Christian Character

Christian Character

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I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound.  Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. Philippians 4:12
No life is perfect.  No life is without its challenges.  No life is without its moments when you think you can’t go on another day, or another step, or endure another trial.  We all have had moments when we’ve been pushed almost to our breaking point.  The good news is that if you are reading this message today, you haven’t been broken.  You are still in there fighting.  
This verse perfectly captures life today, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.  If you have stock in “zoom” or in toilet paper companies, you might still be abounding.  But most of us are suffering some kind of need today.  It might be some kind of food we cannot buy.  It might be that we’ve lost our jobs, or our jobs hang in an uncertain balance.  It may be that we’re struggling with the upset to our daily routine—working from home while helping our children work from home.  It may be there we are in fact sick, or concerned we are going to get sick.  And certainly there is an anxiety about this whole thing—will the stores have what we need?  Did we sanitize enough? What about summer vacation? Will life ever go back to the way it was?
Character, specifically Christian character, is defined at times like this.  We are all suffering need when it comes to worship, as most of us are now confined to our homes in order to worship.  The challenge is how to make worship meaningful in front of a computer until the time we can do it again in person.  And yes, it’s going to take some work.  When we come to church, we find the house of God already prepared for us.  There are icons on the walls, candles for us to light, and sounds from the priest and choir that aid us in worship.  In our “home church”, we will have to make our own sacred space to worship, putting away phones, perhaps lighting candles, sitting and standing at the proper intervals, even though there isn’t a church full of people doing the same thing.  
The concept of charity is hard when you aren’t sure you have enough, or will have enough.  The thought of asking for money makes me cringe more than usual.  Yet, churches still have bills to pay, and charities still need our donations in order to serve others.  I know our family will not stop paying our stewardship during this crisis.  Because the character of Christian giving is shown not when we take a chance and give more even when we have less.
Staying connected is hard when we are physically separated.  I learned last Sunday that it’s harder to conduct a GOYA (teenage youth group) meeting over the computer than in person.  While it was better than nothing, it certainly wasn’t as captivating as what we usually do.  When this is all over, things and people that we have been connected to will change.  Perhaps we will be more committed to some things and some people and less committed to others.  The possible shift in things make me anxious.  But it also makes me more motivated to stay connected to the things and people that are important, to keep bonds strong and things moving at a time when we are all more disconnected.
Patience and grace are things we all like to receive but they are things that are hard to give.  With so much change and upheaval to the norm, our Christian character is defined by how we treat others whose lives are also in upheaval.  Since this is a time we are hyper vigilant about cleanliness, as well as paying attention to all the changes going on around us, it is also necessary to be hyper vigilant in giving grace and patience to others around us.  If we are all stressed, we are all less likely to be patient and tolerant.  If we could all be a little more patient and give a little more grace to others, we’d fill a need that we all have right now.  
Though it doesn’t seem like it today, there will be a time when we will be full and abound again.  As we are going through this time of need, when we are working extra hard in worship, trusting in being charitable, staying connected, and giving grace, we need to think of how we will behave once this crisis is over.  There will be a day when we can go to church and worship in person.  Will we be more attentive, savoring the opportunity to worship in person, something we were deprived of for a time, or will be complacent about it?  At a time when we’ve all had to make do with less, once the crisis is over, will we continue to scale down things or will we feel entitled to more?  Will we be more generous or will we put away all that we can for ourselves?  Concerning our relationships, will we continue to make an effort to stay connected, to making the extra phone calls we are making now, to making the extra effort to make sure others aren’t forgotten?  And finally, if we are being careful to extend grace and patience to others, will we continue to do so when life returns more to “normal”?  
Saint Paul is careful to write that we must learn how to both be abased and to abound, how to act when we are full and when we are hungry. We certainly have the opportunity to build character now in our time of need.  However, when this time is over, I hope we will commit to learning better how to abound, how to be more committed to worship (rather than taking it for granted), how to be more charitable and make do with less on a more permanent basis, how to be more committed to staying connected to others, and how to extend grace and patience not only because it’s needed when we are all stressed out but because it is the Christian thing to do all the time.  
Heavenly Father, thank You for the many gifts You have bestowed upon me.  Help me in my moments of doubt and despair to be a survivor, not a victim.  Guide me, strengthen me and comfort me, so that I not only survive, but learn to thrive in whatever challenge I am confronted with.  Help me to see good and God in all things, even in difficult ones.  Help me meet the challenges of today!  Amen.
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.
Let’s all do our part learning to be abased and to be in need, and let’s commit to continue to learning when we once again are full and abounding.

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.

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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

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