For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for Himself a people of His own who are zealous for good deeds. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by His grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.

Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7 (Epistle Reading on the Feast of Theophany)

 

For January 2-7, we will be focusing on the Feasts of Theophany and St. John the Baptist.  The Heart of Encouragement will resume on January 8.  For January 2, we will reflect on the Epistle of Theophany, and on January 3, the Gospel of Theophany.  January 4-5 will be the appropriate Scriptures for this weekend.  January 6 will be about the Feast of Theophany and January 7 will be about St. John the Baptist.

 

Grace is a gift from God that completes what is lacking and heals what is spiritually infirm in each of us.  Grace is an unseen, mystical, Godly quality that we receive when we pray and when we participate in the Sacraments.  Grace is supposed to change us.  We are supposed to let it change us.

 

After Holy Week each year, after standing for so many hours for the long services, my body feels very tired and beat up.  So, usually the week after Holy Week, I go get a chiropractic adjustment and then a deep tissue massage.  In order for the massage to have the greatest affect, a person has to totally relax while the masseuse is working.  Getting tense actually just makes the pain greater.  Having had many massages, I’ve learned to relax and just let the masseuse work on the knots in my neck and back.  At the place I go for massages, they also have a therapeutic shower that has ten heads that hit you from all directions.  After the massage and the shower, I feel renewed, refreshed and relaxed.  I don’t feel like the broken person I was before I arrived.

 

Grace works in the same way.  When we have relaxed spirits and hearts in prayer, in worship and in receiving the sacraments, the grace of the Holy Spirit will pour over us like warm water and give warmth and light to our troubled souls.  If we come to receive grace with hearts that are hardened, it may actually make us feel worse.  That is why in I Corinthians 11: 27-30, we read “Whoever, therefore, eats the Bread of drinks the Cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the Body and Blood of the Lord.  Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the Bread and drink of the Cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the Body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.  That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” This message may seem a little harsh, but it is true.  To partake of Christ is a serious thing, it needs to be treated with great reverence.  To partake of God’s grace through prayer and the sacraments (Communion, Confession, Unction) can be very reaffirming, or very dangerous, depending on the disposition with which we approach grace. 

 

God knows that we are sinful people.  He does not tell us we cannot have His grace because of our sins.  Rather, He wants to give us His grace, to help us to overcome sin.  However, to partake of grace means that we are to strive to “renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:12-13)  Thus we receive God’s grace with expectation of spiritual warmth, healing and strength.  But He bestows grace with the expectation that we make an effort to be sober, upright and Godly. 

 

Today’s Epistle passage talks about how grace is “poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior”.  Going back to the example of the massage, I think of grace as being able to work out every knot, every sore spot, and come over us to make us warm, relaxed and renewed.  Grace, in the words of St. Paul, helps us to “become heirs in hope of eternal life.” 

 

Life is hard.  This is why we seek and can receive grace continually.  We can receive it daily through prayer, and weekly through the sacrament of Communion.  Grace is like a spiritual massage.  Whoever has gone for a massage knows how good it feels when it’s over.  Most people wish they could get one often, even every day.  Well, with prayer, we can get a spiritual massage daily and with Communion, we can receive a large dose of grace every Sunday.

 

Jordan River, tell us do: What did you see and were amazed? I saw naked Him whom none can see, and shuddered in fear. And how was I not to shudder at Him and be frightened? The Angels, when they saw Him also shuddered in awe. And heaven was astonished, and astounded was earth. The sea recoiled along with all things both visible and invisible. For Christ appeared in the River Jordan, to sanctify the waters. (Second Kathisma of the Feast of Theophany, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

 

Make time to receive God’s grace through prayer today!

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    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


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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

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