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 lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Matthew 28:20 Wednesday after the Ascension
Good morning Prayer Team!
Before Christ, there was a mistaken notion that God resided in the temple in Jerusalem. People had to go to the temple to pray. And when Jerusalem fell and the people of Israel were exiled to Babylon, not only did they mourn the loss of their city, they even mourned the loss of their God. For they thought the destruction of the temple was the death of God.
God IS in the temple, and we are to continually worship Him there, as we read in the last reflection. But God is also everywhere outside of the temple as well. Not only should we continually be in the temple blessing God, but we should be blessing Him outside of the temple as well.
In Orthodox worship, we relive the life of Christ at each Divine Liturgy. The preparation of the Holy Gifts is the Nativity. The prayers, petitions and scriptures remind us of the teachings of Christ. The Great Entrance and placing of the Gifts on the altar is the journey to Golgotha. We hear the “words of institution” from the Last Supper. The Holy Spirit descends on the Gifts in a way reminiscent of Pentecost. And our receiving of Holy Communion is a foretaste of our personal Resurrection in Christ. The receiving of Holy Communion is not only the climax of the service but the pinnacle of human experience. Because what moment can be of greater joy than partaking of Christ!
If Holy Communion is the climax of the service and the pinnacle of our worship experience, and if worship is a “break” from the challenges of life outside of worship, then the person who has just received Communion might actually walk away with bittersweet feelings. The joy of receiving Christ might be tempered with the “now I have to go back out into the world” feeling. So, in the Orthodox worship experience, there is a moment that represents the Ascension, with the comforting words of Christ, “Lo I am with you always.” After Communion, the priest will hold the chalice in front of the congregation one more time, and say the words “Now and forever and to the ages of ages,”, reminding us that as we conclude our worship and depart into the world, that Christ will be with us at all times.
This is a reminder of two things—first, that Christ is always with us. He walks with us every day, in every decision, in every conversation, in every challenge. He is there to provide guidance, wisdom, comfort, patience, whatever is needed. And second, our Christianity does not fit into a compartment. Christ should not be compartmentalized. Worship isn’t just “checking a box.” Worship is the pinnacle, the crowning jewel, in a life that is supposed to be all about Christ. If Christ is “always” walking with us, then we should “always” be walking with Him.
We should have a sense of Christ at all times. I should sense Christ sitting with me at the computer as I’m typing, because He is there. I should sense Christ in every conversation I have, because He is there. And because Christ is there at all times, that should affect what I write, what I say, what I do. The hymn quoted below speaks of Christ being us and therefore no one can be against us. With Christ there is no need to fear, because He guards, guides and protects all those who place their hope in Him.
“I am with you always” provides us comfort, but also provides us accountability. If Christ is with us always, then we have to honor Him at all times, we have to strive to behave in a Christ-like manner at all times. We all put Christ in a compartment, so to speak, because we can’t be actively thinking about Him when we are sinning. I cannot honor Christ while gossiping, as an example. Or while cursing, or cheating, or getting angry. Impossible. Because Christ is none of those things. Christ personifies love, and love isn’t present in any of these things.
“I am with you always” calls us to put away temptations and continually focus on Him. It reminds us that today is a day to rejoice because the Lord made the day, and will be with us in it. And it is a reminder that if we go with the Lord, then who can be against us, what can anyone really do to us.
People can try to take our possessions, they can take our reputations, they can try to take our dignity. But no one can take away our faith. No one can take away our potential for eternal life. And no one can take away Christ from us. “I am with you always” is a reminder that Christ is the only thing we have always, and that if we always have Him, that provides joy and comfort for today, direction for tomorrow, purpose for life, and destination for eternal life.
When You had fulfilled the dispensation for our sake, and united things on earth with the things in heaven, You were taken up thither in glory, O Christ our God, going not away from any place, but continuing inseparable, and to them that love You crying out, “I am with you, and there is, therefore, none against you.” (Kontakion of the Ascension, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Go with Christ today!
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