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
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So He told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me for I have found my sheep which was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I lost.’ Truly, I say to you, I tell you there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:1-10
As most of you know, every summer I go to summer camp. It is one of the highlights of my year and something I look forward to each year, just like the teenage campers and adult counselors and staff. Obviously, there is no camp this year for us. In light of this, we’ve created a one-week virtual program called “summer reset 2020” which is being held this week. Since camp helps our young people “reset” themselves each year, getting back to the basic of Christianity, the goal this week is to facilitate a virtual “reset.” I thought I would include the Prayer Team in this “reset” mindset by writing this week on the topics we are sharing with our “Summer Reset 2020” participants. There will be five “reset” topics this week and we will return to the Psalms next week. After each reflection, there will be a few questions for you to think on, either alone or with family/friends.
Our first topic is “things we’ve lost.” Obviously, we’ve all lost a lot this year. If we are honest, when asked the question “how are you?” the answer will range from “bad”, to “blah” to “ok” to (maybe) “good”. There are very few people who can honestly say they are doing “great.” Whether we’ve lost a job, our vacation, for our kids school, sports and summer camp, our routines, our confidence or our peace, we’ve all lost something this year.
Hopefully in the midst of loss, we’ve “found” something. Maybe that something is some extra reserve of energy, some extra time to dedicate to family or to a hobby, maybe it’s a renewed interest in something we haven’t done in a while.
Thankfully, Jesus is an optimist. He didn’t focus on people’s shortcomings but on their successes. He didn’t count losses, He counted wins. He said there was more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who didn’t need repentance. Just like a true shepherd would rejoice over finding one lost sheep out of his flock of one hundred, more than rejoicing that ninety-nine were never lost.
It is important to acknowledge our losses. It is necessary. It is truthful. We can’t just gloss over them as if we have not been affected by them. At the same time, we can’t only focus on losses. We have to find blessings even in the midst of losses.
A great lesson to take away from this difficult period is how to deal with loss. Can we still maintain our character and our focus even when things around us are changing? Can we still maintain faith in God even in time of uncertainty? It’s easy to be a Christian when everything is going right. It’s easy to be in a good mood when one is relaxing on vacation. However, everything going along smoothly is not what builds either character or faith. These things are built under adverse situations.
We are currently climbing a mountain, it seems. We don’t know how far we have to go until we reach the top. Thus, the focus needs to remain on climbing the mountain, and not dwell so much on how long the climb will be. Of course, the mountain climber might come back and say “I need to know where I am on the mountain, so I know how much energy to expend and how much to hold back in reserve.” And the answer to that is, “just focus on making the next step, and then the next one and then the next one.” We don’t know where the top of this mountain is, or how much energy we need in order to get there. It is important, on this mountain climbing analogy, to walk carefully, purposefully, and efficiently. Focus on the step ahead, so that it is not a misstep that needs more energy to correct. Rest as needed. And keep moving forward.
It is important to acknowledge that this period of time is difficult. It is important to talk about the losses. We can’t just pretend they didn’t happen. It is important not to dwell on them, though as part of our “reset” it is necessary to reflect on them. Tomorrow’s topic will be “things we still have and things we are thankful for.”
It is proper and right to sing to You, bless You, praise You, thank You and worship You in all places of Your dominion; for You are God ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding, existing forever and always the same; You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit. You brought us into being out of nothing, and when we fell, You raised us up again. You did not cease doing everything until You led us to heaven and granted us Your Kingdom to come. For all these things we thank You and Your only-begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit; for all things that we know and do not know, for blessings seen and unseen that have been bestowed upon us. Amen. (From the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)
Some questions for reflection:
- What is the thing you’ve missed the most these past four months?
- Was there anything that you were happy got cancelled as a result of the pandemic?
- Reflect on how each of these areas of life have changed for you in the past few months? Have any changed for the better?
e. Extra-curricular activities/hobbies
- Masks have become the norm when out in groups. Psalm 141:3 reads “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord, keep watch over the door of my lips!” If a mask is meant to protect other people from your germs, what are things we can do to safeguard our relationships from words that infect them?
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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