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
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit!” Luke 23: 44-46 (From the Gospel of the Sixth Hour on Good Friday Morning) Fifth Sunday of Lent—St. Mary of Egypt
Good morning Prayer Team!
The “Hours” according to Tradition, mark the time of day according to the hours of sunlight. In Biblical times, there were no watches. So, the “first hour” was when the sun arose, the “third hour” was mid-morning. The “sixth hour” was midday. The “ninth hour” was mid-afternoon. And the “twelfth hour” was the sunset. The “hour” was not a sixty minute period of time. In winter the “hours” could be much shorter. In summer they could be much longer. In modern times, if one counts the “hours” as equal periods of time, that would make the first hour about 6:00 a.m., with the third hour being 9:00 a.m., the sixth hour between noon, the ninth hour being 3:00 p.m., with the twelfth hour, or sunset, being 6:00 p.m.
So, at the sixth hour, in the middle of the day, the sun’s light failed. And so did the light of the moon. There was darkness over the whole land. When I think of this scene, I think of the juxtaposition of the Nativity. At the Incarnation, in the middle of the night, the sky was brightened by a multitude of angels. And all creation—the powerful (magi), the simple (shepherds), the animals, stars, angels and the earth itself (the cave)—came to worship the Creator, Incarnate in its midst. At the Crucifixion, it was as if all of Creation was mourning the death of its Creator. The great light, the sun, hid its face, unable to bear the sight of its Creator being put to death by His Creation.
The temple, seen by the people as God’s home on earth, was breaking apart in an earthquake. The curtain, which prohibited the people from seeing the Holy of Holies, was ripped in two. Jesus said “I thirst.” (John 19:28) This showed us His human condition of fatigue and dehydration. But is also reminds us of our own state of fatigue and how our thirst is quenched only when we thirst for Christ.
The last words of Christ showed His total trust in God, to His last breath. He said “Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit.” Then we read in John 19:30, that “He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit.” In most movies, when someone dies, first the last breath is taken, and then there is a “dramatic” falling of the head. In the case of the crucifixion and death of Christ, He first bowed His head, and then yielded up His spirit, an act of both trust in God, and His Lordship, that He is Lord even in His own death.
Many people are familiar with a team-building activity called the “trust fall.” In this activity, a person mounts a platform several feet off of the ground. Below him or her are assembled many people who will “catch” him or her. The person stands with his or her back to everyone else, crosses arms over the chest, closes his or her eyes, stands totally straight, and falls backwards, trusting in the others to catch him or her. This activity requires total trust. Because to uncross arms, or to look backwards, or to fall without being totally stiff, could cause injury to either the person falling or the people catching. I have done this exercise many times, and as soon as one gets over the initial fear of falling and not being caught, as soon as one learns to have faith in the people catching, this experience is actually very liberating, because it allows one to just “let go” and trust.
The ultimate “trust fall” occurs when we die. When we close our eyes for one last time, take one final breath, and “fall asleep” in death. I would think that the ultimate way to pass from this life is with the hope of eternal life, and with the words of Christ, “Father, in Your hands I commit my spirit,” with the faith of Christ, to bow one’s head, and let go, knowing that God will “catch” us.
If one doesn’t believe in God, I would think his last words would be something like “no, no, no!” words of fear that indeed everything is coming to an end, that an unknown or empty future is about to begin. Spend a moment today thinking about what your last words on this earth would be. I’m sure in them there would be words of love expressed to our families and friends. But what would the last words be that we expressed to our God? I would think that they would be the words of the repentant thief—Lord, remember me in Your Kingdom—or the words of Christ Himself—Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit.
He who clothed Himself with light as with a garment, stood naked at the judgment; and received blows on His cheeks from the hand which He had fashioned. When the lawless people nailed the Lord of glory to the Cross, then the veil of the temple was rent, and the sun went dark, unable to endure the spectacle of God blasphemed, before Whom all the universe trembles. Him let us worship. (From the 10th Antiphon of Service of the 12 Gospels on Holy Thursday evening, Trans by Fr. George Papadeas)
Think about your “last words” today!
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