Remember, Lord, those who have brought You these Gifts, and for whom and through whom and the intentions for which they were offered. Remember, Lord, those who bear fruit and do good works in Your holy churches, and those who remember the poor. Reward them with Your rich and heavenly gifts. Grant them in return for earthly things, heavenly gifts; for temporal, eternal; for corruptible, incorruptible.
(Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, p. 32)
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.
Christ is Risen!
Having prayed for the Church as an institution that spreads the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world, we next turn our attention to those who work in the Church. (Though we will get to the clergy later as they are mentioned specifically in a later part of the prayer). It is important to note that the Great Commission is read over every person who is baptized in the Orthodox Church. That means that the commission to spread the faith is not merely given to the priests but to every Orthodox Christian. Everyone has the ability to spread the message of Christ in his or her own way. Not everyone will be a priest, or teach a Sunday school class or write an article for the parish bulletin. But everyone has something to contribute.
For many years of my ministry, I have directed a summer camp for teens. The goal of the camp is to create an environment which encourages campers and staff to grow in their faith. Each summer, I impress on the staff how every staff member contributes to this goal. Most people think it is just the priests who are teaching the classes and hearing the confessions that cause the campers to grow in their faith. The lifeguard, the cook, the cabin counselor and the janitor probably don’t think their gifts contribute to this mission. They couldn’t be more wrong. Clean facilities, good food, fun at the lake and safety in the cabins all cause the campers to relax, have a good time and open their hearts to the possibility of growing in their faith. None of this can happen if the facilities are unclean, if there isn’t adequate food, if campers aren’t having a good time or if they don’t feel safe. It may be the priests who hear the confessions, who experience the kids growing in the faith, but none of that happens without the other people making a contribution.
The church works in the same way. The priest is the proestos, the leader, of the community. He celebrates the services, offers the sermons, teaches, counsels and administers. But without a supporting cast, he can’t do much. Think of the all the things that have to happen in the Divine Liturgy that don’t involve the priest. Altar boys assist in the altar. Chanters and choir members lead the congregation in offering the responses. Ushers keep order. Greeters welcome people. Someone makes the prosphora (bread) for the Divine Liturgy. Others clean the church. All the stewards make a financial contribution that keeps the lights on and the air conditioning on. While the priest is the celebrant of the services, there is no way he can celebrate them without the assistance of others.
Outside of the Divine Liturgy and worship, there are lots of other things that happen at the church. There are ministries like Sunday school and youth ministry which require teachers and adult advisors. There are outreach ministries that serve charitable causes that need people to volunteer. There is a physical plant at the church that needs upkeep—someone to cut the grass, or paint or do electrical work. Stewards either offer these services directly (meaning they do the work) or they offer their contribution so that the work is completed by someone else. Virtually everything that happens in the parish, even the things led by the priest, involve the time, talent or treasure of others. That’s why the word “ekklesia” which we translate as “church” means “community” rather than the building, because the work of the church is the work of a community of believers.
Thus, we pray for those who brought the gifts—in the case of the Divine Liturgy, we are referring specifically to the Gifts of bread and wine that have been consecrated—but we are also referring to other gifts, like the gift of singing (choir) or service (altar boys, ushers, etc.). We also pray for those for whom the gifts were brought and the intentions for which they were offered. Some people offer Gifts for the health of someone or in memory of someone, and so we pray for that specific person or intention. By extension, however, everyone offers a gift as a gesture of their faith in God and their stewardship in the community. And so, we pray for growth in faith for everyone who is offering something at the service. We pray specifically for people who do good things in churches and for those who remember the poor.
The reward we pray for, hope for and work for is not a material reward. Because material rewards are temporary. We do not take them with us when our life on earth is over. Rather, we are praying that God rewards His faithful stewards with “rich and heavenly gifts.” Rather than the reward of earthly things, we pray for heavenly gifts. Rather than a temporary reward, we pray for the eternal reward, which is salvation. Rather than praying for the things that are corruptible, we hope for the things that are incorruptible, which is permanent entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.
The last comment refers to the Bible verses from John 15:4-5, where Jesus tells His disciples that we are like branches connected to a vine. He is that vine. Unconnected to Him we can do nothing. When you cut down a tree branch, immediately after you cut it, it still looks good, green, alive. But when some time passes, the branch withers because it is not connected to the vine. In the same way, the Church is like a vine, because it has been instituted by Christ Himself, who stands at its center in the Holy Eucharist. We are the branches, who need Christ, who need to be attached to the Church to receive Christ. And in order to have a church, we need people who are willing to do the work of the church, which is why we pray specifically for them, as we expand this prayer to cover the needs of everyone.
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
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