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
Do not forsake me, O Lord! O my God do not be far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!
There are a group of six Psalms that are read at every Orthros (Matins) service in the Orthodox Church. The second of the six is Psalm 38. This lengthy Psalm is a prayer of a penitent. A penitent is someone who recognizes that they have sinned and needs God’s forgiveness. Remember that David had sinned egregiously by committing adultery with another man’s wife, and then sending that man to the front lines of battle to be killed. David feels that God is absent (or at best very distant) from his life. And Psalm 38 is a plea for God to not forsake him, despite what he had done.
The beginning of the Psalm talks about the symptoms David is feeling, arrows that have sunk into him (v. 2), overall feeling unhealthy (v. 3), feeling the weight of iniquity that burdens his soul (v. 4), an overall feeling that he is getting worse (v. 5), a perpetual state of sadness (v. 6), his body aches (v. 7) and he feels spent and crushed (v. 8).
Many of us are feeling these kind of symptoms these days, not as a consequence of a sin necessarily, but because of the anxiety related to covid-19 and civil unrest. We’ve all had days where we have felt many of these things described in Psalm 38: 2-8. That’s one of the reasons why reading the Psalms is so therapeutic, because they speak to us in our situation right now. We may not have committed the same sins that David did, or we may not have even sinned at all to cause these feelings, yet we have these feelings of anxiety, sadness, feeling spent and crushed.
Reflecting on what David did, we can find some sound advice for how we should handle our own pains. “Lord, all my longing is known to Thee.” (v. 9) God knows the desire in each of our hearts. He knows the pain in each heart. David reflects with sadness that his “friends and companions stand aloof from my plague; and my kinsmen stand afar off.” (v. 11) This indifference is not necessarily evil and punitive. Being aloof may just mean being ignorant. And ignorance sometimes happens because we are so wrapped up in our stresses and pains that we forget to see the stresses and pains that others are carrying. In any case, David feels alone in his sorrow, as if no one understands him, or gets him, or wants to understand him. Have you ever felt like this? If we are honest, we all have. Sometimes that is because our friends are truly ignorant. Other times, we choose to keep them at arm’s length, perhaps ashamed or embarrassed or even unsure of how to let them in on our struggles. (A note of advice to friends: If you see a friend that is obviously struggling, it is better to pry too much than not to ask at all how they are doing.)
Some of David’s struggles is because there are people who are intentionally mean towards him—they seek his life, lay snares for him, speak of his ruin, and meditate treachery. (v. 12) Sadly, most of us know people who fall into this category. They are not friendly, they are not indifferent, they are purposely mean and a negative presence in our lives. David’s answer for these people is not to meet their evil with evil in return. It is to not heart them, and to not open his mouth against them, to pretend that he is deaf and cannot hear, that he is mute and cannot speak. (v. 13-14)
David’s focus is on the Lord, and waiting for Him. (v. 15) He approaches God with a contrite heart, confessing his sin. (v. 18) And then he makes his plea to God, to not be far from him, and to make haste to help. It is interesting that David addresses God as “O Lord, my salvation!” (v. 22) Because salvation is more than just temporary help, or a temporary “get David out of the fix” that he is in. The Lord of our salvation denotes something that is timeless and eternal. The Lord is not just in charge of our problems, or our crutch to get me through the hard times. He is Lord of our entire life, and is the One who grants us salvation for eternal life.
Many of us will relate to Psalm 38 right now. We are tired, we are frustrated, many of us are worn down to our last nerve. We might even feel that God is distant right now. But this is precisely when we need to double down in our prayers to God, to lay out ourselves before His mercies, to ask for His help and trust in Him.
O Lord, rebuke me not in Thy anger, nor chasten me in Thy wrath! For Thy arrows have sunk into me, and Thy hand has come down on me. There is no soundness in my flesh because of Thy indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities have gone over my head; they weigh like a burden too heavy for me. My wounds grow foul and fester because of my foolishness, I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning. For my loins are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am utterly spent and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart. Lord, all my longing is known to Thee, my sighing is not hidden form Thee. My heart throbs, my strength fails me; and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me. My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague, and my kinsmen stand afar off. Those who seek my life lay their snares, those who seek my heart speak of ruin, and meditate treachery all the day long. But I am like a deaf man, I do not hear, like a dumb man who does not open his mouth. Yea, I am like a man who does not hear, and in whose mouth are not rebukes. But for Thee, O Lord, do I wait; it is Thou, O Lord my God, who wilt answer. For I pray “Only let them not rejoice over me who boast against me when my foot slips!” For I am ready to fall and my pain is ever with me. I confess my iniquity, I am sorry for my sin. Those who are my foes without cause are mighty, and many are those who hate me wrongfully. Those who render me evil for good are my adversaries because I follow after good. Do not forsake me, O Lord! O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation! Psalm 38
Don’t get too down. God is ever-present. Just take life one day at a time, even one prayer at a 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.
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.
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