminisce about my priesthood.
Lord, thank You for the gift of my priesthood. Thank You for this call. Thank You for the people I serve. Thank You for your mercies and grace. Thank You for all the years I have served. May You continue to bless me with many more. Thank You for the PrayerTeam. Thank You. Amen.
Here are a few interesting statistics from my 25 years as a priest, most of them liturgical and sacramental:
1. Total number of Divine Liturgies participated in-2,613
2. Total number of Divine Liturgies where I have served as the celebrant-2,461
3. Total number of Divine Liturgies where I have co-celebrated (served with another priest)-609
4. Total number of Divine Liturgies where I have served alone-2,006
5. Total number of baptisms-470
6. Total number of weddings-216
7. Total number of Chrismations-112
8. Total number of funerals-214
9. Total number of services-4,582
10. Total number of books written—9
11. Total number of years I have authored the Prayer Team daily—8 years and 3 months
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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