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 as they sailed, Jesus fell asleep. And a storm of wind came down on the lake, and they were filling with water, and were in danger. And they went and woke Him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And He awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that He commands even wind and water, and they obey Him?” Luke 8:23-25
I’m interrupting the normal prayer team messages on encouragement to write something about the Coronavirus, or COVID-19. This reflection will not include anything political—I try to keep politics off the prayer team. I am not a doctor or medical professional, so there is no medical advice here either. If you think you have been affected by COVID-19, please seek proper medical attention. If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19, please self-quarantine. If you feel sick at all, please stay home.
Like many of you, I am struggling with how to react appropriately to this disease that has suddenly invaded our country. Many are overreacting. Many are underreacting. And many are unsure how to react.
A few words come to mind. The first is faith. I have faith that God will carry us through this time of uncertainty. It is not the first time in human history that our country has been confronted by a health crisis. It is not the first time in my life or my ministry either. In Acts 1:6, the Disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” They wanted the Lord to act decisively for an outcome that they wanted. His answer to them was, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” (1:7) In other words, the Lord had plans for His people which did not involve a political overthrow or military victory. And while those things perhaps did not make sense at the time, we see them now from the perspective of history, that Christianity is not about conquest but about service and love. In this middle of this crisis, where we cannot see the outcome, we find ourselves anxious, and rightfully so. We are in the storm described in Luke 8: 23-25. We see the waves of anxiety and panic dominating the TV news, as well as conversations. We wonder if the Lord is sleeping, and when and how will He calm the waters. There will be a time and a season for that—how and when is something known to Him, and not to us. This is where faith comes in. Because faith is when we cannot see the outcome but we still believe in God and what He is doing or not doing.
The second word is calm. Emotion clouds reason. This is an objective truth. When we come at things in an emotional way, reason has a hard time prevailing. Obviously, there is emotion now. People are scared. No one wants to get sick, or get someone else sick, or see anyone die. We are all concerned about that. I am also concerned that the consequences of the coronavirus will result in not only physical harm, but financial harm to many. With many businesses, schools and sports franchises suspending operations, faithful workers who live paycheck to paycheck are going to find themselves in financial straits. Hundreds have already lost jobs and financial livelihood. With the stock market erratic, the economy will be affected. Business owners are concerned. Businesses that depend on overseas interactions are uncertain about their futures. Closed schools affect not only students but working parents who now will have their children at home. This is a time for calm, for reason and for sensibility. It is a time for grace and patience. Everyone needs to be more patient and give more grace to everyone.
The third word is judgment. There will be differing opinions on what to do. As of right now, the plan in my parish is to continue all liturgical services and as many other ministries as possible. There may be people who decide they don’t want to come to church for a few weeks. That is okay. No judgment there. There may be people who come to church who will choose not to receive Holy Communion, or venerate an icon. No judgment there either.
If you decide not to attend church, or if services in your parish are cancelled, I encourage you to watch services on our livestream at this link. https://livestream.com/stjohngoctampa
I am a “calendar person.” When I put something on the calendar, I have always struggled to cancel it. That is how I’m wired. I will probably be hesitant to cancel things, especially services, and I hope I will not be judged for that. But I am also aware of the “long game.” A few weeks or a month does not make for a successful or unsuccessful life or ministry. And so if a few events are cancelled in order to be better off in the long run, there is wisdom in that, wisdom that I am praying I will have.
The fourth and final word is help. We all need to do our part to help the situation. If that means self-quarantine because you might have been exposed, then do that. Help might mean excusing someone from work who has to self-quarantine if you are an employer. Help might mean paying an employee anyway even if your business is closed because he or she can’t make it without the paycheck. Help may mean donating hand sanitizer or other things needed to maintain a clean environment at home, church or work. Help may mean being generous to a neighbor who needs toilet paper or something else the store has run out of.
The unit we are discussing on the Prayer Team is entitled “Hold Fast,” based on I Thessalonians 5:21, “Test everything; hold fast to what is good.” And in this vein, I encourage you to hold fast to faith, to remain calm, to resist the urge to judge, and to step forward to help. These are good things, in the midst of something that is bad.
Lord, Healer of our souls and bodies, extend Your hand from heaven, and place it upon every corner of our nation and our world that has been affected by coronavirus.
Grant healing to those who are afflicted.
Grant eternal rest to those who have perished.
Grant strength to the doctors and nurses who care for the afflicted. Allow them to be Your vessels of healing and protect them against this disease.
Grant comfort to the families who have lost loved ones.
Grant reassurance to the families of those who are not sick.
Grant peace to those who are feeling anxious.
Grant safe passage to college students as well as those overseas and in our country who are traveling to make it back home safely.
Grant wisdom and discernment to those in our government who are making decisions. Help them to be wise and sensible in those decisions.
Inasmuch as it is possible, grant us a return to normalcy, especially in areas of massive outbreak and quarantine.
Remember our country, our President and all those in public service.
Remember us, O Lord, and help us in our hour of need.
Help us to keep our churches open, to be havens of tranquility in the storm of uncertainty.
Lord of the Powers, be with us, for in times of distress, we have no other help but You, Lord of the Powers, have mercy on us.
May the Lord bless us and keep us, may He cause the Light of His countenance to shine on us, and may He have mercy on us. God bless you! God bless America!
The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! There you may find a database for past prayer team messages as well as books by Fr. Stavros and other information about his work and St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
These readings are under copyright and is used by permission. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, in print or on other websites or in any other form, without the prior written authorization of the copyright holder: Reading © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA, Apolytikion of Abbot Marcellus © Narthex Press, Kontakion of Abbot Marcellus © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.