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.
For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies not doing any work. II Thessalonians 3: 11
This unit of our discussion continues to reflect on bridging gaps from how things are to how they could be. One of the challenges in setting up our churches and being apostles is the church calendar. Does a full calendar indicate a healthy church? Does an empty calendar indicate a failing church? Interesting questions.
I know from experience that when the calendar is full of activities, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the Gospel is being spread. It depends what the activities are. If it’s Monday night basketball, Tuesday night Greek school, Wednesday night finance committee meeting and Thursday is festival planning meeting, it’s doubtful that there is much spirituality present—its sports, culture and business. If we add a HOPE/JOY movie night Friday night, a GOYA car wash on Saturday, and a Philoptochos bake sale on Sunday, we look more like a mall than a church. Which means that the priest is more activity coordinator, or as I like to call the “cruise director.” (Remember Julie from “The Love Boat”?)
Our churches do not need to look like cruise ships, malls, athletic stadiums or business. They are none of these things. They are communities of faithful people seeking salvation and working to spread the message of the Gospel. This is why we have our churches. Looking at the five core values we’ve identified, the calendar should reflect all of our core values—Love, worship, community, learning, service.
The Liturgical life is the most important event on the weekly calendar. I have often told people that if you are going to come to the church property once a week, it should be for the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, not for a meeting or a social event. There are specific days of the year on which the Church traditionally celebrates the Divine Liturgy—there are about fifty of them outside of Sundays. Adding in Lenten services, Paraklesis services and other special services (not counting baptisms, weddings and funerals), there should be at least 150 opportunities to worship in a church each year. How many are you taking advantage of? How many is a church community scheduling? And is this ministry supported by choir, chanter, and faithful people who attend? If anything “dominates” the calendar, it should be worship services.
However, it is not just worship services that should be on the calendar. There needs to be opportunities for the community to gather for fellowship. Fellowship builds the community. Fellowship is what allows members to know one another, and to then help and encourage one another. There is nothing wrong with some social events on the calendar. There is nothing wrong with ministries like Philoptochos or GOYA having fellowship components.
But it can’t end there. There needs to be opportunities for the community to learn. Yes, this includes Sunday school. Ideally there is a Bible study (at least one) held in every community each week. There should also be an opportunity for catechism, so that there is a means for inquirers to learn more about the faith and for people who have been in the church for many years to learn more and refresh what they know. One day retreats are also very effective. Many people cannot commit to a weekly Bible study but can benefit from a one day infusion of learning that can come through a retreat. Looking at the yearly calendar of the church community, there need to be opportunities for the faithful to learn.
There is one thing that is missing from most church community calendars and that is service. There needs to be events that are service oriented scheduled on a regular basis. In the community I currently serve in Tampa, we have a ministry to feed the hungry at a local Protestant church in downtown on the third Saturday of each month. We schedule extra service events at Thanksgiving and Christmas. We also look for opportunities through choir (singing at nursing homes), HOPE/JOY (our young children who put together Boxes of Hope at Thanksgiving), GOYA (our teens who have done service projects), Philoptochos (various services project/charity drives) and our community (various service projects/charity drives) to engage in service throughout the year.
Yes, there are plenty of meetings on our calendar as well. But the calendar cannot be dominated by meetings to the exclusion of the important elements of worship, community, learning and service. And why is that? Because it is these things that grow the church, spread the Gospel and ultimately change the world. Meeting don’t do that.
Deliver me from my enemies, O my God, protect me from those who rise up against me, deliver me from those who work evil, and save me from bloodthirsty men. For lo, they lie wait for my life; fierce men band themselves against me. For no transgression or sin of mine, O Lord, for no fault of mine, they run and make ready. Rouse thyself, come to my help, and see! Thou, Lord God of hosts, art God of Israel. Awake to punish all the nations; spare none of those who treacherously plot evil. Each evening they come back, howling like dogs and prowling about the city. There they are, bellowing with their mouths, and snarling with their lips—for “Who,” they think, “will hear us?” But Thou, O Lord, dost laugh at them; Thou dost hold all the nations in derision. O my Strength, I will sing praises to Thee; for Thou, O God, art my fortress. My God in His steadfast love will meet me; my God will let me look in triumph on my enemies. Slay them not, lest my people forget; make them totter by Thy power, and bring them down, O Lord, our shield! For the sin of their mouths, the words of their lips, let them be trapped in their pride. For the cursing and lies which they utter, consume them in wrath, consume them till they are no more, that men may know that god rules over Jacob to the ends of the earth. Each evening they come back howling like dogs and prowling about the city. They roam about for food, and growl if they do not get their fill. But I will sing of Thy might; I will sing aloud of Thy steadfast love in the morning. For Thou hast been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my Strength, I will sing praises to Thee, for Thou, O God, art my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love. Psalm 59
If you are in parish leadership, make sure that the parish calendar does not only consist of meeting and cultural events, but of worship, community, learning and service events. If you are in parish leadership, make sure that you do more than just go to meetings. To all members of the community, make it a priority to worship. Circle Sunday Liturgy on your calendar every week. Then, get as involved as you can in the community, learning and service opportunities, not just the meetings.
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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