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
As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the Prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Luke 3: 4-6 (Gospel from Vesperal Liturgy of Epiphany)
Good morning Prayer Team!
Saint John the Baptist was the last of the Prophets. For hundreds of years prior to the Incarnation, the prophets encouraged God’s people by foretelling that a Messiah was coming who would save the people from their sins and point them back to Paradise. Saint John was the last of the Prophets because he announced that the time of the Messiah was at hand.
Saint John, like the Virgin Mary and Jesus, was also born in a miraculous way. His parents, Zacharias and Elizabeth, were not able to have children. And in old age, Zacharias was told by the Archangel Gabriel that he and Elizabeth were going to have a son and that their son would be the Forerunner of Christ, the one who would prepare the way for the Christ to come immediately following.
Saint John lived in the wilderness, where he was baptizing people. He was also preaching to the people to prepare the way of the Lord. Saint John was “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” His voice was known. It was trusted and respected by his many “followers.” It was even respected by his enemies.
He was a voice of “one.” There were no others like him. His voice was solitary, but it was powerful. It didn’t take many voices to preach of the coming of Christ. His powerful voice traveled far and inspired many. And he was “crying in the wilderness”—the wilderness is a lonely and desolate place. It is filled with danger.
Despite the fact that I live in a large city, I’ve always related to this passage. Because no matter where we live, we live in a wilderness of sin and uncertainty. All around there seems to be danger and spiritual desolation. If you don’t believe me, just open a newspaper or turn on the TV news. A drive down the highway reveals dozens of pornographic billboards, and eavesdropping on almost any conversation and you are bound to hear foul language. Even TV shows on the “family channel” are not very wholesome. And sometimes, it feels like the church, or Christians, or priests are “a voice of one crying in the wilderness,” as it feels like sometimes the whole world is against the message of Christianity.
Here is where Saint John serves as a role model to us. He wasn’t well educated. He wasn’t well dressed—he “wore a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.” (Matthew 3:4) And he wasn’t concerned how his message would be received. He understood that his role was to “cry” out the message. He wasn’t going to coerce others into believing, only to make sure he was sending the message.
Many people were ready to receive Christ because of St. John. Many came to believe in Christ through his witness. Saint John did not have a good end to his earthly life. He was beheaded—he became the first person to die for Christ. And yet he remains the most honored of the male saints of our church. He is featured prominently in every Orthodox Church, on the icon screen next to the icon of Christ. An icon of the “Deisis,” shows Jesus Christ on a throne, with the Virgin Mary to His right and Saint John to His left.
We are all called to be like St. John. Our voices are supposed to be heard in the wilderness. Our voices are supposed to talk about Christ. Like Saint John, we are supposed to live in joyful expectation of Christ coming again in glory. Like Saint John, we are supposed to be undeterred if our message is not heard, or even ridiculed. And like Saint John, we are supposed to “cry out” even to our last breath, even if our life is short, even if our end is painful.
We are living in a world where the wilderness is trying to overwhelm the message, where society thinks if it can put up enough trees, the messenger will be silenced. We must be like Saint John, we must boldly proclaim the message, we must boldly preach Christ, we must boldly and confidently witness for Christ.
Before we can cry out about Christ to others, however, we have to cry out for Christ to be in us. We have to cultivate Christ in us. We have to go to the “wilderness,” to get away from the business of life, so that we can contemplate the things of Christ. Read the message in scripture, offer daily prayers, look for opportunities to help others daily, love one another, forgive one another, and you are well on your way to being a prophet like Saint John. We are voices who must continue crying—the world needs Christ more than ever. If we are not going to talk about Him, who is?
At the voice of one crying in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord! You have come, Lord, in the form of a servant. You are free from sin, yet You desire to be baptized by John! The waters saw You and were afraid; the Forerunner cried out with trembling and said: “How shall the lamp illumine the Light? How shall the servant place his hand on the Master? Savior, as You take away the sin of the world, sanctify both me and the waters.” (Hymn from the Blessing of the Waters, trans. Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Cry out to God today in prayer! Witness to God today in your actions.
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The Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) is an official agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops. OCN offers videos, podcasts, blogs and music, to enhance Orthodox Christian life. The Prayer Team is a daily devotion written by Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis, the parish priest at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, Florida. Devotions include a verse from scripture, a commentary from Fr. Stavros, and a short prayer that he writes to match the topic.
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