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, 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
Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
But understand this, that in the last days, there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. 2 Timothy 3: 2-5
One day, an irate woman came into my office. “Father, I’m so mad at you,” she fumed. “What did I do that has gotten you so upset?” I replied. She said, “You did yiayia’s memorial on the 41st day after her death, and now her soul will never rest.” (In the Orthodox Church, it is a Tradition to have a memorial on the 40th day after a person passes away. The forty day interval was chosen in connection with the Ascension, which took place 40 days after the Resurrection.) After thinking for a few seconds, I looked her in the eye and said, “I quit!” She was caught off guard by comment. Then, she said, “Well, I’m mad at you but I don’t want you to quit.” I added, “I am going to quit being a priest, and actually I’m going to quit being a Christian. I’m going to go and live a hedonistic lifestyle and never give God a second thought. And I am going to tell my family, ‘be sure that when I die, you get my memorial service on the 40th day,’ because based on your logic, it’s all riding on that.”
Sadly, there are a lot of people who think just like this woman. That somehow, if we don’t get everything done, just right, a person cannot get to heaven. Or, if we somehow get everything “right”, this will be what seals the deal, as if we are gods and can control who goes to heaven.
I can’t tell you how many times I have been to the hospital and a family member will tell me “can you do that thing you do, so that yiayia can go to heaven?” To which I think, “I’m a priest, not a magician. I come here to offer prayers and not magic tricks. It is God Himself who will decide whether yiayia can go to heaven.” Many times, family members will get irritated with me if I don’t offer Holy Communion to someone who is on their death bed but who is unconscious. I will tell them that in order to receive Holy Communion, one must be able to willingly participate, as well as to be able to swallow. If there is no cognition, there can’t be Communion and if there is no ability to swallow, there can’t be Communion. And then there will be pleas “But he needs it one more time.” To which I will think (but don’t dare say), “One more time is not going to matter if they’ve lived a Christian life, and one more time isn’t going to tip the scales of God’s justice in their favor if they haven’t.”
We don’t bless houses for “good karma” or to “drive away evil spirits.” If we do a memorial service on the 35th day or the 50th day or not at all, it’s not going to affect whether yiayia goes to heaven or not.
There are Traditions and practices that we do as Orthodox Christians, not because of superstition, but because of faith. Blessing a house asks for God to come under the roof of the home, the same way that Christ came under the roof of Zacchaeus, granting salvation to him and his household. In blessing a house, we bless the space that is sacred to a family, where they live, sleep and eat. We pray to God to bless that family in their home, that it be a place of love and peace and security. The house blessing isn’t a magic spell, nor will it ward off evil spirits. The purpose of the house blessing is to dedicate the house, as well as the family who lives in it, to God.
The memorial services are mostly for us, the family left behind, to remember our loved ones, as well as to pray for them. Whether we pray quietly for them, or do it in a formal service, we are remembering them and praying for them, which is what we are supposed to do.
I’ll make another “confession.” One time a pious lady made “prosphora,” the bread that is used to offer Holy Communion. Traditionally the prosphora has a seal on it. The middle of the seal has the letters IC XC NI KA on it, which stands for “Jesus Christ is Victorious.” This lady had gone through a great deal to make the prosphora. She was elderly and she really wanted to offer it for the Liturgy. As I unwrapped the bread, I realized that the seal had disappeared when the dough was rising and there was no seal on the bread. What was I going to do, tell the lady her bread was no good and to try again? So, I drew the seal on there with the blade of the lance (spear that is used to cut the prosphora) and I used it for Holy Communion. I’m confident that when I asked the Lord in the Liturgy to “make this bread the precious Body of Your Christ,” that He did just that. I’m confident that He didn’t reject the offering because the seal was blurred.
The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims His handiwork. Day to day pours forth speck, and night to night declares knowledge; there is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them He has set a tent for the sun, which comes forth like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and like a strong man runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens and its circuit to the end of them; and there is nothing hid from its heat. The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The ordinances of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover by them is Thy servant warned; in keep them there is great reward. But who can discern his errors? Clear Thou me from hidden faults. Keep back Thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord my rock and my redeemer. Psalm 19
Don’t focus on how many words you pray. Just pray.
Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything you read in the Bible. Keep reading.
Don’t wait to get old and then get the priest to “do the thing he does” and think you’ll get to heaven. Live a Christ-centered life and if the priest doesn’t get there in time for one last Communion, it won’t matter.
We are people of faith, not of superstition!
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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