Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Good morning Prayer Team!
Holy Week begins tomorrow with the Saturday of Lazarus. Who would have thought we’d ever mark it like this, a “virtual” experience rather than the Holy Week in our church, filled with people, as we are used to? To write a reflection on being transformed almost seemed disingenuous.
As I have reflected and prepared myself for the Holy Week journey, I try to keep reminding myself to keep things as normal as possible, try to preserve as much of Holy Week as possible. There is so much we’ve lost, but there are certainly things we have not lost.
One thing we have not lost is time. There is nothing that stops us from committing a week of our lives to spiritual renewal, even if we have to do it from home. There is nothing that stops us from slowing life down for this one week of the year to focus almost exclusively on Christ. If anything, without commuting time and long lines for Communion and Holy Unction, we’ve all actually saved time.
Another thing we have not lost is our ability to comprehend. Each year, we make a long journey through Holy Week—hundreds of hymns and over a hundred Scripture readings. Each time we hear them we are in a different place in our lives. We are all a year older, perhaps we view them through the lens of the crisis we are in, or we view them from whatever stage of life we find ourselves in this year. Spending some time reflecting on the scriptures and hymns of Holy Week is something we can all still do.
The word “Liturgy” means “work of the people.” This year, we will all have to work a little harder to get something out of Holy Week. We won’t have hundreds of people around us to build energy. There won’t be a choir to sing for us. We might even have to work harder to stay awake. Standing and sitting in church keeps us awake and focused later in the week. A brother priest confided that he’s worried people might nod off after the Anastasi. We won’t have a beautifully decorated church to sit in. We’ll watch the church from home. Maybe we need to do some decorating in our own homes. If you have a purple or dark table cloth, maybe put that on the table you eat at this week, and replace it with a white one on Pascha. Perhaps wear dark clothes earlier in the week, even if its pajamas. And then save your lightest colored pair for Saturday night. One thing about work that I’ve always found true, the harder the work the greater the reward. We can certainly take something positive away from Holy Week, but it will take work. And if we work hard, maybe we’ll even take more away from it than usual.
Which leads us to the word “transformed.” To be “transformed” means to be changed. The journey will still be long. Perhaps it will be longer because it will be experienced in isolation. But nothing prohibits us from beginning all things anew in the light of the Resurrected Christ. What needs renewal? In your faith? In your life? What can we lay at the feet of Christ’s cross this year? What can we examine in our lives that we can change as a result of Holy Week? And can we go through this week not gritting our teeth that it isn’t the same, or just marking time until it’s over? Can we actually get through this week and end it with joy, renewal, recommitment and transformation? The answer is a resounding yes. It will take work, and it will take will. . But yes, we can take something away from this experience.
It’s not the same offering services in an empty church. Preaching to the camera is not the same as preaching to a congregation. So, even though I get to actually go to church, it will be a different Holy Week from any I have ever experienced. I will miss seeing people, offering Holy Communion, anointing the faithful with Holy Unction. I will miss the choir, the altar boys and the overall energy. I am comforted with two thoughts—God gave me (and all of us) a creative mind, so I am stretching to see how much of Holy Week can still be preserved, even as we do it differently. And I am comforted that Christ died on the cross for my salvation (and yours) and He is risen from the dead, and nothing can take that away from me and from us.
The Prayer Team Messages of Holy Week will focus on the events of each day, rather than on the coronavirus. There will be a second message on Holy Monday and Holy Thursday, as I do every year, to memorialize two people who passed away a few days apart sixteen years ago. I encourage you to “worship” this Holy Week and to allow your minds and your hearts to be open to transformation, even though our experience will be a “virtual” one. As much as we can, let us set aside the coronavirus, and all of life’s other concerns, so that we can receive the King of All, our Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead! Please pray for me, as I will be praying for all of you!
O God, Thou art my God, I seek Thee, my soul thirsts for Thee; my flesh faints for Thee, as in a dry land where no water is. So I have looked upon Thee in the sanctuary, beholding Thy power and glory. Because Thy steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise Thee. So I will bless Thee as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on Thy name. My soul is feasted as with marrow and fat, and my mouth praises Thee with joyful lips, when I think of Thee upon my bed and meditate on Thee in the watches of the night; for Thou hast been my help, and in the shadow of Thy wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to Thee; Thy right hand upholds me. Psalm 63: 1-8
Prayer of Protection from the Coronavirus
(Prayer by Grace Bishop Alexis (Trader) of Bethesda)
O God Almighty, Lord of heaven and earth, and of all creation visible and invisible, in Your ineffable goodness, look down upon Your people gathered in Your name. Be our helper and defender in this day of affliction. You know our weakness. You hear our cry in repentance and contrition of heart. O Lord who loves mankind deliver us from the impending threat of the corona virus. Send Your Angel to watch over us and protect us. Grant health and recovery to those suffering from this virus. Guide the hands of physicians, and preserve those who are healthy that we may continue to serve You in peace and glorify Your most honorable and majestic Name, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Have a blessed and meaningful Holy Week journey!
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.
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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