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.
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore, I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.” Matthew 21: 42-43
As we return to church this evening, the scene is much different from the morning. Gone is the joy of the triumphal entry in to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The colors have gone from bright to dark. The crowds have gone way. Tonight we open our Holy Week Books and the long journey begins.
It has become the Orthodox Tradition in recent centuries that the services have been moved ahead about twelve hours. Thus the Orthros (Matins) service traditionally celebrate in the morning has been moved to the evening before. So, on Palm Sunday evening, we are already celebrating the Orthros of Holy Monday.
These first three evenings of Holy Week, we celebrate the service of the Bridegroom, or NymphiosService, as it is called in Greek. The icon of Christ the Bridegroom is carried in procession Palm Sunday evening, and will be displayed through Wednesday morning at all services. The theme of these services is watchfulness. The theme of the Bridegroom is taken from the Parable of the Ten Maidens, told in Matthew 25:1-13. The lesson of this parable is “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (25:13) In other words, we don’t know on what day or hour the Bridegroom is going to come for us and invite us to the marriage feast.
The icon of the Nymphios shows Christ as our Bridegroom. We, the Church, are the bride. Like the traditional bridegroom, Christ is asking us to marry Him, to share our lives with Him. Rather than being dressed like a knight in shining armor, however, He appears with all the instruments of His Passion. A crown of thorns, the purple robe, the reed of mockery in his hand, his hands bound. He offers to lay down His life for us. His countenance looks both determined and faithful, but is also looks sad, as He knows that His proposal was rejected two thousand years ago, and still is rejected many times to this day.
The Gospel lesson is taken from Matthew 21. The scene is Monday morning, the day after the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. Jesus is walking back to the city, as He had lodged in Bethany. Along the way He finds a fig tree with no fruit on it and He curses the fig tree. The fig tree withers at once. The fig tree represents both the people of Israel, who bore no fruit in rejecting Jesus as the Christ, and it also represents us today, if our faith bears no fruit, or if our lives do not bear spiritual fruit. We will be cursed and wither, just as the fig tree.
From there, the scene moves to the temple, as Jesus begins to interact with the temple authorities—the chief priests and the elders. They try to trap Jesus and question His authority. He then tells them a parable of two sons, both of whom were asked by their father to go out into the vineyard and work. One son said no but later went, the other said yes but did not go. Jesus makes the point that it was the first son, the one who had appeared to be disobedient, who ended up doing the will of his father. Jesus tells the Jewish leaders that the tax collectors and the harlots would go to heaven before them because they believed and repented. Meanwhile the Jewish leaders, who appeared outwardly obedient, never believe in the Messiah, nor did they repent of their corrupt ways.
The Gospel lesson finishes with a parable about wicked tenants. A householder planted a vineyard and lent it out to tenant. The household is God, the tenants are the people of Israel, specifically their leaders. Notice that the householder didn’t give them the vineyard. Rather, he lent it to them. We all know that a loan is temporary. It will eventually be called in. When it was the season for the vineyard to bear fruit, the householder sent servants to the vineyard to see the tenants and get the fruit. The tenants beat one of the servants, killed another and stone another. The householder sent more tenants and the same thing happened to them. These servants represent the prophets that came before Christ, who were not received by the people of Israel. The householder then decided to send his son. The tenants saw the son and decided they should kill him and have his inheritance. The son, of course, represents Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Jewish leaders were about to take the Son, and have Him killed. Jesus’ parable was about them. When Jesus asks the Jewish leaders what the owner of the vineyard should do to those tenants, they answer that he should put those tenants to a miserable death and that he should lend the vineyard to others tenants who will be more obedient in giving him the fruits of his vineyard. It is amazing that they could not see that He was prophesying about them.
Jesus then tells them that “The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.” (Matthew 21:42) This is a quote from the Psalms, which certainly the temple leaders would have known. It was foretold in the Old Testament that Jesus, the cornerstone, would be rejected by His own people. He concludes the parable by telling them that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from them, and given to others who will produce fruit.
These teachings, while warnings to the Jewish leaders, also serve as a warning to us. There are many lessons to take away from this Gospel reading. First, are we bearing fruit for God—are we repenting, are we spreading the word, as we adding anything to the Christian message. Or are we barren, like the fig tree, that is producing no fruit. The lesson of the fig tree was that it bore no fruit and therefore withered. The same fate awaits those who bear no fruit for God. The second lesson is the lesson of the two sons—that ultimately it is not what we say that matter, but what we do. The third lesson concerns the tenants of the vineyard. We are all tenants in God’s vineyard. Again, are we producing any fruit? What are we doing with our lives, with the gift of time and of life that God has given us? How do we receive God’s messengers? With joy? With angst? Finally, if Jesus is supposed to be the cornerstone of our lives, can we honestly say if He is really the cornerstone of ours? We know that the cornerstone is the main block in the foundation of a building. Is our foundation in Jesus Christ, or in something else. The last verse reminds us that if we don’t produce fruits for God, what we have will be taken away from us. Because God wants fruits from us, but more important, He wants a good effort from us. He wants to be our bridegroom. He wants us to be His bride. But He requires us to be prepared at all times to meet Him. What are you doing today with the fruit He has blessed you with? What will He find you doing if He comes for you today?
Behold the Bridegroom comes in the midst of the night; and blessed is the servant, whom He shall find vigilant; and unworthy is he, whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, that you will not be overcome by sleep, lest you be given up to death, and be shut out from the Kingdom. Wherefore, rouse yourself, crying out: “Holy, Holy, Holy are You, our God, through the Theotokos, have mercy on us.” (Hymn of the Bridegroom, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas)
Be vigilant and diligent, by using the talents with which God has blessed you!
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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