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
Blessed be God, because He has not rejected my prayer or removed His steadfast love from me. Psalm 66:30
There are many different portrayals of God. Some see God as being vengeful, and only to be feared. If this is the image we have of God, then life would be a continuous pursuit to please a God who cannot be pleased, or a “quit before we start” exercise where one says “If I can’t please God, why even try?”
In the Divine Services of the Orthodox Church, there are phrases called “ekfoneses” which are placed at the end of sets of petitions. Each of them invokes God as Trinity and ascribes some description to our Trinitarian God. For instance:
For to You belongs all glory, honor and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
For Yours is the dominion, the kingdom, the power and the glory, of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
My favorite “ekphonesis” says:
For You are a good and loving God, and to You we offer glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
The word in Greek that is translated as “loving” is “filanthropos,” which can be translated a number of ways. It literally means “friend of man.” However it has also been translated as “lover of mankind.” From “filanthropos” comes the word “philanthropic,” which means “generous.”
God has all of these characteristics. He is loving. He loves us. He roots for us. He sees the good in us. He is merciful to us. He does not quit on us no matter how many times we go astray and do wrong.
God loves humanity, He is indeed a lover of all mankind. God does not favor one nationality over another. He is not more impressed with the college graduate than with the person who works for minimum wage. God rewards us according to our beliefs and our efforts, not according to our hourly wage or level of education.
God is generous. If we believe that everything that is good comes from God, if we see even every breath as a gift from God, then we are receiving literally thousands of gifts a day. Light, sun, wind, rain and warmth are all gifts from God. So is food and friendship, health and a home. It is easier to appreciate the generosity of God when we have hearts that are more grateful and less entitled. Because we have been raised to feel entitled, it is sometimes hard to be grateful for the smallest of blessings, like breath and life itself. Cultivating a grateful heart is indeed a lifelong pursuit. But the more one works at cultivating a grateful heart, the more one understands the generosity and goodness of God.
God is our friend. Now, there are some who think “friend” is too casual of a term to use for the same God who is “Almighty.” Yet, this is what “filos” means, in “fil-anthropos.” It means that God is the friend of man. If God is our friend, then why should we pray to Him, or praise Him or worship Him? The opposite of “friend” is “enemy.” God is most certainly not our enemy. He is also not our “pal.” However, as we do with our close friends, He is One we can open up to, be honest with, who will hear us without judgment. We check in daily with our closest friends, never get bored with them, can’t seem to get enough of them, and always look forward to speaking with them. We are quick to praise of our friends for what they do for us, and we freely go to them when we need advice. When a friend’s name comes up on our caller ID, we smile and can’t wait for the conversation to begin. This is how God is with us. And this is how we should be with Him.
We should want to praise God and thank Him for what He does for us. We should freely go to Him for advice. We should check in with Him daily. We should look forward to speaking with Him. As we open the Bible each day, we should eagerly await what He will say to us.
Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth; sing the glory of His name; give to Him glorious praise! Say to God “How terrible are Thy deeds! So great is Thy power that Thy enemies cringe before Thee. All the earth worships Thee; they sing praises to Thee, sing praises to Thy name.” Come and see what God has done: He is terrible in His deeds among men. He turned the sea into dry land; men passed through the river on foot. There did we rejoice in Him, Who rules by His might forever, Whose eyes keep watch on the nations—let not the rebellious exalt themselves. Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of His praise be heard, Who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip. For Thou, O God, hast tested us; Thou hast tried us as silver is tried. Thou didst bring us into the net; Thou didst lay affliction on our loins; Thou didst let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet Thou hast brought us forth to a spacious place. I will come into Thy house with burnt offerings; I will pay Thee my vows, that which my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble. I will offer to Thee burnt offerings of fatlings, with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams; I will make an offering of bulls and goats. Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what He has done for me. I cried aloud to Him, and He was extolled with my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; He has given heed to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, because He has not rejected my prayer or removed His steadfast love from me. Psalm 66
Above all, remember that God is “agathos”, He is good. Only good comes from 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.
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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