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
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121:1-2
The events of the past few months are really taking a toll on us. After 2.5 months of quarantine, which has disrupted school and work, thrown our economy into shambles and caused most of us heightened anxiety, we now have nationwide protest and civil unrest. I don’t know about you, but I have wondered lately, more than once, “how much more can we sustain?” It is kind of a hopeless feeling. While praying the other day, my mind went to these verses of Psalm 121. When it seems like there is no source for help, there is still one source that is always there, the Lord.
Many of us turn to our phones it seems, for all kinds of help. We flip to Fox News and CNN to find out what happened while we were sleeping. We go to Facebook or other kinds of social media for distraction. We call or text to see what others are thinking or doing. And when we have exhausted all of these sources, we are left with our own thoughts, which can quickly become filled with doubt and anxiety, hopelessness and despair. And then we go back to the phone and the cycle repeats, first distraction, and then despair.
This cycle is broken when we bring God into it. Instead of distraction, despair, distraction, despair, with God the cycle can become one of comfort and confidence.
I write a lot of personal stuff in these reflections, not to be self-promoting or egotistical, but rather to be reassuring, that I get the struggle, because I struggle too. My motives in running to the Lord vary from day to day. Some days I’m running to Him with joy. Other days, I go for a distraction. Other days, I go out of some sense of obligation, or even superstition. And sadly, on other days, I go only after I’ve gotten tired of the cycle of distraction and despair.
Psalm 121 begins with “I lift up my eyes to the hills.” To lift up our eyes means that we can’t have a downward gaze on the phone. When we’re looking down, we can’t see anything that is up. It’s always both sad and kind of funny when someone is looking down at their phone while walking and then they bump into something. We’ve all seen it, and we’ve probably all done it. The exercise of lifting up our eyes is important. It is important to be aware of what is going on around us. It is important to see the beauty of God’s creation and the people in it. It is important to look around to see who needs help. So when we are down, let’s not keep our eyes down on the screen but lift them up, to the possibilities of glorifying God and helping others around us.
The phrase “to the hills” is important. Because when we look to the hills, we look to that which is over us. We can only see the hills from the valleys. When you are on the hill, you only see the valley below. We are in a valley right now in many ways in 2020. Thus, we need to look to that which is greater than us, to the Lord, and keep our eyes on the “hills” rather than on the screens.
Let us ask ourselves, again from the words of this Psalm: “From whence does my help come?” We hopefully all have many answers for this. Hopefully we get help from our families, our friends, our church communities. Hopefully these are places of encouragement and comfort as well as help, however help might be needed.
Whether we have a big family or a close relationship with them, whether we have many friends or only a few, even if we are very active in our church community, there will still be times in every life when we will feel isolated and alone with our thoughts. Those thoughts might be confident thoughts, or anxious thoughts, but whatever our thoughts are, there will be times when we are alone with our thoughts, and there will be times when we will feel alone in our thoughts. And when those thoughts become dark or sad, we’ll wonder, where will I get help from right now when a family member or friends might not be available, when we might even feel too embarrassed to reach out to anyone, when we will struggle in our own hearts and souls. These are the times to remember that our “help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.” Our help comes from the Lord Who created everything. Our help comes from the Lord Who is always present.
When you feel like you can’t go another step, when many thoughts are just too painful to think about, when you aren’t sure what your next step is, remember to look up, and remember that the most consistent help we have is from the Lord, Who made each of us and Who desires the best for each of us.
Where do you derive your greatest strength, your greatest hope, your greatest help? Once you discover that these blessings flow most plentifully from the Lord, it will be easier to survive things like the coronavirus and civic unrest. Because we won’t be putting hope in things (like the economy) and people (like the media and politicians) who disappoint more than help, but in the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved, He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not smite you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and coming in from this time forth and for evermore. Psalm 121
Our help doesn’t come from the phone that we bought yesterday and will throw away tomorrow. Our help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth, the One who was here at the beginning, Who will be here at the end and Who will stand with us at all times in between.
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.