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
And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid. Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. But when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After this He appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they sat at table; and He upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw Him after He had risen. Mark 16: 8-14 Saturday of the 2nd Week of Pascha
Good morning Prayer Team!
Christ is Risen!
It’s interesting to see the reactions of various witnesses to the Resurrection. Even though it all unfolded as Jesus said it would, reactions varied from astonishment to fear to doubt. Joy would come much later. The first women who went and found the empty tomb, according to the Gospel of Mark, were both trembling and astonished and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid. What were they afraid of? That no one would believe them? That they too might be punished by the Jewish leaders, after all they were Jews as well? Were they afraid to actually believe themselves?
Mary Magdalene was not afraid to share the news, but no one believed her. Two of the disciples were walking in the country (we will talk about the encounter on the road to Emmaus in a couple of days) and they told the rest of the disciples that they had encountered the Lord. And they also were not believed. Eventually Jesus appeared to the eleven themselves and chastised them for not believing the testimony of the others.
In some ways it is a scary thing to be a Christian. Because a Christian is called to a great degree of accountability. If we stand in the presence of Christ in prayer, or in worship, or if we partake of Him in Holy Communion, we are in a place of accountability. We have heard the good news. We have partaken of Christ. Then what?
There are a few times in my life that I can honestly say I wished I lived in ignorance of Christianity. Then I wouldn’t have accountability. People have often asked me the question “What happens to people who have never heard of Christ, who haven’t had a chance to believe in Him, like someone living in a remote village in a third world country?” My answer to this question is “I truthfully don’t know what will happen to a person like this. I’d like to believe that Christ will give them an additional chance to believe, since they went through this life without that chance.” I sometimes add “I’m not worried as much about the person in the remote village, I’m worried about me. Because I can’t plead ignorance. And sometimes I wish I could.” I have heard the message of Christ. And in many ways, I have seen the power of Christ at work in the world. I sometimes wonder am I more like Mary Magdalene, going and sharing the news? Or am I more like the Disciples, who have heard the news and still have unbelief and hardness of heart?
Unbelief and hardness of heart go hand in hand. For those who live with hardened hearts, who go from “zero to sixty” in seconds when it comes to losing their temper, who make others nervous and uncomfortable around them, it leads to wonder whether they truly believe. Because one who truly believes has a softened heart and one who is trying to grow in faith works on having a softened heart. I have to remind myself of this during the times when I have a short temper.
For those who follow sports, many times we hear the phrase, related to many athletes, “that he/she has soft hands,” and that’s why they handle the ball so well. A person who plays baseball with stiff hands is not going to be able to play as well as someone who plays with soft hands. Being a Christian is similar. It’s not the one with the hard heart or hard head that is the most effective Christian or ambassador for Christ. It is the one who has the soft heart that is ready to be filled with Christ. It is the one who has the soft voice that speaks with love, not with force.
Every time we worship in church, we “sit at the table” with the Lord, whether we are concentrating fully or even just going through the motions. We sit at the table with the Lord. When we pray to Him, we are “sitting” with Him as well. If perfect love casts out all fear, then it is the soft heart that grows love and faith. The Lord understands that there is fear. Mary Magdalene was one of the women who fled from the tomb with astonishment and fear. But she also had faith because she eventually went and told the good news. So, having some fear in your Christian life is fine. What we want to seek in our lives though, is a soft heart that witnesses Christ with love.
When Mary Magdalene announced the good news of the Savior’s resurrection from the dead and His appearance, the disciples did not believe her and were reproached for their hardness of heart. But armed with signs and wonders, they were sent to preach. You, O Lord, were lifted up to the Father, the source of light, while they preached the word in all places supported by miracles. We, therefore, enlightened by them glorify Your resurrection from the dead, O loving Lord. (Doxastikon of the 3rd Eothinon, Trans. by Holy Cross Seminary Press)
Have a soft heart today!
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