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.
Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his Master; nor is He Who is sent greater than He Who sent Him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. John 13: 15-17
I can’t tell you how many committees and task forces I have been on in my years as a priest. Most start off with good intentions and many die a slow and agonizing death (some even die quickly). Many times we are so focused on the “means to the end” that we forget about the end itself—furthering the Gospel of Christ. I’ve been in meetings “about church” where Christ hasn’t even been mentioned. It’s like we forget our purpose.
The lesson for today is that it is important that we DO something to advance our faith, that we DO something with our talents, that we DO something with what has been entrusted to us. It is not enough to think about doing, or talk about doing or even to set up a committee to discuss doing. We have to DO something.
In today’s Bible verse, Christ tells His disciples, it is not just knowing things that make one blessed but actually doing them.
When a child is very young, they don’t know much. They may not know their colors, for example. They may not be able to hold a paint brush. So we give them finger paint and we let them create with whatever limited knowledge they have. As they learn their colors and as they get dexterity, they go from finger painting to more sophisticated artwork. The first work of the artist was not sophisticated, it was rudimentary.
And so we don’t tell the Orthodox Christian to master spirituality before reading the Bible to their children. We allow babies to receive Holy Communion without any understanding of fasting. We offer prayers and don’t necessarily know what they mean.
Take for instance, the Jesus Prayer. It is one of the most simple of prayers and one of the most traditional Orthodox Prayers—Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. It is very simple, yet very complex. Who can fathom God’s mercies? Or the depth of our own sins? Yet, we can offer this prayer mentioning both, even though we can’t fully grasp either.
One of the reasons the Church baptizes infants is so that they will experience Christ before they know anything about Him. Committees take the opposite approach—they talk before doing anything, and many times, an idea ends at the talk stage, not because it isn’t a good idea but because people get fatigued about an idea when it is talked to death. Imagine if we took the committee approach to baptism. We required people to talk about it for years and years, if they talked about the potential to be baptized and the potential to live the Christian life before actually doing these things. A fair number of people would be turned aside from Christianity because the incessant talk with no action wouldn’t keep their attention.
It is important that we focus on doing things, even small things, so that there is quick return or action on what we are talking about not, that the idea doesn’t just end with talk itself. We have spent more time talking about the inadequacies of Sunday school materials than actually improving them, as an example. I was in a meeting recently where we were again rehashing why our kids aren’t learning the faith. Someone had a great idea for how to change our Sunday school materials, and before they could get their thought out, someone else cut them off and went back to haranguing about how we can’t get any good materials. We were so caught up with our criticism of Sunday school that we couldn’t hear an idea for how to improve it.
Years ago, a clergy group talked about the need to pray with one another. It was suggested that the clergy gather periodically for a Paraklesis service, to pray for one another in a corporate context but just with clergy. And then someone asked “what language will we do the service in?” There was an argument about how much Greek or English should be done. And the service never happened. This is unfortunately how many committees are working. If we’re not careful, our faith, along with our ideas, can die in committee.
We’ve got to keep meetings at a minimum. Yes, they are necessary. But we need to focus on the doing, rather than on the talking about doing. We don’t need to reinvent the message of Christ. We just need to share it.
Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, things that we have heard and known, hat our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation that glorious deeds of the Lord, and His might, and the wonders which He has wrought. He establishes a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers to teach to their children; that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments. Psalm 78: 1-7
There is a reason why we have one mouth and two hands. So, let’s take the focus off of talking and put it on doing.
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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