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, “For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his (soul)? For what can a man give in return for his (soul)?” Mark 8: 36-37 (Gospel of the Third Sunday of Lent-Sunday of the Holy Cross)
Good morning Prayer Team!
Every time I read the Gospel verse I quote today, I am always disappointed by translation of one word, which fundamentally changes the meaning of the verse. In most translations of the Bible, the verses quoted above read as follows: Jesus said, “For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life?” But when you read the verse in its original Greek, the word which is commonly translated as “life” is the word “psihi”, which is translated correctly as “soul”. To give up one’s life can be an honorable thing. To die in service of our country, or protecting someone else, is one of the noblest things one can do. To forfeit one’s soul, however, condemns one for eternity.
What is a soul? We know how a human being is formed—male and female matter are brought together, and intertwined with them is a spirit, a soul, which is bestowed by God. This is why, when a husband and wife come together to create a child, they become “co-creators” with God. In the soul, the Divine takes up residence in the human being. When the human being is created, the soul is “deposited” into the body by God. When the body dies and returns to dust, the soul is “extracted” by God, taken back into the presence of God for eternal judgment. And then the soul is sent to live “forever” either in the presence of God (heaven) or away from God (hell).
Our soul contains things like our conscience, our moral barometer. Our “faith” is nurtured in our soul. Our “countenance”, the sparkle in our eyes, the spring in our step, comes from our souls. The soul is the God-like part of us.
One way I’ve used to explain the concept of the soul to people is to imagine that I gave you a shiny, new quarter and gave you the task to keep the quarter with you at all times, shiny and new, just as you received it. And let’s say that I told you that at some random time in your life, I’m going to come and ask for the quarter back, and if you have the quarter, shiny and new looking, to give back to me, I will give you riches for the rest of your life.
Many people have said, in response to my “quarter challenge,” that “Father, that’s easy, just keep the quarter for my whole life and present it back to you, that’s it?” To which I respond, “but you have to be careful, you have to have the quarter with you at all times—what happens to the quarter when you are at the gym, or swimming or sleeping. I could come for the quarter at ANY time.” When you think about it that way, to keep the quarter at all times would actually be quite difficult. And so it is with the soul. The soul is not fed merely by going to church occasionally, or even once a week. The soul needs nourishment on a daily basis, especially in prayer. We need to have it ready at all times.
Here is another example—let’s say that I made a deal with you that at a random time in the next year, I’m going to show up and ask you to run five miles, and if you can run five miles, I will give you a million dollars. You’d probably agree to this kind of deal. Some people, however, might become complacent, and think, “if he is giving me a WHOLE YEAR, what is the likelihood that he will come this week?” But if the deal was, “sometime in the next year”, it could be this week.
I use this example because there are many people who are complacent in life, especially when they are young. Many people reason that they have many years to live, and that they will get more serious about their souls later. In Matthew 24:42-44, we read: Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
The fact is that no knows the day or the hour when our souls will be required of us. That’s why feeding the soul on a daily basis, safeguarding it, protecting it, cleansing it, these things have to be part of our daily life. Imagine, going back to the example of the quarter, how wonderful if it would be for me to come to collect the quarter and at the moment I would come, to find you holding the quarter in your hand, polishing it. Likewise, how wonderful it would be for the Lord to come for your soul, and at that moment to find you in prayer, in worship, or doing an act of kindness.
The soul cannot be replaced. And it cannot be ignored. We can gain the whole world, but what will that really matter for eternity! Riches, fame, fortune, we leave these all behind when we die. The only thing that goes with us is our soul. As we are working for material gain and improvement, let’s not forget to work for spiritual gain and improvement. There is nothing you can give in return for your soul. Thus, we shouldn’t seek to gain the world at the expense of our soul.
One of the saddest conversations I ever had was many years ago with someone who was ridiculing me for my faith. He said to me “Father, in 100 years, no one is going to remember you. But I’m making money so that my name will be on buildings, to be remembered forever.” To which I responded, “The only place I care to be remembered is in God’s ‘book of life.’ As long as I’m on His list of sheep and not goats, what more is there, in the end, that I could really want. Having my name on a building and not on God’s list of righteous people would make my material fame worth nothing. Not being remembered by anyone but remembered by God is the most important thing of all.
My soul, O my soul, rise up! Why are you sleeping? The end draws near and soon you shall be troubled. Watch, then that Christ your God may spare you, for He is everywhere present and fills all things. (Kontakion, Canon of St. Andrew, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Make your soul shine today!
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