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, 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.
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people. Matthew 4:23
Having reflected on our WHY and having discussed what happened on the day of our baptism, when we were given our respective commissions, we now move to the work of the church, the HOW we will spread the message, and then the nitty-gritty of what does that look like.
We will spend the next three reflections looking at three Bible verses that give brief “mission statements” of what Christ wants from His Church. Many people think we need a good command of the entire Bible to understand the mission of the Church. And because the Bible is so long and intimidates so many people, people don’t read it and they miss out on the many “nuggets” of beautiful things it contains. Certainly we should read as much of the Bible as possible and we should read it and reread it often because we will glean different things with successive readings.
Imagine for a moment that you are setting up a church community from scratch. You want to make it attractive so that people will come to it. And you want to make it in line with what the Bible says the church should look like—not architecturally, but community wise. Matthew 4:23 is a good place to start. In this short verse of Scripture that almost gets lost because it doesn’t contain any action or notable quotes from Jesus, we read that Jesus “went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom and healing every disease and infirmity among the people.”
This verse tells us who the target audience is for the Church and its message of salvation. And that target is everyone. Galilee, even though there were some heavy concentrations of Jews, was primarily a Gentile territory. The fact that Jesus went there towards the beginning of His public ministry tells us that He put a high value on people who were not like Him. In this case, He put a lot of value on bringing Gentiles (non-Jews, not God’s chosen people) to Him. In our case, it means we should put value on bringing the message of salvation to the unchurched, and to those who have fallen away from the church, in addition to those who already are part of the community. This verse indicates that growth and spreading of the message of vitally important to the life of the Church and to each Christian who is a member of the Church.
Christ did three specific things in His ministry in Galilee, which now stand as the three basic things that the church does—preaching, teaching and healing. During Jesus’ public ministry, preaching was when He gathered large crowd of people together and spoke to them, think “Sermon on the Mount.” With five thousand men in attendance, it is unlikely that there was a lot of discussion. A lecture would have been the only method that would have worked.
Christ was teaching small groups of people. Think of Him teaching the Disciples, or Mary and Martha in their home. Teaching occurs when there is a smaller number of people, which allows for ideas to both discussed and challenged.
Christ was healing people. He opened the eyes of the blind, He healed those who were crippled, He gave hope to many people who were infirm by healing them and restoring them to health.
In our Church today, these three charges—preaching, teaching and healing—should still be the cornerstones. Preaching is one of the primary roles of the priest. Preaching is gathering the entire congregation together and imparting the Word of God to the people. “Preaching” can also be found in writing, which is one reason I write so much.
Teaching is different than preaching, in my opinion. Teaching occurs in smaller groups, where people sit around a table and dialogue, where there is the opportunity for question and discussion. There are many more people than just the priest who can teach as well. Whether it is a Sunday school class or a Bible study there are many places where teaching can occur. We’ll talk about “small groups” later but these are also an excellent way to teach and learn about the faith.
Healing is the aspect of this verse that occurs in the most diverse ways. The Divine Liturgy is healing. So are the sacrament of Holy Unction and Confession. So is prayer. And so is pastoral care and counseling.
Notice, nowhere on the list does it say that festivals and dances are an essential part of the church. I would say that “fellowship” is an essential part of any church community and we’ll discuss that a little bit later. But we can’t emphasize fellowship over teaching, preaching and healing. This includes not just what the church “offers” but what the congregants participate in. Each member of the church must be partaking in the preaching, teaching and healing ministries of the church, since these are three essential components.
Incline Thy ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. Preserve my life for I am godly; save Thy servant who trusts in Thee. Thou art my God; be gracious to me, O Lord, for to Thee do I cry all the day. Gladden the soul of Thy servant, for to Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. For Thou, o Lord, art good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on thee. Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; hearken to my cry of supplication. In the day of my trouble I call on Thee, for Thou dost answer me. There is none like Thee among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like Thine. All the nations Thou has made shall come and bow down before Thee, O Lord, and shall glorify Thy name. For Thou art great and doest wondrous things, Thou alone art God. Teach me Thy way, O Lord, that I may walk in Thy truth; unite my heart to fear Thy name. I give thanks to Thee, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify Thy name forever. For great is Thy steadfast love toward me; Thou has delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol. O God, insolent men have risen against me; a band of ruthless men seek my life, and they do not set Thee before them. But Thou, O Lord, art a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Turn to me and take pity on me; give thy strength to Thy servant, and save the son of Thy handmaid. Show me a sign of Thy favor, that those who hate me may see and be put to shame, because Thou, Lord, hast helped me and comforted me. Psalm 86
Teaching, preaching and healing are essential components for any church community!
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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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