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
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.
As reflect on this verse, there are two ways of interpreting the “valley of the shadow of death” that come to mind. First, there are the dark valleys of life, the times when either we have a close brush with death or a challenge or setback that we think will be the end of life as we know it. We may be in one of these now with the coronavirus. We feel like we are in one of these when we experience a medical crisis, especially when they can’t pinpoint exactly what is wrong. We experience this in some way when we lose a job or lose a loved one or experience any kind of loss. When I think of this verse, sometimes I don’t think of the literal valley between two mountains, where the sun may be shining and the ground fertile, I think of a street between two skyscrapers, where the sun never shines and where even on a hot day in summer, the place feels cold and lifeless.
When we are in this valley, we have to trust that God is walking with us. I feel like we are in a valley right now, with the uncertainty of this coronavirus. The news cycle seems to bring more bad news than good news. It’s like the newscasters almost revel in the bad news, because crisis seems to bring them relevancy. So, I’m limiting my intake of the news, and focusing more on God carrying me through this valley of uncertainty. Every day, I not only pray for health and safety for my family and our world, but I pray to God for calm for anxiety, for focus on my tasks, for wisdom and strength to meet any challenges that the day will bring, for the opportunity to help someone, for a chance to laugh, and for purpose for the day He has given me. God answers this prayer, faithfully. Yes, there are days when I ignore some of His gifts, when anxiety seems to win over calm, when I ignore His wisdom and do it my way, when I let temptation to be distracted take away my focus. I find, however, when I work in concert with God, He carries me through the valleys and allows His Light to shine in places where it is dark and cold. With God, there is light in the darkness. With the Lord, there is no reason to fear the valley and the evil or uncertain things in it.
The second way that I interpret this verse relates to the valley that we will walk through that will foreshadow our own death. We will all one-day walk through a valley that will lead to our physical death. The greatest fear associated with the coronavirus is that people will die from it. Perhaps this is the greatest fear in life, that we will die. This is why we try to preserve life and avoid death at all costs. Yet we read in I Thessalonians 4: 13-14, “But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.” It is ignorant (and that is the right word) to think that death is the worst thing that can happen to us. No one wants to die young. No one wants to see someone young die. And none of us like when someone we love dies. No one likes that. We all grieve in a very human way for the loss of a loved one. Even Jesus Himself grieved the death of His friend Lazarus, so grieving the death of a loved one is perfectly acceptable. However, if we believe in God, if we believe in salvation, then death is something that at some point in life we should embrace. I’ve met people at the end of their lives who actually embraced death, they looked forward to meeting the Lord. They died with great faith. They also had a sadness because they were leaving loving families, great marriages, wonderful children, good friends and a life they had enjoyed. But they were also devoted Christians, and they believed that at the end of life is an embrace by God as we enter eternal life. The worst thing that can happen in life is actually to die without faith.
If we walk daily with the Lord, grateful for His blessing to be alive today, purposefully using the talents with which He has blessed us, loving Him and serving others, and repenting constantly of the sins that cause us to go away from Him, on the day we find ourselves in the valley of the shadow of our own death, there will be no need to fear, we will know that He is with us, leading us home to His heavenly Kingdom.
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.
When we walk with God, there is no need to fear a valley, the shadow of death or death itself. Because God’s light can shine in any valley, and when we die with faith, we will stand in His light for all time!
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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