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
Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and his ears toward their cry. The face of the Lord is against evildoers, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:15-18
Life is hard. It is harder for some than for others. It is unbelievably hard for some. I can’t imagine what it is like to lose a child. I hope I never know this pain. But I know people who know this pain. This is the worst pain a person can feel. It is worse than the pain of economic loss, or racism, or quarantine.
Thankfully, I have not known the pain of a life-threatening illness, of wondering whether I am going to live to see another day. I hope I never will know this pain, but many people in this life will, and I may eventually be one of them. I know plenty of people who have had this pain. I’ve watched people die with this pain, many of them. This pain is certainly worse than economic loss, or racism or quarantine.
I don’t know what it’s like to think you can’t make it one more step, that jumping off a bridge or putting a gun to your head seems like the best option. I pray that I never know this pain. I know people who have experienced this pain, either because I’ve helped talk them off the ledge, or because I couldn’t and they are now dead.
There are lots of very serious difficulties in life—illness, learning disability, economic challenge, divorce, moral failing, anxiety, and yes, racism. Not everyone carries all of these burdens, but just about all of are victims of at least one. Each of these is a serious problem in our world. Each in some way is its own epidemic. There are people who are judged every day for the color of their skin. And that’s wrong. There are people who have no food to eat. And that’s wrong. There are people who are children of broken homes, who are born into poverty, who don’t have a way out or a way up. That is wrong. There are people who are morally bankrupt, who succeed by causing others to fail. That is wrong.
There is a lot of wrong in the world today. Some of that wrong gets shown on national TV because it was caught on video. And some of that wrong is never known, because it wasn’t filmed. Some of that wrong will get a visceral response and some of that wrong will be totally ignored.
Everyone seems to have an answer for what we should do about everything that they perceive is “wrong.” Everything thinks they know exactly how the “problem” as they define it can be solved. Psalm 34 gives the answer to the many problems that afflict our society—“Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14) I’m going to make a point of saying that verse to myself multiple times a day. Imagine if we said that verse before driving, before every phone call, before every tempting situation, before every encounter with every person.
I can’t bring peace to the whole world, but I can bring peace to “my world.” I can be peaceful to all the people I see today, whatever race or creed they happen to be, whatever circumstance they find themselves in. I can find a kind word. I can be generous and give money to find food for those who don’t have any. I can encourage others to do the same. We can all do these things.
I remember on September 11, 2001, when we all felt violated by the terrorist attack on America. We felt like we were all attacked. We were scared. And then we were angry. I remember saying to my congregation in Asheville, as we gathered for a service that night, that our response needed to be not vengeance on those who wronged us, but to continue to have peace among ourselves. Because as we read in Psalm 34:15-16, “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears toward their cry. The face of the Lord is against evildoers, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.” I remember saying that night that the terrorist murderers might escape the justice of man, but they wouldn’t escape the justice of God which will be severe and eternal.
By no means should we not fight against racism and racist people. Just like we need to stick up for the rights of people with learning disabilities, feed the hungry, calm the anxious, be attentive to those who are sad, etc. I don’t know what’s going to happen to that officer who killed George Floyd. I hope he’ll be in jail for a very long time. Along with other oppressors, like criminals, terrorists, and looters. But even if he and they don’t get what people perceive will be appropriate justice, they can’t escape the justice of God.
As for us, our job is to seek peace and pursue it. Just as the “Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit,” (34:18) we are to do the same—be near the brokenhearted and those who are crushed in spirit. If I live my life seeking peace and pursuing it, I won’t get angry when I suffer afflictions cause by the fallen world (like illness) or fallen people (like unnecessary oppression), because as we read in Psalm 34:19, “many are the afflictions of the righteous.” God practically promises us that those who are righteous will suffer affliction. But He also promises us that “The Lord redeems the life of His servants; none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned.” (34:22) Meaning that He helps those who are afflicted get through this life before opening to them the gates of everlasting life.
Standing up and protesting something with our words is righteous. Helping the person who’s been kicked to the curb is righteous. Seeing all people as children of God is righteous. Hurting others is evil. Rioting and looting hurts others. It is evil. Racism hurts people. It is evil.
We don’t need platitudes and protests to solve the problem of unrest in America. We certainly don’t need fires and vandalism. And we can’t count on our politicians to do it. We need to encourage a simple choice by ALL Americans. “Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursuit it.” (Psalm 34:14)
I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exult His name together! I sought the Lord and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. Look to Him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and delivers them. O taste and see that the Lord is good! Happy is the man who takes refuge in Him! O fear the Lord, you His saints, for those who fear Him have no want! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. Come, O sons, listen to me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord. What man is there who desires life, and covets many days, that he may enjoy good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips form speaking deceit. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursuit it. The eyes of the Lord are towards the righteous, and His ears toward their cry. The face of the Lord is against evildoers, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. Evil shall slay the wicked; and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The Lord redeems the life of His servants; none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned. Psalm 34
Seek peace in your corner of the world today! That’s a choice that is available to each of us, no matter who we are, what we look like, how much money we make or anything else that makes us different.
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.