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
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to His Disciples, “Sit here, while I go yonder and pray.” And taking with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, He began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then He said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with Me.” Matthew 26: 36-38 (From the Gospel of the Vesperal Liturgy on Holy Thursday Morning) Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Good morning Prayer Team!
The first “act” of Christ’s Passion was His betrayal by Judas. This was revealed in the context of the Last Supper. Then Jesus began a lengthy discourse to His Disciples. In the midst of this, He revealed that Peter would deny Him, another “act” of the Passion. Jesus eventually left the upper room, and “went forth with His Disciples across the Kidron valley, where there was a garden, which He and His Disciples entered” (John 18:1), the Garden of Gethsemane. This place was very familiar to Jesus, “for Jesus often met there with His Disciples.” (John 18:2) But it also set the scene for His arrest, for “Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place.” (John 18:2)
Jesus, knowing all things, knew that as He entered the garden a free man, that He would be exiting the garden shortly as a prisoner. He knew that it was only a short time before an excruciating day of pain and torture would commence. And He knew that He would endure a humiliating and painful death.
He had just spent a “peaceful” evening having supper and speaking with His Disciples, His friends. And now His mood began to change. He asked Peter (whom He still loved, even though He had predicted Peter’s denial), and James and John, the sons of Zebedee, to “watch” with Him while He prayed. Why? Because He did not want to be alone. He didn’t ask these Disciples for pray FOR Him. He didn’t ask them to pray WITH Him. He didn’t ask them to share in His sufferings WITH Him. He asked them only to watch with Him while He was praying, so that He wouldn’t feel alone.
Loneliness is a very powerful feeling. It makes one feel debilitated at best, and hopeless at worse. There are many people who have lots of friends, who live in the public eye, and at times they are lonely. There are many jobs where the person at the top is lonely, in the sense that he or she stands alone to make decisions. In a household, there is one mother, so one mother caring for a small child or small children, when she is virtually their entire world, responsible for their entire well-being, this is a lonely job. Teachers can be lonely—up in front of thirty-five students, they stand alone in trying to impart knowledge. Doctors, surgeons, dentists, architects, business executives, salespeople, all of these can feel lonely as well.
From personal experience, the priesthood is like this at times. For instance, at a funeral, I may stand in front of a church filled with people, many of whom I consider friends, but I am the only one up in front, and sometimes that is a lonely feeling.
The point of this is that at some point, we are all going to feel like Jesus—alone, sorrowful. And we won’t need to necessarily have someone take away our burden. But to have someone “watching” is a comfort in itself. The sorrow of Christ in the garden was not only because of His impending suffering but because at that moment He experienced the human emotion of loneliness and it made Him sorrowful.
It is important that when you are lonely, you find people who can “watch” with you—perhaps they lend a sympathetic ear, a few words of encouragement. Many times that in and of itself is enough to bring comfort. And it is critically important that when a friend asks you to “watch” with them, that you come with an attentive ear and a sympathetic heart. So that they know that while they may feel stressed out and lonely about their situation, that they won’t feel “alone” because someone will be “watching” with them.
Remember that Christ didn’t ask the Disciples on that night to suffer with Him, or to do anything other than to “watch.” In times when “help” is needed, then one must actively “help.” But there are times when compassion is needed, and it is in these times when it is important to “watch.”
“Shake off sleep now from your eyelids, O My Disciples,” said Christ. “With prayer watch, lest you be overwhelmed by temptation; especially you, Simon, for the trial is greatest to the strong. O Peter, know me, Whom all creation blesses, glorifying to all Ages.” (8th Ode from the Service of the 12 Gospels on Holy Thursday Evening, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas)
“Watch” with someone today!
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