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
Jesus said to His disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.” John 14: 1-3 (From the First Gospel on Holy Thursday Evening) Saturday of the Third Week of Lent
Good morning Prayer Team!
On a Thursday evening, Jesus gathered His Disciples in an upper room of a home in Jerusalem. There He had a dinner with them, affectionately known as “The Last Supper.” At the dinner table, He foretold that one of His disciples, Judas, would betray Him. After dinner, He instituted the Holy Eucharist. And after that, He offered a lengthy sermon, a “farewell discourse”, to His Disciples. This discourse is recounted in the Gospel of John, chapters 13-17, and is read as the first of twelve Gospel readings on Holy Thursday evening in the Orthodox Church. It is the longest Gospel passage of the year, but it is filled with teachings that are the backbone of how to live a Christian life. The discourse begins with a commandment for the disciples to love one another, which we spoke of in the last reflection.
It continues with Jesus telling the Disciples “Let not your hearts be troubled.” What a thing to say! The Disciples surely have figured out by this point that something bad is about to happen. Several times, Jesus has told them that He is going to Jerusalem, where He tells them that He will be killed. The betrayer has already been identified and has left their company to do his job. And the mood of what Jesus is saying identifies this as a farewell speech. How could their hearts be anything but troubled!
He continues on that the reason they should not be troubled is that “In My Father’s house are many rooms” and “I go and prepare a place for you,” and “I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.” The “house” is heaven. The “many rooms” are places set aside for all the Disciples, and by extension, to all of us who are disciples, who believe in Jesus and who demonstrate that by loving Him and loving one another. The reason why we should not be troubled is that eventually we will be welcomed to the “Father’s house,” and one of the “many rooms” will be reserved for us. In all of life’s troubles and tribulations, this is the hope that we cling to. When all of life is going wrong, this is the hope that sustains us. And when we seem to be failing at everything, this is the one success that stays on the table for all of us, all the time. We’ve all seen people that seemed drained of all hope—because of a job loss, or a marriage failure, or because of a serious illness, or any number of other things—and the message for everyone, especially those who are losing hope, is that God desires for all of us to be where He is, that where He is, we may be also.
Continuing on in John 14, Jesus tells His followers that He will give them a means of sustenance, to help us especially in our hard times. In John 14:16-17, Jesus says “And I will pray that Father, and He will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth.” The “Counselor” is the Holy Spirit, and the Gift of the Spirit is “Grace” that heals what is spiritually infirm and completes what is spiritually lacking in each person. In verse 18, He says “I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you.” And in verse 26, He says “”The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” It is the Holy Spirit that is our “Comforter,” bringing guidance, “counsel”, strength and spiritual healing to each of us.
On a practical level, how do I let my heart not be troubled? The simple answer is, “do your best to honor God today.” If you are giving your best, what more is there to give? What more can God expect? Our sins and failings come about because we do NOT always give our best. If we work with honesty and integrity, without falling prey to the distractions that take our minds off of what we are supposed to be doing, then we’ve given our best. On the day we cannot work because we are sick, if we endure with patience, instead of with bitterness, then we’ve done our best. And if our results are not what we’d hoped for but we’ve given our best effort, then we need to be content with that. For all of life’s circumstances, we are sustained by two things—the “grace” of the Holy Spirit, accessible to each of us in prayer, and by the overarching hope of the “rooms” in heaven, reserved for each of us who believes, and demonstrates that belief through love.
In John 14:27, Jesus reiterates “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” If you are giving your best and staying faithful, there is no need for hearts that are troubled and filled with fear. Give your best today. Honor God with your best effort today. And whatever the results are, do not be troubled or afraid. God has told us what the promised reward is—a “room” in heaven. And He has given us an important tool—the Grace of the Holy Spirit—to guide us and sustain us through this life to that reward.
You did say: “See, My friends, that you not be troubled; for now, the hour is near for Me to be given up and slain by the hands of lawless men. All you shall be scattered, forsaking Me; but those, who I shall gather will preach a Loving God.” (From the 5th Ode of the Service of the 12 Gospels on Holy Thursday Evening, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas)
Have confidence in God today, and let that give you confidence for yourself as well!
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