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
Instead of your shame, you shall have a double portion. Instead of dishonor, you shall rejoice in your lot; therefore, in your land you shall possess a double portion; yours shall be an everlasting joy.
Good morning Prayer Team!
This year, Pascha falls on Sunday, May 2. Great Lent begins on Monday, March 15. And yesterday, Sunday, February 21, the Orthodox Church began the period called “Triodion”. While the “Triodion” in liturgical terms refers to all the time between Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee and Pascha, in contemporary terms, “Triodion” is known as the four Sunday period that precedes Great Lent. I’ve decided that for our Lenten journey this year, we’re going to again pause our unit on “The Heart of Encouragement” and focus our journey on healing. This past year has been one of great wounds—all of us have, at a minimum, had increased anxiety due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of us have either lost someone to Covid, had it ourselves, or know people who have had it. Everyone has been affected by the quarantines, protocols (mask wearing and social distancing), social unrest, politics, and the economy. Beginning today and continuing through Great Lent, the theme of our study will be “Unto the Healing of Soul and Body.” While this study will follow the order of the Sacrament of Holy Unction, it’s focus will be on the overall need for spiritual healing in our world and in our personal lives. On the weekends, we will continue to reflect on the Scriptures of each Sunday (Epistles on Saturdays and Gospels on Sundays). Because I have written out this series and it numbers exactly 45 reflections, there will be a couple of days before Lent, a couple before Holy Week, and March 25, when a second reflection will come out specific to those days.
Regardless of which generation or year we are living, there has never been a time when people haven’t needed healing of soul and body. The years 2020-2021 put a spotlight on a pandemic that has affected every corner of the world, Covid-19. While this pandemic dominated the news cycle, politics, the economy, and even simple conversation, this isn’t the only pandemic the world has ever had. In fact, the world is always in a state of pandemic.
There is a pandemic of poverty—a large percentage of the world is always living in poverty, without adequate food, water, or sanitation.
There is always a pandemic of disease—all of us will get sick at some point in our lives. Some of these sicknesses are serious and life-threatening, or at the very least, life-altering. We are talking about things like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, dementia, etc.
There is always a pandemic of mental illness. Until recent years, this pandemic wasn’t given enough attention. In centuries past, people were locked away in asylums and forgotten about. In contemporary times, we struggle to find a balance between talk therapy and medication.
Suicide is a pandemic. It’s happening more and more. Even people who don’t eventually try it think about it.
Even if we are able to avoid the pandemics of poverty, disease, and mental illness, none of us is able to dodge the pandemic of anxiety. We are all stressed out, overtaxed, and nervous. Our overall state of being edgy makes it hard to be patient, forgiving or graceful. As a result, relationships suffer, marriages crumble, children have their childhood innocence stolen, and we are all riddled with doubt.
And even if somehow we manage to control our anxiety, there is the pandemic of our fallen world: sin, temptation, and the search for meaning and purpose. Faith in Jesus Christ is constantly challenged through overt ridicule from others, or personal private doubt and distraction.
All of us struggle as we live “double lives”, striving to be who God created us to be, while constantly falling short, involuntarily, or worse, yet, by choice. Many of us live with guilt and shame because of this. We struggle to be the person we know we are called to be as we fight against the things we are tempted to do that take us away from who we know we are called to be.
Remember the scenes on cartoons, where there is a white angel on a person’s shoulder and a red devil on the other, where one side encourages the good while the other tempts the bad? This is a very good metaphor for the Christian life and the spiritual struggle. It is clear that our world is broken, and every person in the world suffers from a degree of brokenness, even the most “put together people.” There is always a crack to be found in every building, every sidewalk, every driveway. Likewise, there are always cracks to be found in every human being.
That’s because the world and everyone in it is broken, to some degree.
Thus every human being has a need for healing.
Because the human being is comprised of body, mind, and spirit (soul), there is healing needed for all parts of the human being.
The name of this study is “Unto the Healing of Soul and Body: Encouragement for Restoration and Reconciliation in a Broken World.” The outline of this unit will parallel the outline of the Orthodox Sacrament of Holy Unction. While we will discuss the sacrament succinctly, the majority of this unit will be reflections on the Scriptures and Prayers of the Sacrament, which in themselves hold rich insight into the topic of the healing of soul and body.
The verse for this first reflection comes from Isaiah 61:7: “Instead of your shame you shall have a double portion. Instead of dishonor you shall rejoice in your lot; therefore, in your land you shall possess a double portion; yours shall be everlasting joy.”
Isaiah is regarded as one of the major prophets of the Old Testament. Isaiah prophesied between the 8th and 7th centuries, B.C. at a time when Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Israel were under attack from the Assyrians. The first 39 chapters of Isaiah talk about the brokenness and sinfulness of the people of Israel. Though they were God’s chosen people, like many of us now, they were living double lives. They had a temple in which to worship, commandments which to follow, and a promised Messiah for the future, but their present was convoluted by sinful behavior.
In chapters 40-55, Isaiah speaks of a return from exile from Babylon, that better days are ahead.
In chapters 56-66, Isaiah speaks of a new heaven and a new earth, of redemption, hope and reward.
In some ways, our lives mirror the book of Isaiah. We are sinful and broken. In many ways we feel exiled, or estranged from God, either by our own doing or because the world continually tried to marginalize the message of salvation. As the Prophet addressed the people, we are to be people of hope. If we stick with the Lord, we can look forward to honor in place of shame, abundance in place of want, and everlasting joy in place of brokenness.
Salvation is the ultimate and permanent healing of soul and body. We receive portions of healing through prayer, worship, and the sacraments, as each provides us a chance to partake in God’s abundance grace and mercy.
Regardless of who we are and what situation we are in, we are all in need of healing from God. And regardless of how broken we are, that healing is available to each of us.
By the streams of Your mercy, O Christ, and through the anointing by Your priests, wash away, as a Merciful Lord, the pains and wounds, and the sudden assaults of suffering of those, tormented by passions, that they may be healed through Your cleansing. (8th Ode, Sacrament of Holy Unction, Translation by Fr. George Papadeas)
Let’s begin our journey, unto the healing of soul and body.