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, 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
Jesus said: “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven. Matthew 10:32-33
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Matthew 10: 37-38
Then Peter said in reply, “Lo, we have left everything and followed You. What then shall we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man shall sit on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for My Name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many that are first will be last, and the last first. Matthew 19:27-30 Gospel read at the Liturgy on All Saints Day, Feast of All Saints
Good morning Prayer Team!
Today ends the Paschal cycle that began 18 weeks ago. We had the period of the Triodion, the time when we evaluated the changes needing to be made in our spiritual lives. Great Lent gave us an opportunity to make modifications and start new habits. Holy Week was a time to remember and relive the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Paschal season has been a time of celebration and renewal. And now with the Paschal season coming to an end, it’s time to stay focused on doing the things we’ve learned on this journey.
The last feast of the Paschal cycle is the feast of All Saints. While other Christian denominations celebrate this day on November 1, the Orthodox Church places it after Pentecost, as the end to the Paschal cycle, to remind us that this is the end goal of all Christians, to achieve the blessedness of the saints in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus tells us in the Gospel lesson those who have lived for God and not for the world will be rewarded in the Kingdom of Heaven. They “will receive a hundredfold and inherit eternal life.” Those who were first with everything but didn’t live a Christian life will be counted as last for eternal life. And those who have lived a Christian life, those who have put Christ first (and anyone who does that is going to suffer in some way, some will even suffer greatly), those who were accounted as “last” in this life, will be accounted as “first” by being accepted into the Kingdom of Heaven.
As Christians, we are called to holiness. We are called to be like Christ in every way—we are to be obedient to the commandments. We are to help others. We are to preach, to teach, and to help heal our fellow man. We are to help carry one another’s burdens. We are to stay faithful even to death. But a death like Christ’s, one that is experienced with faith in God, with forgiveness towards others, this will lead to a Resurrection like Christ’s, an Ascension into heaven, and an enthronement at the right hand of the Father. In I Peter 1: 13-16, we read:
Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
The end goal of life, the purpose of our life, is to “graduate” to eternal life. The Paschal journey is a yearly “course” designed to keep us focused on that goal. It is the same cycle we experience every year. Though every year that goes by we are both older in life experience and closer to our judgment before God that will determine if we inherit eternal life. As we leave from this journey, let us do so with focus on the overall goal—eternal life. How do we reach that goal? The answer is in the verses above—Be Holy, as He is Holy. And how do we do that? Set God as the source and center of your life. Start each day off with prayer and with gratitude. Live each day with purpose. Strive to help someone each day. Learn how to have empathy. Strive to forgive. Work to improve. Trust that God has a plan. Have faith even when you don’t understand. And choose joy.
The goal of the Church is to help people find their way to Paradise. The goal of the people in the Church is to help one another in realizing this goal. The purpose of this Lenten and Paschal journey has been reminding, relearning and renewing our commitment to this goal. The ending of the Paschal season this year is the not ending of the journey. It is the end of this year’s chapter. It is time to practice what we’ve learned. And next year, in early spring, we’ll get another refresher and reminder, and make the journey again, a year older, a year wiser, and a year closer to the destination.
Many of the prayers in the services of the church end with the phrase “through the intercessions of the Holy Theotokos and ever-Virgin Mary and all the saints who have pleased You (God) throughout the ages.” Many of us are concerned with our legacy. What will people remember of us when we are no longer here? I have a long way to go in my journey to salvation, but one thing I know I’ve learned already, it doesn’t matter how people remember me when I’m no longer here. It matters what the Lord thinks of me when I’m no longer here. Our number one goal, as far as legacy goes, is to be numbered among the saints, to be living eternally with those who have pleased God. The word “Saint” in Greek is “Agios”, which means “set apart.” If God is going to set us apart and honor us with eternal life, then the goal of this life is a journey to holiness that starts by striving to set ourselves apart every day. We don’t have to wait for Lent or Pascha to do this. We don’t even have to wait until tomorrow. Holiness is something we can pursue at any moment. So pursue it today, tomorrow, and every day, until we attain the glory of God, in His everlasting Kingdom!
The Baptist John the Forerunner, the Apostles and Prophets, Martyrs and holy Hierarchs, the Devout and Ascetics, and the divine Hieromartyrs, and the God-loving women, and all the Righteous men of old, and the Angelic orders, let us extol dutifully honoring them with praises, while entreating our Savior Christ, that we attain their glory. (Exapostelarion, Feast of All Saints, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Be holy, as He is holy!
With love in the Risen Lord,
This ends the set of reflections on Triodion, Lent, Pascha and Pentecost. The prayer team will continue on a daily basis going forward as follows: Monday-Friday I will write on various topics. On Saturdays and Sundays, I will continue writing reflections on the Divine Liturgy, picking up where I left off several months ago. Thank you for being part of the Prayer Team and for sharing in this journey together. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement.
Visit our site each day to read the daily devotion!
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