Then God said, “Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

Genesis 1:26-27

As we take our first steps on the journey of Great Lent, as we cry out to God, as we begin to examine the depths of our souls, it is important to go back to the beginning, to something that is critical for the foundation of life and faith—and that is that each of us has value. We know this from the story of creation.

The very first thing one has to believe in order to be a Christian is that God created everything, including us. Someone greater than us made us. Logic would say that there is no way that a lesser being can create a greater being, so someone lesser than us did not make us. Nor can someone equal to us have made us. Which means that someone greater than us made us and that is God. We are not random acts, but purposeful creations of His hands.

The account of creation in the book of Genesis tells of God purposefully acting at every step of creation. He created light, then heaven, earth, plants, sun, moon, stars, fish, birds, and mammals. At each stage of creation, God looked at what He created and saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:10, 1:12, 1:18, 1:21, 1:25)

After creating all of this, God said, in Genesis 1:26-27, “Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. The word for “image” in Greek is “eikona” which we also translate as “icon.” The icons in our churches are holy images. So, when God made human beings, He made them as images/icons of God. He made us to reflect Him. He put Himself into each of us. That is what we call a soul, the God-like part of each of us.

Everything that God made was perfect. He didn’t create imperfect things. Imperfection entered the world through sin. God made us to reflect Him. In Genesis 1:31, we read that God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was VERY good. The descriptive word “very” is only used here in the account of creation, because with the creation of mankind, God had the crowning jewel of creation. Now creation was complete.

If God is in each of us, (whether we acknowledge that or not, He is) then each of us has infinite value, in His eyes, and we should have infinite value in the eyes of others. There are many people who struggle with low self-esteem, who think they have no value, and that is simply not the case. God made each of us and so we each have infinite value.

The Divine services of our church are created to be sensory experiences. We see things, we hear things, we smell things, we taste things, we touch things. The best kind of learning is experiential learning, where one has an experience and can remember that experience. Experiential learning is a lot more effective than learning by lecture. Thus, our worship is meant to be an occasion not only for praising God but learning about Him and about ourselves.

One of the experiences we have in our Divine services is the visual and auditory practice of the priest using the censer. At almost every service, the priest censes the icons in the church. He censes the Altar Table, as it is the throne of God. He censes the icons on the icon screen, the Holy images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, the angels and the saints. And then he censes the people, and why? Because the people are holy images, just like the saints and the angels. This should be a visual and auditory reminder that we are called to be saints and that we have value, each of us, even if we’ve messed things up. The priest doesn’t cense only the people that who identify themselves as righteous, or who he thinks are righteous. He censes ALL the people, EVERY time.

During Great Lent, it is the custom in some churches for the priest to use a censer that does not have bells on it. The bells on the censer—there are twelve, representing the twelve Apostles—are an auditory reminder that we are also apostles, charged at our baptisms with the same Great Commission that they were, to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) We are reminded to go and make noise about the faith in a good way. The absence of bells comes from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 26:31, when He said to the Disciples “You will all fall away because of Me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” When the going got tough, and Jesus was arrested, all the Disciples, save for John, scattered. When we sin, we scatter from Christ as well.

We do not stop using the censer during the weekdays of Great Lent. We still cense all the icons and the people, even with a censer without bells. Because when we sin and we scatter, we still have value in the eyes of God. The absence of bells is itself an auditory reminder to be careful and vigilant in our battle to reflect God while avoiding sin, to not fall away in times of temptation.

At a recent retreat, I gave a presentation on this topic of the censer and how we all have value, and after the retreat, a young man approached me and said, “Thank you for your presentation. I actually didn’t think I had any value.” Which made me happy, and sad. Happy for reassuring someone that they mattered, that they had value. Sad because one of God’s beautifully created people was walking through life questioning if he had any value.

If you are like this person, questioning your own value, or even if you have any value, let me assure you that you do. We are all created after God’s image and likeness, we are all icons of Him. We devalue ourselves when we sin. We reclaim our value when we repent and because He has infinite capacity to forgive. As we begin this journey, wherever you are in your life, remember that you have value. The best place to start over is to go back to the very beginning and reestablish in your mind and your own soul, that you have value, because God made you after His own image, as an icon of Himself.

Have mercy on me, O God. Have mercy on me.
As the potter molds the clay, You fashioned me, giving me flesh and bones, breath and life. But accept me in repentance, O my Maker and Deliverer and Judge. (Canon of St. Andrew, Ode One, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

Wherever you are in your life, especially if you feel stuck in stress, sin, shame or despair, remember that you have value in the eyes of God!


Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

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 multiple books, you can view here:


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