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
Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered; let those who hate Him flee before Him! As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before fire, let the wicked perish before God! But let the righteous be joyful. Psalm 68:1-3
One criticism often leveled against the Orthodox Church is that we don’t use the Bible enough in our services and traditions, that we are based more on traditions and services than on Scriptures. This is not the case at all. While it would be a fair assessment to say that most Orthodox Christians are not as well versed in the Bible as people of other denominations (a reflection for another day), the Bible, both Old and New Testament, figure very prominently in our services. While most people have very little knowledge or understanding of the Old Testament, a lot of the Old Testament is found in our services, particularly verses from the Psalms.
On Pascha, at midnight, we proclaim the Resurrection by reading a Gospel passage from St. Mark’s Gospel, followed by the chanting of the hymn “Christ is Risen” ten times. The hymn is sung three times in a row, and then before the next six times it is sung, verses are added before the hymn, four of which come from the Psalms, the first three being from Psalm 68.
When we’ve made the long journey through Lent, and through the long week of Holy Week, and then through the long day and into the night on Holy Saturday, we arrive at midnight tired, and weary from the journey. We are hungry from fasting, tired from standing. We wait one more hour from 11:00 p.m. until midnight, fatigue setting in, even as anticipation builds. Then we receive the Light of Christ, hear the Gospel, and sing “Christ is Risen.”
For me, anyway, when we get to these verses, when I stand in front of the empty tomb and recite them, I can almost feel my “spiritual afterburners” kick in. Gone is the fatigue. Gone is the hunger. And for some reason, these verses inspire me and make me feel empowered.
We say emphatically, “Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered, let those who hate Him flee before Him!” (Psalm 68:1) In other words let those who hate God go away from Him. Let those who hate love flee and not drag the rest of us down with them. No only let them go away, we continue in Psalm 68:2, “As smoke is driven away, so let them be driven away,” or as the translation in our Holy Week book says, “as smoke vanishes, let them vanish, as wax melts before the presence of the fire.” In other words, not only let them go away, let them vanish like smoke, and melt like wax when it is exposed to fire. Let nothing and no one stand in the way of our joy, or of our salvation.
Psalm 68:2-3 continues, “Let the wicked perish before God, but let the righteous be joyful.” Let the righteous hold on to their joy, let it not be compromised or tainted or lessened by those who are wicked.
We have an enemy—it is not a person, but it is an illness. This illness has cost us our peace of mind. It has cost us school, prom, graduation, summer camp, vacation. It has cost some of us our jobs, dented our income. It has cost us sleep, it has made us anxious. It has made some of us sick, and sadly it has killed many people. The covid-19 pandemic is our enemy. We are tired. We are weary. We are hungry for life as it was a few months ago. We miss hugging people. In some ways, we feel like we do as we go to church on Holy Saturday night.
Please remember this. We come to church weary, and we leave rejoicing. We are weary from this pandemic, but one day, hopefully soon, we will leave it rejoicing. We will leave it triumphant. And we will leave it with faith in God who has brought us through it.
I have this story every year during Holy Week, about a woman who died in Asheville, my last parish, during my last Holy Week there in 2004. I won’t tell the whole story, only that she was buried during Bright Week, on Bright Tuesday, and at her funeral, we sang “Christ is Risen” ten times, with the verses of Psalm 68 interspersed between them. As I sang “Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered, let them also that hate Him flee before Him”, I looked at her casket, at the lifeless body of a good friend, and then I looked at the Paschal decorations, the altar draped in white, the empty cross reminding us that Christ is risen from the dead and bestows life to those in the tombs, and I felt euphoric. To this day, that moment was one of the most joyful, euphoric moments of my life. Because even in the face of an enemy, death, God is still great, and there is still hope and that is cause for joy, even euphoria.
Even in the midst of this pandemic, God is still great, there is still hope for salvation and that is cause for joy, even euphoria. And whatever Sunday we return to church, all of us, whenever this is over, we will sing “Christ is Risen,” and I will say these verses, and I will feel joy and euphoria for the God that has brought us through this time.
Today’s prayer is the verses on Pascha, together with the Paschal Hymn. Nothing wrong with a Paschal reference in the middle of August.
Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered, let them also that hate Him flee before Him.
As smoke vanishes, let them vanish, as wax melts in the presence of the fire.
So shall the ungodly perish at the sight of the Lord, but let the righteous rejoice.
This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
Now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Christ is Risen from the dead, by death trampling down upon death and to those in the tombs He has granted life.
God is still great, there is still hope, and that is cause for joy, even in the face of our enemy, this terrible illness.
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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