Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages by Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
Jesus said, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
O God, great and supreme, worshiped by all creation, fountainhead of wisdom, abyss of unfathomable goodness, and boundless gulf of loving-kindness; Master Who loves mankind, the God of things eternal and of wonders, Whom no man by reason can comprehend: look down and hear us, Your unworthy servants; and wherever we bring this oil in Your great name, send down the gift of Your healing, and remission of sins; and heal them in the multitude of Your mercies. Yes, O Lord, Who are easy to be entreated; You alone are merciful and You love mankind; You are sorrowful for our evil deeds; You know how the mind of man leans towards wickedness, even from his youth; You do not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that he should repent and live. For the salvation of sinners, though being God, You became a created being for the sake of Your creatures. You have said: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” You sought the wandering sheep; You searched diligently for the lost coin, and having found it, You said: “He that comes to me I will not cast out.” You did not abhor the sinful woman who washed Your precious feet with her tears; You said: “As often as you fall, get up, and you shall be saved.” It is You, who said: “There is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.” O merciful Master, look down from on High, giving us, Your sinful and unworthy servants, shelter under the grace of the Holy Spirit in this hour; and take up Your abode in these Your servants, who acknowledge their iniquities and draw near to You in faith. Accept them because of Your love towards mankind, forgiving them whatever they have done amiss, whether by word, deed, or thought, and cleanse them from every sin; and abiding ever present with them, preserve them for the remaining years of their life, that, walking ever in Your statutes, they may in no way again become an object of joy to the devil; so that also in these, Your all-holy name may be glorified. By the grace, mercy, and love for us of Your only-begotten Son, with whom You are blessed, together with Your all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen. (2nd Prayer)
The second prayer of Holy Unction begins to paint a picture of God’s mercy towards us. If we stop and let some of the words soak in, we realize just how great is His mercy.
A gulf of water is not the open ocean, where the coastline has large and violent waves. A gulf is an inlet from the sea, where the water is calm and tranquil. I have been fortunate to serve a parish near the Gulf of Mexico for many years. Unless we are having a storm, the water is generally calm and flat. When I stand on the shore, I know that across the Gulf, a thousand miles away, is the coastline of Texas. I can’t see it. All I can see is miles and miles of water. When the sun sets over the water, it is as if it is setting over the end of the earth, except it isn’t. The earth continues to what feels like infinity. When we read of God being a “boundless gulf of loving-kindness”, this is the image that comes to my mind, loving-kindness that seems to go on without end. The prayer continues “no man by reason can comprehend” this depth of mercy and compassion, just like no one can take in the whole expanse of ocean at one time.
In this “boundless gulf of loving-kindness” is our Lord, Who is “easy to be entreated.” Again, think of the beauty of the ocean. It’s not a gulf of jagged rocks we’ve got to somehow find God in. God is in that first step into the ocean, easy to be entered, with prayer and repentance, easy to be entreated.
When God created us, He said “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26) “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them.” (1:27) God created us to be like Him, and to be with Him. He placed man in a garden of Paradise, giving mankind the freedom to do everything, except one thing. Because God did not want to impose His love on mankind, He told man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (Genesis 2:16-17) Because God is perfect, the tree of the union of good and evil would cause man to know evil and thus fall away from the perfect God. The result of falling away from God would be death. God desired that mankind would choose Him. Mankind chose otherwise.
God is sorrowful for this state of affairs. He is sorrowful for the Fall. He knows that because of the Fall, our minds lean toward wickedness. Because God never desired the death of the people He created (the Fall and resulting death are of our making, not His), God incarnated Himself. The Creator became part of the creation through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. His message was a call to repentance for sinners. Jesus, Who is referred to as the Good Shepherd in John 10, did not go to convince those who considered themselves “righteous” to follow after Him. In their exalted sense of self, the message fell on deaf ears. Rather Jesus went after the lost sheep, the greatest of the sinners, the ones who were thought of as the “least” of people. Throughout the prayers of this sacrament, we will hear references to some of these people, to show not only the boundless mercies of God, but how it is shared with the greatest of sinners.
In Luke 15: 8-10, Jesus tells the parable of the lost coin:
“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I lost.’ Just so, I tell you there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
In the parable, the woman represents God. She has all this money, and when a little of it is lost, she still searches for what got lost and rejoices when it is found. Likewise, there are a lot of people in God’s creation. Some are righteous and some are lost. God is not satisfied with the many righteous people. He hopes for even the lost ones to be found. This is why He goes and searches especially for those who are wounded in body and soul, so that even they will be found. And He rejoices when we are found and make our way back to Him. As we read in John 6:37, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me; and him who comes to Me I will not cast out.” Whenever we turn to God, He will not cast us out. Even if we are the lost coin, God will not forget us.
In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus was eating in the home of one of the Pharisees, a respected religious leader. A sinful woman entered the house and washed the feet of Jesus. Everyone reviled her and criticized Jesus for not knowing that this woman was a very sinful woman. Yet, Jesus forgave her sins. This serves as encouragement to us that our sinful past does not render to us a hopeless spiritual future.
Jesus tells us in Luke 15:3-7, the parable of the lost sheep. If a shepherd has one hundred sheep and one of them is lost, he leaves the ninety-nine and goes in search of the one that is lost, and when he finds it, he has great joy. In the same way, Jesus says, “there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need not repentance.
God desires us to repent and live. He wants us to succeed. He wants to share the eternal reward with us. Prayer number two is reassurance and encouragement of these things.
Being the Fountainhead of mercy, O gracious One, deliver from every adversity those, who with fervent faith entreat Your ineffable mercy, O most compassionate One; and taking away their maladies, grant them Divine Grace from Above. (Kontakion)
God wants us. He wants us to award us salvation. Let us do our part. Repent of the past. Focus on the future.