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
And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter declared to him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the Disciples. Matthew 26: 30-35 (From the Gospel of the Vesperal Liturgy on Holy Thursday Morning) Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Good morning Prayer Team!
Most people who are committed Christians would probably say that they would stay loyal to Christ, no matter what. We certainly wouldn’t deny Christ! Right?!
We see more and more Christians in the world today under attack, killed for just being a Christian. We lull ourselves into thinking that this is happening half-way around the world and could never happen here in our country. I wonder though, if things keep going the way they are, will there be a day when we are asked to choose between Christ and dying. Which would you choose?
No one is asking you to die for Christ today. But on many days, we are tempted to deny Christ. Back when I was a child, there were no sports on Sunday mornings. Sunday was reserved for families, to attend church, to have lunch, to do whatever families do together. Now it is almost impossible to play competitive sports and not have them interfere with Sunday morning worship. Young people who work are often-times scheduled to work on Sunday mornings as well. And in many corners, people are told, at least it is inferred, that one must “deny Christ” on Sunday mornings or he can’t play on the team; or “deny Christ” and risk losing a job. Many of us are still finding ourselves in the role of Peter—A loyal disciple, who under the threat of something negative happening to him, turn and ran away, denying Christ at the moment of truth.
In today’s society filled with anti-Christian sentiments, where the “Shepherd” is continually stricken, what is happening to the sheep? It seems that many sheep are scattering. I have wondered what might have happened had the Disciples not fled, had they galvanized the followers of Jesus to fight for Him, would the story have turned out any different. Did the Disciples just “let” Jesus die, without putting up a fight?
Obviously, we know that God’s will governs over all. God let His Son die for our sins. Jesus told those who arrested Him that He could have “appealed to My Father and He will at once send Me more than twelve legions of angels. But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:53-54) So, allowing Jesus to die was part of God’s plan. Is it His plan that Christianity continues to be pushed to the margins of society as is happening in many pockets of the world? Or is it His plan that all should come to know the Truth, and that we are thwarting His plan and His purposes?
Saint Paul answers this question in his First Epistle to Timothy:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth. (I Timothy 2:1-4)
We know that God’s desire is for all people to be saved. Therefore denying Christ, and denying people the opportunity to know Christ goes against God’s plan. But merely not denying Christ is not enough. We have to live in Christ, and we have to acknowledge Christ, to bear witness to Him, to let others know that we know Him. This does not mean we need to stand on street corners handing out flyers, but it does mean living a Christ-centered life where others recognize Christ at work in you in some way large or small.
It is the Orthodox Tradition to offer incense in a vessel called a “Thimiato” or “censer”. The censer has 4 chains, one for each of the Evangelists, and 12 bells, one for each of the 12 Disciples. The bells make considerable noise when the censer is swung, reminding us that good Disciples spread the Word of God by talking to others about Jesus. During Great Lent, the censer is often used without bells, reminding us that at the moment of truth, the Disciples all forsook Christ and left, and is a reminder to us to not do the same.
At some point, it’s not enough to “just go along” with Christ. At some point, we’ve got to stand up and be counted.
While permitting the lawless men to seize You, O Lord, You thus declared: “Though you strike down the Shepherd, and scatter the twelve sheep, My Disciples, yet I could have summoned more than twelve legions of Angels by My side; but I forbear, so that the unknown and secret things, which I revealed to you through My prophets, may be fulfilled.” O Lord, Glory to You. (From the 7th Antiphon of the Service of the 12 Gospels on Holy Thursday Evening, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas)
Stand up for Christ in some way today!
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