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
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:10-11
Good morning Prayer Team!
Occasionally, people will complain that the church is all about rules, that God doesn’t want us to have any joy. I would disagree with both counts. First, where there are rules, there is freedom. When I go to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, I don’t think to myself, “It’s the same and the same, no freedom of expression here.” I am actually relieved that the service is celebrated in the same way each time because I don’t have any stress to create a new service each week. I am free to express myself through this prayer, knowing that what I am doing is timeless, universal and complete. People who are praying on a daily basis generally follow the same prayer ritual-the same time, the same place, perhaps even the same words. They are free then to pray, without having to create. The church sets boundaries and guidelines and in those we find freedom. The same way we have traffic laws that give us freedom when we drive from place to place.
As for God not wanting us to have any joy, nothing would be further from the truth. Look no further than the creation around us. Who hasn’t had fun at the beach, swimming in the ocean? Or hiking in forest? Or skiing on a snow-covered mountain? God created all of these things for our enjoyment. Think how much fun the sun creates for us-it creates warmth, it allows trees to grow to have shady picnics. The challenge becomes when “joy” mixes with “greed.” We take something that God has created and we overindulge in it. Or we take the purity of nature and we litter it. We forget how to have fun in a way that still honors God. So, this is the challenge. Have joy, but have it in a Godly way.
The joy of Christ was the joy he found by living in obedience and oneness with God the Father. In the same way, if we abide in the commandments Christ gave to us, we will abide in the same kind of oneness with Christ. Christ’s wish for us is for His joy to be in us and for that joy to be full.
The best barometer to use when doing anything is to ask yourself, “Is what I’m doing pleasing to God?” If you’ve worked hard all week, and you go to church to pray on Sunday morning, and then you go home, kick up your feet and watch football on TV, does that please God? I would say “Yes, it does.” Because you are resting and recharging, having used your talent and having worshipped the Lord, you are now going to be rested and recharged for the week ahead, ready to again use your talents. If you are fighting and cursing while watching the game, this is not pleasing to God. True joy is found in wholesome activities done under the umbrella of Christianity.
Lord, thank You for the many gifts You have given us, things that bring us true joy. The beauty of nature, the delight of laughter, the enjoyment of humor, the appreciation of talent, thank You for creating so many things that bring joy to our lives. Help me to find joy in simple things today. Help me to experience the divine joy, to spend some time alone with You in prayer and in thought. Bless me this day. May it be a day that brings me closer to You. May it be a day that honors You. Amen.
Have a joyful day!
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