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
And they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid.” Luke 2:9-10
Good morning Prayer Team!
Think about when you are most afraid. It’s when you don’t know the outcome of something. People feel fear before they take a test, particularly medical tests, because they don’t know what the outcome is going to be. People are afraid of the unknown, because they don’t have mastery of it and can’t control the results. People get afraid when they upset friends because they wonder if they’ve permanently damaged a relationship. Sometimes fear is irrational. For instance, I used to get very afraid during scary movies, until I realized that the people on the screen are just actors, and no one is really going to get hurt or die on the movie set. Most of the time, however, fear is real, and powerful, and even debilitating.
Imagine these shepherds, working in the quiet, yet predictably hazardous conditions in the fields outside of Bethlehem. And then an angel appears, surrounded by God’s glory. Naturally, the shepherds were afraid. After all, what is an angel?! And what was surrounding the angel?!
How would YOU feel is you were confronted by an angel? Would you be filled with fear, or joy? I’d have to say that I’d be filled with fear, at least until I understood the message and purpose of the angel’s visit. So, the reaction of the shepherds was quite normal.
The first thing the angel says to the shepherds, before delivering the good news, ministers to their trepidation. The angels says, calmly and reassuringly, “Be not afraid.” His tone is not judgmental but reassuring.
One of the wonderful things about God is that He reassures us. He invites us. In Matthew 11: 28-30, Jesus tells us: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” What a great thought for those who are stressed out!
And in Luke 15: 7, Jesus says “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who need to repentance.” What a comforting thought for the person who feels estranged from God because of his sins. You know how many people tell me that they feel far from God because of what they’ve done. And I tell them, come back to God, and when you do, the angels will be rejoicing in heaven. Just because your relationship with Christ isn’t what it should be, there is no need to fear. There is great incentive to come back.
Psalm 103 addresses fear by telling us “But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep His covenant and remember to do His commandments.” Love from everlasting to everlasting, even to those who are afraid! There is no need to fear at all!
Now for a practical application. God reassures us. We have to reassure one another. Many times, whether we intend to or not, we PUT fear into our neighbor. Whether we intend to or not, at times we all cause the blood pressure of our neighbor to rise. There are people in my life that my palms sweat when I have to call them on the phone. They make me feel fear. So, one goal you should strive to have in your life is to have no one who is afraid of you. To have no one who feels they have to tip-toe on egg-shells because of you. When your neighbor is nervous, remember the words of God’s angel: Be not afraid. We get the chance to play the role of the angel more often than we think—to our spouses, our children, our co-workers and our friends. Take every opportunity to reassure people.
How awesome is the mystery that was about to be revealed by the angel to the shepherds. Truly awesome are the mysteries of God. Holy Communion is a mystery—how bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ is a mystery. But the opportunity we have to receive these Gifts is truly AWEsome. It should fill us with AWE and a measure of fear. After all, we can’t take the opportunity to touch the Divine lightly. A healthy fear and awe and respect is a good thing. We shouldn’t have so much fear that we stay away from the things of God. We should have a healthy respect for the things of God so that we can maintain a sense of reverence as we partake of them, and self-control as we prepare to do so.
We naturally fear what we do not know. The shepherds had that fear. But listen to the message of God, told to us over and over again throughout the scriptures. His consistent message is “Be NOT afraid.” And once we get over our fear, and replace fear with awe and respect, then we are more ready to hear the message which follows.
Do not be afraid to develop a relationship with God. Do not make others afraid to develop a relationship with you!
Sanctify our souls; purify our bodies; set our minds right; clear up our thoughts, and deliver us from every sorrow, evil and distress. Surround us with Your holy Angels so that being guarded and guided by their presence we may arrive at the unity of the faith and the knowledge of Your ineffable glory; for blessed are you unto the ages of ages. Amen. (Prayer of the Hours, from Royal Hours of the Nativity, Trans. Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Have an AWEsome day!
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The Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) is an official agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops. OCN offers videos, podcasts, blogs and music, to enhance Orthodox Christian life. The Prayer Team is a daily devotion written by Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis, the parish priest at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, Florida. Devotions include a verse from scripture, a commentary from Fr. Stavros, and a short prayer that he writes to match the topic.
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