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
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, not stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night. Psalm 1:1-2
First, I want to thank you for the many encouraging emails I received during Holy Week and thank you for continuing to make the prayer team part of your daily life. Several weeks ago, I put the “Heart of Encouragement” unit on hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic. With people quarantined in their homes, it didn’t seem to be appropriate to write on the subject of encouragement, since a lot of what I was writing about had to do with how we encourage at school, at work, in our normal lives, which temporarily are not normal. For the next few weeks, I will be writing on the book of Psalms, which provide comfort in time of need. The intent is to provide some comfort in this time of need. When restrictions get lifted and life gets back to some semblance of normalcy, I will continue with the Heart of Encouragement unit. I will be writing on the Psalms on weekdays, and then the Sunday Scripture readings on the weekend as usual. I will not be writing on the Psalms, but the ones I will write on will be presented in chronological order.
There are 150 Psalms in the Book of Psalms, making it the longest book in the Bible. For every occasion and emotion there is in life, there seems to be a Psalm to match it. This is one reason I encourage each person to read the entire Book of Psalms and make a list of the emotion or thought that each Psalm brings to you. Not all of the Psalms are positive. Some cry out in anger and frustration. Anger is an emotion, and it is captured in the Psalms. Joy, fear, exaltation, doubt, direction, forgiveness and many other themes are captured in the Psalms. Today we begin with Psalm 1. As I meditate on this Psalm, the word that comes to mind is “focus.”
This past Holy Week was very profound in many ways. It was surreal to celebrate the services with very few people present. It did make for a couple of very personally moving moments. One of these was Holy Thursday night, at the reading of the Twelve Gospels and the Procession of the Crucified Christ. During the moments when we were putting the cross in the stand on the solea, there was absolute silence. I can’t remember the last time I experienced silence. I experience quiet often. As I sit quietly in the office typing, I hear the fan of the computer. It is quiet but not silent. There are always sounds of nature, or sounds of traffic, just extraneous other sounds all the time. Rarely is there total absence of sound. A sense of darkness also hung in the church, in addition to the silence.
There is a lot of noise in life—music plays in our earbuds, the televisions are on constantly at home, outside there are still sounds of traffic. We endless debate the coronavirus with everyone we talk to—we wonder how long the quarantine will last, how we will come back to normal, will we ever get back to normal. We bemoan things we are missing, like the beach or family gatherings. (Most of us miss going to worship terribly, and that’s actually good thing). And most of us have strong opinions on the government response (and other people’s compliance with it) to this crisis. They think it’s either too strict, or too laxed.
Psalm 1 reminds us that “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners; nor sits in the seat of scoffers.” We shouldn’t be sinning. We shouldn’t be harming those who sin. And we shouldn’t be sitting in the chair criticizing others. There is a phrase called “Armchair quarterbacking” which means one tries to pontificate their brand of what is appropriate from their armchair at home. Experts are doing their best to give us a safe course of action. Government is trying to lead and keep things safe and peaceful. I certainly do not agree with all the steps that are being taken.
Each time we feel conflicted or frustrated about the events going on, we should shift our focus toward verse two, “but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he mediates day and night.” God’s law doesn’t change whether we are in time of crisis or joy. His Law is the same—love Him, serve others. Every day, we should have a thought as to how we can show our love for God today, as well as for how we can serve others. And it shouldn’t matter if it is a work day, a weekend day, a holiday, a vacation day, a big church feastday, or a day of quarantine.
Psalm 1:3 tells us that the person who walks in the way of the Lord is “like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” A tree does not bear fruit at all time, even when it is mature, strong and very alive. In this season of the coronavirus, maybe we will not product as much material fruit either—maybe work will slow down, income might decrease, and other opportunities might be temporarily curtailed or even lost. The person who delights in God produces spiritual fruit, regardless of the season. We may not be happy about our current situation—I don’t really know anyone who is—but we can certainly maintain focus on our Lord, and in this, we can experience spiritual joy and spiritual growth.
A lot of the noise of life has been removed from us by the coronavirus and its collateral effects. It is always important to find time to be quiet and still. It is even more important now, since we need prayer for everyone who is affected in some way. It is also a great opportunity now that many distractions have been removed, to focus on quietness and stillness, so that when life goes back to “normal,” we will have built some quietness and stillness into our lives and can continue with it going forward.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, not stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. Psalm 1
Prayer of Protection from the Coronavirus
(Prayer by Grace Bishop Alexis (Trader) of Bethesda)
O God Almighty, Lord of heaven and earth, and of all creation visible and invisible, in Your ineffable goodness, look down upon Your people gathered in Your name. Be our helper and defender in this day of affliction. You know our weakness. You hear our cry in repentance and contrition of heart. O Lord who loves mankind deliver us from the impending threat of the corona virus. Send Your Angel to watch over us and protect us. Grant health and recovery to those suffering from this virus. Guide the hands of physicians, and preserve those who are healthy that we may continue to serve You in peace and glorify Your most honorable and majestic Name, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Keep focused on the Lord and producing spiritual fruit!
The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! There you may find a database for past prayer team messages as well as books by Fr. Stavros and other information about his work and St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
These readings are under copyright and is used by permission. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, in print or on other websites or in any other form, without the prior written authorization of the copyright holder: Reading © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA, Apolytikion of Abbot Marcellus © Narthex Press, Kontakion of Abbot Marcellus © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA.
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.