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
In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to me, “Flee like a bird to the mountains; for lo, the wicked bend the bow, they have fitted their arrow to the string, to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart; if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do”? The Lord is in His holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test, the children of men. The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates him that loves violence. On the wicked He will rain coals of fire and brimstone; a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold His face. Psalm 11
While this study on the Psalms will not include all of them, even from the sampling of several of the early Psalms, we are seeing that trusting in God is a consistent theme. This is because trust and faith are intertwined. In the Greek language, the word for “faith” is “pisti”. When we recite the Creed, it begins with the words “Pistevo is ena Theo,” “I believe in one God.” Thus “faith” and “belief” are intertwined, as “faith” is what we believe. Trust in Greek is “Empistosini”. The root of the word is “pisti”. If faith is what we believe, trust means a continued faith in something or someone.
I believe in God. There is never a moment that I do not believe in God. There are many moments when I question God’s plan, or even lack trust in Him and His plan. While faith is not a daily struggle, trust is actually a daily challenge. This is why we recite the Creed so often—it is actually part of the daily cycle of worship if our churches did worship daily. Because it begins with the words “I believe in one God” and then reaffirms our belief in the Holy Trinity, and it ends with the words “I look for the Resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come,” which affirms our goal and destination.
During this time of crisis, there are very few who are thinking about the Resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come. Many are thinking about whether they will have a job, or suffer a loss of income. High school graduates and college graduates are sad about missing out on the pomp and circumstance of one of life’s major milestones. College graduates in particular are worries about finding a job. Women who are about to deliver babies now have more anxiety about being in a hospital. And the list goes on and on of people who have been affected in some adverse way by our current situation. There are very few of us who have seen our life outlook actually improve. Faith reminds us that while material, secular, and financial goals might be threatened, while we may no longer “look” towards graduation or a first job or a promotion or financial security, we can still look to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come. These goals have not changed and will not change no matter what crisis we face in life.
While this current crisis is hopefully not shaking our faith in God, it is probably making many of us scratch our heads and wonder how can this be part of God’s plan? I read an article recently that said half of the Christian congregations in America have a population of less than one hundred people. And all of these churches are in danger of closing. Does this seem to fly in the face of God’s plan that all should be saved? Certainly He does not desire for half the houses of worship should close, right?
Psalm 11:3 poses the question “If the foundations are destroyed what can the righteous do?” The “foundation” for the righteous is God Himself. Certainly a church building can be destroyed, and a congregation might shutter its doors. However, the foundation for the Christian is faith itself. At a time when many congregations are focused just on keeping their doors open, perhaps God’s plan is for congregations to consolidate, building strength in numbers and becoming less focused on survival of community and more focused on revival of faith, and spreading of it. Again, just a theory that has moved around in my mind.
Verse 11:5 says “The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked.” As I said, I don’t think my faith is ever in question. I’ve never had a desire to stop believing in God, or separate myself from His church. I do, however, have frequent bouts of not trusting in God. I show up and still wonder “why?” I wonder if my lack of trust is because God is testing me or because the devil is tempting me, and sometimes, frankly, I’m not sure. For instance, is this whole covid-19 a test from God or a temptation from the devil? I’m not sure.
Which brings us to verse 11:7, which says “The Lord is righteous, He loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold His face. It doesn’t say that those who had doubts will be excluded. It says that the upright shall behold His face. If we seek righteousness on a daily basis, whether we are beset with doubt or not, we are moving towards God in our righteousness. While I have had doubts about God’s plan (and still have them) on many days of this crisis, and while I can’t seem to purge those thoughts from my mind, at the same time I try to focus on righteousness, doing things that I know are right in the sight of God. These include things like extra patience with people, an extra compliment or thank you to the people who work in stores, making more of an effort to smile and be pleasant, and continuing to worship faithfully, even though I am worshipping in an empty church building.
There are people in life that we love—parents, children, spouses, close friends. There will be days when we don’t trust these people, because they’ve done something to violate our trust. And then we will work to restore trust. This is just the nature of relationships. Love will always be there. Trust, however, will be strong or weak depending on the day. (yes, trust precedes love when building a relationship, I’m speaking more about the relationships we have that are built). Trust building is a theme in all relationships, including our relationship with God. This is why the Psalms reaffirm frequently the need to trust in God.
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.
Work on putting trust in God on a daily basis, and work on building trust in relationships as well!
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.
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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.