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
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still water; He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me. Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies; Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.
Who are our enemies? There may be a few people in life that are adversarial towards us. There may be a few people who don’t get along with us, or with whom we don’t get along. Not everyone will like us, and we will not like everyone, and that’s okay. What is owed everyone, however, is respect, regardless of whether you like them or they like you.
An enemy is one who stands in the way of victory. On a few days, that is a person. On most days, it isn’t. On most days, our enemy might be losing focus and becoming distracted. Our enemy might be fatigue or boredom. These days, the enemy is an illness that we are having a hard time containing, and even worse, the anxiety that has come from a world that changes from day to day. We have all lost a measure of comfort, whether that be financial, freedom to go places, or our overall outlook to the future.
Psalm 23:5 speaks as if almost inviting God to set us before our enemies, be they people or circumstances. Perhaps “inviting” is too strong of a word. The meaning is that we all sit in the presence of “enemies.” However, rather than feeling defeat or despair, we hear that even in the presence of enemies, our cups can overflow. How is that possible?
Because God has anointed our heads with oil. What does that mean? In the Old Testament, the one who was anointed on the head with oil was the one that would be the king. In I Samuel 10, Samuel, God’s prophet, was sent to anoint Saul as the king of His people: “Then Samuel took a vial of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him and said, “Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince over His people Israel? And you shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their enemies round about. And this shall be the sign to you that the Lord has anointed you to be prince of His heritage.” (I Samuel 10:1) This was done again in 2 King 9, when Elisha the prophet anointed Jehu to be king of Israel.
The anointing with oil is a sign of being chosen by God. Like the kings of the Old Testament, God has chosen each of us to be His children. We were anointed at baptism with an oil of reconciliation (to reconcile us with God despite our sinfulness) and with the oil of Holy Chrism, to receive the Holy Spirit and His continual grace within us. If God’s grace completes what is lacking in us, then this grace allows us to sit with “enemies”, whoever and whatever they may be, and still thrive. God’s grace, in its power and mysticism, actually allows us to thrive in the presence of enemies. God’s grace can allow us to thrive even today, in the presence of the coronavirus and its associated anxieties.
Many of us are suffering today—we’ve lost jobs, a few people on the Prayer Team are battling illness, one in particular has a big medical test today which has brought a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. Only God can bring peace in the midst of conflict. And God’s grace can allow us to thrive in the midst of setback and uncertainty.
I take comfort not only in the words of Psalm 23:5 today, but in the words of Romans 8:38-39:
“For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Nothing—not the coronavirus, not anxiety, not financial loss, not medical uncertainty, not illness—nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Thus, we can say to our enemy (whether it is a person or a circumstance) that we will sit at the table (not necessarily eagerly, we don’t have to eagerly embrace conflict or ask for it) confident that God also sits with us, in the presence of our “enemy”, and that our cup overflows with grace, because He has chosen us, each of us, me and you, to be His children.
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.
Whoever your “enemy” is today, face him/her/it with confidence. Because you don’t sit alone, but with the Lord at your side!
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.