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 me hear what God the Lord will speak, for He will speak peace to His people, to His saints, to those who turn to Him in their hearts. Surely His salvation is at hand for those who fear Him, that glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Psalm 85:8-10
For the past several weeks, we’ve been reflecting on the Psalms as comfort in time of need, and the need this spring has been comfort and protection from the coronavirus. Today’s reflection is not about comfort from the pandemic but rather an appeal for calm and a prayer for peace in the midst of a country now embroiled in civil unrest.
Prejudice has been a part of life since the Fall of Adam. Sometimes this prejudice is based on the color of skin, religious belief, economic class, even physical appearance. Prejudice is wrong. Racism is wrong. One should not feel nervous walking down a street because of the color of his or her skin, whether that skin is black or white. When one has been wronged, there should be a protest. A protest and a riot are two different things. A protest and a criminal act are two different things. A protest is a peaceful demonstration of discontent—whether it is gathering in a group and holding signs or writing letters. Sometimes protest can be in the form of non-participation. I was raised to honor our country and our flag. When NFL players decided it was okay to kneel during the National Anthem, I simply stopped watching the NFL. That was my protest. When a product I like becomes too expensive, I protest by not buying it. When the line at my favorite restaurant is too long, I protest by leaving and eating elsewhere. Even today’s reflection might be looked at as a kind of protest. I’m not happy with what’s going on in our country today, and so I’m writing to whoever is reading this to appeal for peace and calm. That is my protest.
I have always had a great respect for people who wear a uniform—police officers, firefighters and military personnel. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some bad apples among these people. Just like there are corrupt and immoral priests, teachers, doctors, lawyers, politicians, and pretty much a few bad apples in every profession. When we see wrong, we are to call out the wrong. When someone has proven themselves corrupt, they should be removed from their position. When someone holds a position of trust, they need to be held to a higher standard. Violence, riots and looting help no one. They actually erode trust across society.
One of the problems in our society involves God and peace. It is summed up in Psalm 85:8: “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for He will speak peace to His people.” There are two concerns here. First, if we are spending time with the Lord every day, we will hear God’s voice speaking peace to us. Unless a person is a sociopath, there is virtually no way one can have a solid prayer life, and ask God to speak peace into his or her heart in the morning and then be looting in the afternoon. That doesn’t mean that people who pray don’t make mistakes or don’t get angry. Prayer, however, slows anger. A person who has prayed, or worshipped, or spent time reading Scripture, generally does not end their time with God and turn immediately to violence. Second, we do not allow the voice of God to speak peace to His people. We have worked hard as a society to ban the name of God from everywhere. If we’ve made God the problem, is it any surprise that so many act in a Godless manner?
The definition of insanity is to do something over and over in the same way and expect a different result. An act of prejudice happens (which is always wrong) and then violence erupts, which keeps us in the same place year after year as a society. Factor in the anxiety over the coronavirus, the heat of summer and the fact that many people have nothing else to do, and we are a tinderbox ready to ignite. The only way this insanity stops is for anger to be counteracted with love, and for righteousness and justice to be done in a way that doesn’t swallow peace. Then, as Psalm 85:10 says, “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.”
What can we do today to promote peace? Smile. Pay attention. Speak nicely to others. Thank others. Follow rules.
The grocery store is like a sociology experiment. The grocery store where I shop encourages people to wear masks. Most shoppers don’t. It has clear signs for one-way traffic in the aisles. Most people don’t follow them. When it comes time to check out, most people are on their phones and ignore the checkers, who say “have a nice day” as if they are talking to no one. Because no one is listening. I’m more likely to get in an accident in the grocery store parking lot where we are all driving 5 MPH than on a fast highway, because again, people are inattentive, walk wherever, don’t look where they are going.
How can we find peace as a society when we make shopping for groceries a sociological failure? Compliance with rules and standards doesn’t mean we aren’t free. It means we are more free. In my humble opinion, this is how we become free from stereotypes as well as anxiety, by simply being kind to everyone. If everyone wears a mask, then there isn’t a stereotyping of who is and who isn’t. If everyone follows the one-way signs, there isn’t a judgment on who does and who doesn’t. And if we are all grateful to those who help us, then there won’t be a prejudice of who talks to who and who doesn’t.
A police officer of any color callously killing any person of any color is wrong. He needs to be punished. Others who share his callous disregard for human life need to be fired. However, today I feel anxious about driving to work and driving home, some evening services scheduled for this week, which we’ve waited so long to finally be able to attend may be changed, and everyone’s peace of mind, which has already been compromised by covid-19 is again disturbed by what is going on in our cities. And that’s wrong. Acts of violence are not part of the solution but part of the problem.
Today, I go to the Psalms for comfort, specifically Psalm 85, and ask God to bring peace to our nation and to speak peace into the hearts of all of her citizens—those of every race, those of every profession.
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for He will speak peace to His people, to His saints, to those who turn to Him in their hearts. Surely His salvation is at hand for those who fear Him that glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. Yea, the Lord will give what is good and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before Him and make His footsteps a way. Psalm 85:8-13
Seek peace in your corner of the world today by kind, attentive and showing basic compliance with the basic rules that keep us free.
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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