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
For my thought are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. Isaiah 55:8
I’m taking a one-day break from the Psalms to write on something personal.
Today, May 15, marks 22 years since I was ordained to the priesthood. In 1998, May 15 actually was a Friday, just like today, and it was the fourth Friday after Pascha, just like today is. (I looked to see when Pascha will be April 19 as it was this year, to see when this actual date will occur again. It won’t be until 2071. I’d have to live to be 99 to see it happen like this again, so this day is truly unique, safe to say it won’t happen again.)
Twenty-two years of something is generally not a big milestone. We think of 20 or 25 year anniversaries as being something to make a big deal out of. Of course, I usually get nostalgic on my anniversary of ordination, no matter which one it is. I think of where I’ve come from and where I’m going. I celebrate Divine Liturgy every year on May 15 in the same set of vestments I was ordained in, and I kneel in front of the Holy Altar (even during the Paschal season on this one day) the same way I knelt at my ordination and I thank God for another year of ministry.
What makes this anniversary “special” if you will, is that I am now 48 years old. I was ordained at 26. I hope to work until I’m 70. So this anniversary marks the half-way point of my ministry. I can look back at accomplishments; I can look back at failures. Never did I think that day in 1998 that I would be living in North Carolina in 2000 or in Florida in 2004. Never did I think I would run a summer camp, or bury more than a dozen children. I could not conceive of the highs, the lows, or even the mundane. I am thankful that after 22 years, I’m still going.
The point I want to leave you with today is that this idea of being halfway to the end is an idea in my mind only. Who knows if I will even live to be 70 years old? Who knows if I will be healthy enough to work until I’m 70 years old? Who knows if I’m doing well at age 70 if I’ll even want to retire or to keep going? If there is a shortage of priests, will I be allowed to retire? If social security collapses, my pension collapses, and our IRA collapses, will I be able to afford to retire at age 70? Am I entitled to work until age 70? Am I entitled to retire at age 70? Am I entitled to celebrate today as the halfway point, as if I am entitled to 22 more years of ministry?
All I can truly celebrate today is 22 years of ministry. I’m not halfway to anything. Only God can answer these questions about what my life will look like at age 70, if I am even still alive. I am not entitled really to anything. Everything good that I have is a blessing. Everything good we receive is a blessing, not an entitlement.
Adam and Eve were blessed to receive an entire garden of Paradise, except one tree that they were told to stay away from. The devil convinced them that they should feel entitled to that tree. And this is what caused the fall of man, a sense of entitlement, rather than a sense of gratitude.
We all have our ideas about when we will retire, how much longer we think we should work, what we think our retirement portfolio should look like, how much we think we should be able to travel, etc. We all have a list of dreams that we feel entitled to fulfill. And the fact is, many of those dreams won’t be. That is not because God is cruel and doesn’t want us to chase our dreams. It is because God has a roadmap for each of us laid out to our salvation. And the path He has laid out for me is not necessarily the path I would have laid out for myself.
I never dreamed 22 years ago that I would serve in the Metropolis of Atlanta. I knew on that day I would begin serving in the Metropolis of Boston, and I thought we’d stay in New England for a few years and then go back to the West Coast, where we are from. That was not God’s plan. So far, God’s plan has worked out pretty good. Sure, there are times we wish the plan had been for us to go back home, but we accept that this is His plan. And while I “plan” to work until I am 70, I am open to the possibility that perhaps I will not make it to 70, or that I’ll work far past 70.
Today I pause to mark a milestone anniversary. THIS particular day is a day to look back and remember and to look forward and dream. However, tomorrow, and most days are days to focus on the present. The present is a gift for which we should be thankful. The present is also all that we have. I do not have the last 22 years—they are over. I do not have the next 22, because I don’t know if I will make it 22 more, or 42 more. What I have is today. What you have is today. This is the gift that God has given us. Let us therefore embrace it with gratitude, be present, and make the most of what we have. And let’s not obsess (it’s okay to dream though) about what we hope to have because most likely what we think we will have is not what we will have. Today is most likely not the half-way point of my ministry. I’ve either passed that point or I haven’t reached it yet. When I think about putting my head down on the altar table 22 years ago and being ordained, at that moment, I didn’t dream of serving in Massachusetts, California or Florida. I dreamed to serve. And I am thankful to God that 22 years later, I’m still living out that dream. I pray that I will serve for as many more years as He will have me serve, and that however I am serving, and however long I am serving, will lead me to my salvation. I pray the same for you in your life.
Our thoughts are not necessarily His thoughts. So be grateful for today, give your best today. Because today is what we have. It is okay to celebrate milestones. It is okay to look ahead. But keep most of your focus on today and on salvation. Because today is all we actually have, and salvation is all we actually need.
Prayer of Protection from the Coronavirus
(Prayer by Grace Bishop Alexis (Trader) of Bethesda)
O God Almighty, Lord of heaven and earth, and of all creation visible and invisible, in Your ineffable goodness, look down upon Your people gathered in Your name. Be our helper and defender in this day of affliction. You know our weakness. You hear our cry in repentance and contrition of heart. O Lord who loves mankind deliver us from the impending threat of the corona virus. Send Your Angel to watch over us and protect us. Grant health and recovery to those suffering from this virus. Guide the hands of physicians, and preserve those who are healthy that we may continue to serve You in peace and glorify Your most honorable and majestic Name, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Thank you for being an important part of my ministry. Please pray for me today, that the Lord our God will remember my priesthood in His kingdom, now and forever.
The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! There you may find a database for past prayer team messages as well as books by Fr. Stavros and other information about his work and St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
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