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
After this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them on ahead of Him, two by two, into every town and place where He Himself was about to come. Luke 10:1
Good morning Prayer Team!
Nowhere in the Bible are we told to “go it alone.” In fact, in innumerable places are we told to not only love our neighbor, but to lean on our neighbors, forgive them, work with them, and help them. In our church we have the tradition of a Spiritual Father, the person to whom you are supposed to go to for confession. Today’s reflection is not about confession, we’ll talk about that another day. But confession is an infrequent occurrence—it is not something that you participate in on a daily basis. So your Spiritual Father or parish priest is not going to be part of your daily life. There are several hundred people who come to confession with me in a typical year. There isn’t time to speak to all of these people on a daily basis, a weekly basis, even a monthly basis. As I get older, I realize that no one can rely solely on a Spiritual Father or parish priest for spiritual support. You SHOULD rely on a spiritual father for a good measure of spiritual support. But you need more than that. You need, in my humble opinion, a “spiritual buddy.”
I remember that when I was younger and went to Boy Scout Camp, when we would go swimming in the lake, we had to have a buddy. We had these little rings we hung together on a board and in order to go swimming, you needed to have your ring and your buddy’s ring together on a board. Of course, the lifeguard was like the “spiritual father,” in charge of all of our safety. And when the lifeguard blew the whistle for us to get out of the water, everyone would stand with his buddy and put our arms up together to be counted. Everyone had someone. No one had nobody.
I believe that this concept can and should be used in a parish context. It would be helpful to have someone to be accountable to on a frequent basis, not to confess sins to, or even to lay a heavy burden on. I know that when I’m struggling to pray, if there is someone that I’m accountable to, let’s say I make a deal with someone to send them a text every day or so, to ask if they prayed, or to tell them I prayed, or they send me a text asking if I prayed, I know that this encouragement and accountability makes it more likely that I’m going to pray. Because on the day that I don’t feel like praying, there is someone else who is caring that I’m praying. Call it peer influence, support, even “pressure,” (that I don’t want to tell a friend I haven’t prayed out of embarrassment), whatever the motivation, having a friend to be accountable to helps me be more disciplined in my prayer life, in my reading of scripture, in growing towards Christ. And you can have more than one spiritual buddy. A spouse makes for a good “spiritual buddy,” close friends work too. A spouse AND a close friend can work. Sometimes it is best for this person to NOT be your spouse, for example, if you and your spouse could easily agree to not go to church, but if you have someone outside your house keeping you accountable, they can challenge you on the day neither of you wants to go. However it works for you, seek out someone and be accountable to each other. Again, this is does not involve long conversations, or frequent conversations. It could be a text “I got my prayer time in today, did you?” The answer on a given day might be “I’m too busy,” or “I just don’t feel like it today,” and then the response could be “C’mon, you gotta get it in, this is really important.” And that extra encouragement from SOMEONE might be the extra difference in praying or not. Same thing goes for going to church on Sundays. Someone that can challenge you when you need challenging.
Christianity by its very definition is not a solitary religion. We are Christians BECAUSE we are in communion with one another. St. Paul tells us to bear one another’s burdens. (Galatians 6:2) So, support one another in prayer. Offer one another spiritual encouragement. Make each other accountable. A Spiritual Father is a necessary and helpful component to your spiritual life. You need to be going to confession, you need to have a parish priest who is a stable presence in your life. But you need others who can be a consistent, frequent, even daily presence in your life, to encourage you, support you, and even carry you when your enthusiasm is waning.
Challenge for today: Think of someone to whom you can be accountable to. Encourage someone to pray today. Ask someone at some point this week to ask you if you have prayed, and ask them to offer you encouragement.
Lord, thank You for the opportunity to pray today. Thank You for those around me (names) who offer encouragement to me concerning my Spiritual life. Bring people into my life who will support and encourage me to grow in my faith. When an opportunity arises for me to encourage someone else to grow in their Spiritual life, give me the wisdom and the courage to encourage them. Amen.
Have a great day today!
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