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 sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou will not despise. Psalm 50:17
Today we are nearly half-way in between the last celebration of the Nativity and the next one. Who would have thought six months ago that in this first half of 2020, we would have been afflicted with both a dangerous disease as well as social unrest? We can hope and pray and work, so that when the Nativity is again celebrated six months from now, we will be healthy physically, as well as healthy socially, doing our part to cure the coronavirus as well as the scourge of social unrest and inequity.
Continuing on the Christmas-theme, one of my favorite Christmas carols is “The Little Drummer Boy.” Even though there is no historical or biblical accuracy in the story of a young drummer boy playing on his drum at the manger, there is some vivid imagery associated with this fictional drummer boy. I have always loved the humility of the song, when the boy laments, “I have not gift to bring. . .that’s fit to give a king. Shall I play for you. . .on my drum?”
Oftentimes, I wonder, what can I possibly do that would please God? Or I ask myself, is what I am doing pleasing to God? Sometimes I feel as inadequate as the drummer boy, or as David the Psalm writer must have felt, that I am no good, that I can’t possibly offer anything of value.
I am forever thankful that in the Divine Liturgy, the priest is called upon to pray Psalm 50 during the Cherubic Hymn, before the Great Entrance, each time he celebrates. I can’t tell you how many times I have prayed the 50th Psalm when I felt crushed in spirit, because I have had a bad day or a bad week or I am failing at something that I can’t control, or even failing at something that I can control. I’ve felt the feeling of the crushed heart. We all have. When we come to God with a heart that is not only crushed but one that still maintains humility, God will not despise this.
It is interesting that the Psalmist connects the broken heart with the contrite (humble) heart as a pleasing sacrifice to God. Oftentimes, our broken hearts cause us to feel vengeful, rather than humble or contrite. The vengeful heart quickly becomes the destructive heart, with the destructive mouth and actions following closely behind.
David had a broken heart and a contrite heart. His heart had been broken not only because of his sins, but also because of the loss of his son Absalom, the child of his adulteress union that died accidentally. He lived with shame and sadness. In his sadness, he also found contrition and humility. He didn’t give up on God. In fact, he trusted Him more. He didn’t act with vengeance, but with humility. He stopped focusing on present wins and losses and instead focused on the eternal mercies of God. He again experienced the love of God, which led him to again place his hope and trust in God.
When life has gotten us really down, either by circumstance caused by someone else or by ourselves, when we feel beat down and broken, this is the exact moment to turn to God to be filled with hope. I can tell you from experience that many times just praying the words of this Psalm, particularly today’s verse, has given me a measure of hope, just opening my lips and having these words come out of them. When the words follow with a heart that is contrite, then God’s showers us with mercy and hope to help us survive the moments of despair.
David doesn’t end the Psalm triumphant. He knows that he has no win to celebrate. He ends the Psalm hopeful, because he realized that he doesn’t need a victory to celebrate. Assurance of God’s forgiveness and mercy is victory enough. When we feel like the drummer boy, like we have no gift to bring, like we have no value, like we have nothing to offer, the contrite and humbled heart is the gift God will always accept and honor.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundance mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified in Your sentence and blameless in Your judgment. For behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear the sounds of joy and feasting, the bones that were afflicted shall rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your presence and take not Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I shall teach transgressors Your ways and sinners will return to You. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of Your deliverance. O Lord, You shall open my lips and my mouths shall show forth Your praise. For You have no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, You would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and humbled heart, o God, You will not despise. Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion, and let the walls of Jerusalem be rebuilt. Then You will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then they shall offer up bulls on Your altar [and have mercy on me O God]. Psalm 50 (51)
When we come to God with a broken spirit and contrite heart, these are gifts that are pleasing to God!
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.
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.