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
Jesus said to His Disciples, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all this they will do to you on My account, because they do not know him who sent Me. John 15: 18-21 (From the First Gospel on Holy Thursday Evening) Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Good morning Prayer Team!
Love one another! Let not your hearts be troubled! I go to prepare a place for you! Abide in My love!
This all sounds great. But then why is it so hard? And why does doing the right thing seem to get us more enemies than friends sometimes? As His “discourse” continues, Jesus mixes in for His Disciples, not only the temporal and eternal rewards of being a follower, but the reality that following isn’t always going to be easy.
Indeed those early centuries of Christianity were anything but easy. Every one of the Disciples except for John was martyred for their faith. They were cruelly tortured and murdered. In the first three centuries after Christ walked the earth, before Christianity became the legal religion of the Roman Empire through the Edict of Milan, Christians were persecuted. Any public declaration of one’s faith in Christ risked a heinous execution. Christianity was practiced in secret. Church communities gathered in the catacombs, in the sewers of the city. The only time Christianity was out in the public was when a Christian was caught and killed, often times in arenas in front of thousands of people. This was a demonstration by the Roman Empire designed to strike fear in anyone who was a follower and to make those considering becoming Christians think twice about it. The net effect of this? The Church grew at an astounding rate of 40% per decade! (See Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996)
Why? Because people saw Christians who were so convicted about their faith that they were willing to die for it. And because Christianity preached a theology of love—they engaged their neighbors, they cared for the sick and the poor. (“Four Reasons Why Early Christianity Grew So Quickly” by Seraphim Danckaert, 2014)
In modern times, there are groups of people who “hate” Christians. There are two reasons to hate Christians—one is that those who espouse violence, greed and fear, feel threatened by those who preach love, peace and generosity. Because love, peace and generosity inevitably win over violence, greed and fear. Violence, greed and fear are not the foundation of strong families, good marriages or meaningful friendships. They are not the backbone of any legitimate success. Yet, it has been said that “Might makes right.” The one who has the might creates the rights. However, only love can make what is truly right in the eyes of God. And because we all have some passion for power, ego and greed, we sometimes develop feelings of anger and hatred towards others. Which leads to the second reason that people “hate” Christians, which is that there are many hypocritical Christians, people who espouse the love of Christ but fail to live it.
If you are a genuine Christian, at some point someone will dislike you because of it. Think about if you made an effort to refrain from gossip and were successful in doing so. Some of your relationships would undoubtedly end, because many of our friendships put gossip as their central activity. Take out cattiness, and some relationships would have nothing left in them.
Sadly, we live in a world where Christianity is seen as a threat. Christ tells us very specifically how we are to live in Him, and work our way towards His Kingdom. He outlines certain behaviors that are pleasing to Him and certain behaviors that are not. We are free to choose to follow or not follow. There is no fear in love, remember, so there is no coercion in Christianity.
“Political correctness” teaches that anyone can believe anything and still be right. Every person has an equal voice and every idea should receive equal weight. That means that hatred gets equal play with love. Immorality and moral living are both okay. There are no “sheep” and “goats” if everyone is equal and the same. Political correctness is “nice”, in that it doesn’t hold anyone accountable for anything. But political correctness is not a biblical concept. It is not a God-ordained idea. Political correctness is society’s idea, not God’s.
If anything, God is not politically correct. He tells us to love, not hate. He tells us to live according to certain moral stands and avoid immorality. He tells us that heaven is for those who have prepared—the wise maidens, not the foolish ones; for the ones who used their talents, not the ones who didn’t; for the sheep and not the goats. (see Matthew 25) When the truth of God runs into the “lie” of political correctness, there is a conflict, and out of conflicts are where “hatred” is born, the same kind of hatred that Christ tells us that the world had for Him, and will have for us as well.
We should not meet hatred with hatred. Nor should we meet “political correctness” with hatred. Neither should we meet it with acceptance and complacency. Jesus says in John 8:32 “Know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” To accept everything is to accept nothing. To be forced to accept everything is to be denied freedom. To choose Christ is a free choice. Ironically, in a “free country”, we see Christianity on the decline. It no longer grows by 40% per decade. In fact some studies suggest that there has been a decline of church attendance by 40% in the last decade. Mediocrity and complacency actually have dealt a greater blow to Christianity than hatred and violence. Reclaiming our Christianity begins with each person’s decision to seek after the TRUTH of God, not just our own perception of it. Jesus tells us that the truth will set us free. But it is also likely to make us some enemies along the way.
Remember, Lord, this country and all those in public service whom You have allowed to govern on earth. Grant them profound and lasting peace. Speak to their hearts good things concerning Your Church and all Your people that through the faithful conduct of their duties we may live peaceful and serene lives in all piety and holiness. Sustain the good in their goodness; make the wicked good through Your goodness. . .Reunite those separated; bring back those in error and unite them to Your holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. . . Remember, Lord, those who entreat Your loving kindness; those who love us and those who hate us; those who have asked us to pray for them, unworthy though we may be. Remember, Lord our God, all Your people, and pour out Your rich mercy upon them, granting them their petitions for salvation. . . Prevent schism in the Church; pacify the raging of the heathen. Quickly stop the uprisings of heresies by the power of Your Holy Spirit. Receive us all into Your kingdom. Declare us to be sons and daughters of the light and of the day. Grant us Your peace and love, Lord our God, for You have given all things to us. (From the Liturgy of St. Basil, Trans. by Holy Cross Seminary Press)
Stay true to Christ today!
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