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
Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty. Matthew 13:23
Do you understand? This is a question we often ask our children, a question that we were asked as children. For those of us who are parents, when our children were little, and maybe even when they were not so little, we gave clear instructions and then asked “Do you understand?” “Do you understand that you have to look both ways before you cross the street?” “Do you understand that you have to eat all of dinner before you get dessert?” We gave them simple instructions to simple truths, and then made sure they understood what we were saying by asking this simple question—do you understand? And if they said they didn’t, or we think they didn’t, we told them again, patiently, or maybe not so patiently, what we were looking for, until they understood what we were getting it.
Of course, the next natural question to ask our children is, “Now that you understand, as you doing to do as I asked?” Understanding a task is one thing. Willingness to do what you’ve been asked is something else.
Do you understand the mission of the church? We’ve discussed it exhaustively, so I hope the answer is yes. The answer is simple—The Great Commission—Go, make disciples, baptize, teach. It is the clergy that are charged with doing the baptisms. Thus, most of us will go through life never doing a baptism. Of these four things—go, make disciples, baptize and teach—baptizing is the easiest. I’ve done over 400 baptisms in 20+ years as a priest. Who knows how high that number will go in my life? But have I made 400 disciples? I’ve been to 400 ceremonies, and many of those who I have baptized have fallen away from the church, either by choice, or because their parents never brought them back. So, the mission of the church, isn’t simply to baptize, because baptizing alone is not the indicator of a successful parish, or a successful Christian life.
The challenge of the mission comes from the other three words—Go, make disciples and teach. One can’t sit still and “go” at the same time. Sitting is passive, going is active. So sitting in church each Sunday, absorbing the service and sermon, while important aspects to a Christian life, and certainly necessary components to being a disciple, do not in themselves fulfill the mission. If everyone came and sat, and nobody “went”, the church would die with the present congregation. The church exists today because of people “go-ing.” The Gospel has reached all corners of the world because people were willing to go and take it to all the corners of the world. No one expects you to go to a remote village in Africa, but have you “gone” with the Gospel to all the corners of your world? Do you know Christ? Do your children? Do your parents? How about your best friends? How about the people you spend the most time with? Have you taken Christ to all the corners of your own world?
Do you know enough to teach someone about Christ, if they asked you a question? If someone asked you how to pray, could you tell them, not based on a quote from Scripture necessarily but from your own personal experience? If we are supposed to “teach”, then we must have learned something. We are teaching our son how to pray—we’ve taught him from his youth, fold your hands, bow your head, say something to the Lord. We model that for him every day. He sees that we go to church every Sunday, that we go to bed at a reasonable hour on Saturday so we can go to worship on Sunday. He sees that we reserve Holy Week for worship. We are teaching him mostly by example, and sometimes by direction. We welcome his questions and we do our best to answer them. Will he finish his life as a Christian? We don’t know. Will he finish college? We don’t know that either. We are helping teach him the basics in school, so that he will have a chance to go to college. If we didn’t help him learn the alphabet, no way could he think of college. So, will he finish his life as a Christian, or still be in the church as an adult? We don’t know. What we do know is that if we don’t teach him about Christ, he probably won’t be. And if we do teach him, we’ve done what we’ve been asked to do.
Make disciples—this seems difficult, after all, no one can make anyone do anything they don’t want to do. “Discipleship” is a word not often used in Orthodox circles. It involves exposing someone to the faith, encouraging, teaching and inviting them to be a disciple. This is something we are all called to do as well. Find people who don’t know Christ, or who don’t know Him well, and expose them to the faith, encourage, and invite them. Has ANYONE come closer to Christ because of something you have said or done? A goal in life is to answer this question at least one time, and hopefully many.
The Church is a group of Christians. If each individual Christian understands the mission, then when the individuals come to the Church, the Church is going to successful carry out the mission. After all, no one expects us to carry out the great commission alone. It should be a collective, unified effort of a Church community. Our next reflection will follow through on how understanding our mission will create a vision for what the church can and should be.
Make me understand the way of Thy precepts, and I will meditate on Thy wondrous works. My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to Thy word! Put false ways far from me; and graciously teach me Thy law! I have chosen the way of faithfulness, I set Thy ordinances before me. I cleave to Thy testimonies, O Lord; let me not be put to shame! I will run in the way of Thy commandments when Thou enlargest my understanding! Teach me, O Lord, the way of Thy statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep Thy law and observe it with my whole heart. Psalm 119: 27-34
Each of us has a mission—go, make, baptize and teach. This is both an individual and a community mission. But the mission is clear, and it’s pretty simple to understand. It is difficult to do, but easy to understand. Do you understand? Are you willing to do?
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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