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
And Jesus said down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny. And Jesus called His disciples to Him, and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living. Mark 12: 41-44
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.
The last two reflections have been inwardly focused—we’ve reflected on things we’ve lost and things we still have and are grateful for. Both are worthy topics. Because we have to be right and secure in ourselves so that we can be ready to serve others. Which is the topic today. Inward gratitude is good, but inward gratitude should manifest itself in outward joy and generosity towards others. Generosity is not about the amount we give, but the spirit in which we give.
If a person gives $100 and they are a millionaire, this is not generosity. Generosity is when we give in a way that is both joyful and sacrificial. The widow in today’s Gospel lesson is an example of generosity, giving to the point where she had no more to give. Others must have scoffed at her, that she was only putting in two coins in to the treasury. Yet these coins represented all that she had, and in the eyes of God, she had put in more than all the rest. In a material sense, we cannot all give the same amount, because we each have a different amount of time, talent and money to give. However, in the spiritual sense, we can all give with the same spirit of generosity, which we give freely, joyfully, and expecting nothing good in return.
Another important point about giving, is that to give means to expect nothing in return. To give expecting a return is an exchange, not a gift. This is why it has always made me feel uncomfortable that people give in order for their name to be on a plaque or in some way memorialized. When we give sacrificially and joyfully and generously, this is what pleases God.
Indeed, the past few months have brought difficulties and challenges to all of us. One effective way to deal with these difficulties and challenges is to shift focus from inward to outward, seeking ways to serve others. This brings intrinsic joy and spiritual reward. Serving can be done in a multitude of ways. You can donate food to a local food pantry. You can clean out your closets and give away clothing you are no longer using. One of the challenges we’ve given to our summer reset participants today is to donate to a local food pantry. Another task is to make a video of trying to do a “team” activity and failing because you don’t have a team. I’m not suggesting any of you do that, but instead, think of the various teams to which you belong—family, neighborhood, church, work-team—and look for ways to be helpful and generous with your “teams.” This might mean being generous with your patience, generous with your compliments, generous with your help or generous with encouragement.
When we are too inwardly focused, especially right now, there is too much time to dwell on our own thoughts and fears. Being outwardly focused not only fulfills the commandment of God to love our neighbors, but helps us shift our focus from inward struggles, which affect our confidence, to outward service, which builds the confidence of others, and in turn builds our own as well.
Remember, Lord, the city in which we live, every city and country, and the faithful who dwell in them. Remember, Lord, the travelers, the sick, the suffering, and the captives, granting them protection and salvation. Remember, Lord, those who do charitable work, who serve in Your holy church, and who care for the poor, and send Your mercy upon us all. And grant that with one voice and one heart we may glorify and praise Your most honorable and majestic Name, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen. (From the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)
Some questions for reflection:
- Name a difficulty you overcame during the covid-19 quarantine.
- In II Corinthians 4: 8-10, we read: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed by not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” II Corinthians 4: 8-10 When you are afflicted, who do you go to, who are your “go to” people in time of need?
- Outside of your family who live with, are you able to still go to your “go to” people “virtually”? How is it different? How is it the same? What is making it challenging?
- Do you see yourself as more a conformist (follows the rules) or a non-conformist (someone who doesn’t follow rules)? Have you been faithful to requests to wear a mask, social distance, and other things that have been asked of us? Why or why not?
- In Acts 20:35, we read, “In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Do you agree with this, that it is more blessed to give then to receive? Why or why not? Do you prefer giving gifts or receiving gifts?
- Going back to II Corinthians 4: 8-10, how can you help those who are afflicted? How has Christ helped you get through this time of affliction?
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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