Jesus said, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, let they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Luke 14: 12-14
We thank You, Lord God of our salvation, that You do everything to benefit our life, so that in everything we may look to You, the Savior and Benefactor of our souls. For in the course of the night You gave us rest, and now raised us up to stand in worship of Your precious Name. Wherefore we pray You, Lord, give us both grace and strength that we may be found worthy to praise You with full understanding, and pray without ceasing, (I Thessalonians 5:17) in fear and trembling, working out our own salvation through the grace of Your Christ. (Philippians 2:13) Lord, remember also those who cry out to You in the night; hear them and show them mercy, and let invisible and warring enemies be crushed under their feet. For You are the King of Peace and the Savior of our souls, and to You we offer glory, 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.
There is no question that praying can be challenging. I’ve served as a priest for nearly 25 years, and I still find it challenging at times. One of the things that makes prayer easier, for me at least, is to put visual images in my head of people I’m praying for or circumstances that I’m praying about. In the sixth prayer of this beautiful set of twelve prayers, we pray this phrase: “Lord, remember also those who cry out to You in the night.” As I pray these words, I think of those who are forgotten, who cry out to the Lord in the dark and lonely world in which they live.
There are a number of images that come to my mind as I pray these words. I usually first think of people who are in prison for some reason. I’ve visited jails and prisons numerous times in my ministry, and suffice it to say, I’d never want to be in one as a resident. They were bad enough when I was a visitor. The bars, the closed spaces, the boredom, the fear of violence, the endless noise, the inability to be honest, the threat in many prisons that one must join a prison gang or be damages by the same gang. It’s not a pretty picture. Not only have people in prison been physically removed from society, many times, they are forgotten by friends and even family.
A hospital is another kind of prison, because one is not free to go, and is often tethered to an IV pole, where there is also fear and loneliness, and the similar uncertainty that there is in prison. We wonder if people are being honest with us, if they have our best interests in mind, etc. Rehabilitation centers are similar, except rather than spending days as one does in the hospital, the stay in the rehab center might go one for months, or even longer.
A debilitating condition like a stroke or dementia gives a person a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Unable to function independently, people with these kinds of afflictions are often in some kind of in-patient care for years. When they eventually pass away and it is time for a funeral, comments are made like “I remember them from years ago,” as if they have been nearly forgotten. People who once held important positions now struggle to just get through the day, assisted by strangers.
Add to the “prisons” of prison, hospital, and nursing home and there are plenty of people who cry out in the night because they are lonely, sad, scared, or feel hopeless.
I have written about this on the Prayer Team before, that one of the great blessings of my life was serving as the Deacon to His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios of Boston. When he would make a commemoration at the Great Entrance, I remember how he would pray for people in prison and people who were sick and “for all those who suffer because we are indifferent to them.” In other words, for God to remember all those that we have forgotten. The prayer continues in regard to those who cry out in the night, for God to hear them and show them mercy, and for Him to let invisible and warring enemies be crushed under their feet. In other words, we pray to God to hear the cries of those who are unheard and show mercy to those to whom we are failing to show it. The most insidious enemy is often our thoughts, that are unseen but can be debilitating. We pray for these enemies to be vanquished so that we can “pray without ceasing, in fear and trembling, working out of own salvation through the grace of Your Christ.”
Going back to the beginning of this reflection, prayer is made easier (for me, anyway) when I visualize who I am praying for. Praying for the forgotten is an important part of prayer. And visualizing the places where we find the “forgotten” makes it easier to pray for them. “Seeing” a prison, or a hospital room, or a lonely person eating alone in my thoughts helps me to focus when praying for the forgotten.
Going back to a previous reflection about how our thoughts lead to actions, it is very easy (and very common now) to send “thoughts and prayers” to those who are in crisis. This phrase gets criticized by those who think that prayer is just lip service and doesn’t lead to much. And in some sense, they are right. Thoughts and prayers about the forgotten should lead us to remember and help the forgotten, so that they are not forgotten anymore. How does that work on a practical level? Most of us may not have the opportunity to visit a penitentiary. However, most of us will have the opportunity to visit someone who is sick in a hospital or rehab center. Most of us will know someone who has a debilitating illness. We all know people who are lonely and sad. After the gift of prayer, the most needed gift is simply the gift of time, to be with someone so that they know they are not alone, so that their cries in the night are not shouts into darkness, but so that they feel loved, and as a result, lightened in their burden with the knowledge that they are not alone.
Encouragement for today: Add a sentence or two to your prayers and remember those who are forgotten. Spend time with someone who is “forgotten”—be it someone in a hospital, someone in prison, or someone who just needs a person to talk to. We are surrounded by forgotten people. If we are honest, we all probably feel forgotten at times. Look around, the “forgotten” are literally everywhere.
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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