By Jackie Morfesis
As the world watched, a ring of NFL prayer warriors surrounded Damar Hamlin on the field as he was receiving emergency medical care due to a tackle gone horribly wrong. I, like others, was moved by the strong display of bold faith, love, and mercy. Yet, upon further reflection, it brings to mind the question, “What is stopping us from being prayer warriors in all times and in all situations?” Prayer warriors as St. Paul instructs us in Corinthians.
Think for a moment, and be perfectly honest, how many times have you witnessed an Orthodox Christian lay hands and pray for healing in Jesus’ holy name? Be honest. How many times in your life has a fellow Orthodox Christian laid their hands upon you and prayed for your healing and deliverance? How many times have you laid hands upon the suffering and prayed for healing in Jesus’ name? If you cannot recall anything, then my point is tragically proven.
We cannot afford to be nominal Christians. We cannot afford to only be Christians inside the walls of our churches and as soon as we leave the liturgy and go to the community center for refreshments, forget what we were doing just minutes ago. I recently wrote an article about going to our community center and being told that I could not sit at a woman’s table because it was reserved for her family. Without even a “hello” or one ounce of kindness or warmth, she told me to leave. Within minutes of leaving God’s house, in fact, many times even in the narthex of our churches, we forget, like the river of Lethe from Greek mythology, who we are as a child of God, ambassador in His kingdom, and disciple following Him right here on earth.
We boldly make statements that are completely against our God, against His Holy Word, as long as we are in the safety of another building. Words that we would dare not say when we are in His Holy House. We say the “church is a business.” Who would dare say such words on the solea of God’s house as we are approaching the holy altar and the communion cup, the chalice with the blood and body of our Lord? No self-respecting Christian. But we sinfully and unashamedly say these words and think these thoughts when we go “out into the world.”
For the record, all the world is the church to the believer. What do I mean by this? I mean that we are to be the Light of Christ not only inside our houses of worship, but outside of its doors. We are all His hands and feet in the world, doing His work.
I am not sharing the following story to in any way boast – I am going to share this story to prove my point. On one particular Sunday, it happened to be the very Sunday that Bishop Sevastianos of Zelon of the Metropolis of Atlanta of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America was visiting my parish and we were having a lovely banquet in his honor, I found myself anointed for the appointment.
I walked past a woman laying on a concrete bench outside my church, bundled up even on this warm day, wearing all her clothes, a coat, a hat. She was obviously suffering, in physical and emotional pain, hungry, and without home. I asked if I could bring her to the luncheon at our church. I said: “Can I come for you after service, and will you be my guest at our luncheon?” She said: “Yes.” As I was walking across the small street to my church from our blessing box and the bench, a voice loud and clear said: “Stop. Turn around and take her to service.” My feet could literally not move one more step forward. I turned around. I asked if she would like to join me for service. She said: “Yes.”
I walked into the church arm-and-arm with her. She felt so thin and frail, as if she would fall over without me. We sat down in the pew. And here is when the miracle happened. The sermon that day from Bishop Sevastianos, was from Matthew 25:35, one of my favorites. That we are not only Orthodox Christian inside the doors of our church but outside the doors of our church. That if we do not care for the hungry, the homeless, the orphaned, the widowed, and the imprisoned, we are not being true Christians, we are Christian in name only.
I cannot express the wellspring of emotion that came over my heart in that very moment. God had used me. I was anointed for the appointment. My new friend was also anointed for the appointment. From this day forward, she was no longer, “the homeless woman”, she had a name. She was now my sister in Christ because God told me to love her and show her mercy. And I became her protector and ally. I brought her clothes, a blanket, a pillow, daily food, I prayed for her, and got her into a shelter. Others were merciful to her too. She even told me: “I have been visited by others from your church – they said: “I’m a friend of Jackie.”
Again, I am not sharing this story to pat myself on the back. This had nothing to do with me, this had everything to do with God. To God be the glory. Every single time.
The Orthodox Church is not Kabuki theater. It is not a theatrical display of pomp and circumstance or ritual and formality. It is not a fashion show with beautiful vestments, jewels, gold, and regality. The incense, chanting, and choral sounds are not entertainment. It is real. It is the place and space where God’s holy sacraments are brought to the body of believers. It is the place of His mercy, love, forgiveness, redemption, and salvation. It is the place where hearts are opened, minds are changed, and lives are transformed. If we do not believe this, then we are merely spectators but not active participants in the miracle of miracles, the holy of holies.
Again, I was moved by the bold faith of the NFL players on the field surrounding their brother in need. But truly, how many times do we, with bold faith, surround our brothers and sisters in need and lay hands, pray for them, and lift them up? Unafraid and unashamed at what others may think of us? Be honest.
We are called to be instruments of God’s healing. Every single Orthodox Christian. Every single time. Do you believe me? The more important question is do you believe God? Do you believe that all things are possible with God? “But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:25). Jesus is the Master Physician of our souls and bodies not only inside our churches, but outside of our churches.
We all know that scripture dictates we are to go to the elders of the church for healing and to be anointed with oil, giving us the sacrament of Holy Unction. This is good and right. But we are all healers in Jesus’ name. Stop limiting what God can do in our lives and in the lives of others. We are not here to dim our light but to shine the Light of Christ. “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17-18).
I will not list all the miraculous healings I have witnessed in Jesus’ Holy Name, but I will share one very important personal experience I had at a church (Non-Orthodox) in South Carolina. Two prayer ministers had flown in from Nashville, Tennessee. They were members of a church on the leadership team. They were prayer warriors. Documented cases of cancer and paralysis and many other diseases were healed that night, verified by doctors and hospitals in South Carolina. This happened twice and I was present for their second visit to the church.
It was a night of healing prayer. I must have been inside the auditorium for seven or more hours. But the time went so fast, as if I was there for ten minutes, because we were all soaked in the Holy Spirit. The peace that poured over us was indescribable. It was the “peace that passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). It was beyond rational explanation because God was working His glory in that space. At the end of the service, I waited in line to go up to the front where the prayer ministers were praying for us.
When I reached the front of the line, two prayer ministers laid hands on me, and I closed my eyes. I immediately saw a book in my mind’s eye and each page contained a shadowed image/event/experience from my past but part of my past that was difficult even traumatic, a wound in my memory and upon my body and my soul. As I looked at the image on each page, the prayer ministers said aloud the image on the page, even naming those involved, and said it is washed in Jesus’ name. At that moment a bright light flooded the image on the page, page after page, until the whole book became light. A completely new and blank book.
When I had looked at the book from cover to cover, I opened my eyes. The prayer minister standing directly in front of me looked at me and said: “It’s a new day, it’s a new book, God has plans for you.” To be clear, I was silent during the prayer. I did not tell them that I saw a book in my mind’s eye, nor the pages, nor that the pages were being washed with light. Yet, they knew I saw the book, they knew God was healing my past, and the pastor in front of me said: “It’s a new day, it’s a new book, God has plans for you.”
Only God can heal in this way. Only God. And He is waiting on us to be His workers in the field. He is waiting for us to lay hands and heal. He is waiting on us to read His Word, believe His Word, and know our assignment. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth in me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father” (John 14:12).
God sees everything. Everything. There is nothing that is hidden from God. “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the rooftops” (Luke 12:3).
God is waiting to anoint us. He is waiting to anoint us for the appointment. But we must be obedient and willing. Stop diminishing your role in His kingdom. Stop living in fear and having lukewarm faith. Have bold faith and God will use you boldly and mightily. Not only scripture that is read in church has meaning for our faith walk, but all scripture. If anyone thinks I have missed the mark and have become evangelical – let us be reminded that all Christians are called to be evangelical.
Again, the church is not a business. The church “conducts” business but its identity is not a business any more than our role in the church is consumer. The church is not kabuki theater. Those who serve the church are not actors in a play. They are disciples serving God. Parishioners are not spectators at a theatrical event waiting to be entertained once a week or only during Holy Week appearing once a year. They are the bride of Christ, in an intimate and personal relationship with the Bridegroom.
Stand up. Be brave. Be bold. Testify to the goodness God has done for you and for others. Testify to the miracles you have witnessed in Jesus’ name. And show the world that you serve a God who is not “a business” but is still in the business of doing miracles. A God that you need every day of your life not only when you fall on your knees because of crisis. He is the right here and right now God. For now, and for all eternity.
Thank you! It’s a new year Lady Jackie and I promise to remind myself and everyone:
It’s a new day, it’s a new book,
God Has Plans For You!!🌞
God bless you for your faith!
While I have reservations about Protestant healing services just as I have about miraculous icons made into a business ,you get to the heart of our orthodox situation where everything is done to make what happens in the church be behind a barrier that separates it from life.
And NO I am not banging the drum for modernistic liturgical change ,or discussing the ritual of worship at all. Which can be as alive or as dead as we make it.
No I am taking about the barrier in our minds that hears and sees outwardly but refuses to take it in as a living experience that related to their ,our ,life in general.
Ask parishioners as they head out the church door ,what the Gospel reading was and what they understood by Christ’s words and or the priest’s sermon ,if there was one. Be ready for a shock.
One can make as many irrelevant trendy changes to liturgy as one likes , see the western churches in that regard , but the change needed is as always Inner and in our souls.
Nikos, thank you for your deeply thoughtful and important comment. So true – “But the change needed is as always inner and in our souls.” I do not believe that as Orthodox Christians we are taught to understand, discuss, and share God’s Word – our children cannot even have the most basic and fundamental conversations about scripture – about Jesus, about the disciples. What are we teaching them in Sunday School? We are ill-equipped to take our faith into the world – we struggle to be faithful ten minutes after leaving the service. We compartmentalize the faith. I understand your reservations about the validity of Protestant healing services. Yet another wound in Orthodoxy – we serve a God of miracles but doubt His healing power and the power given to us in His name. My experience is true – with witnesses, and I have witnessed healing in others. We are all called to lay hands and heal in Jesus’ name. A good starting point would be teaching and encouraging each other how to pray, to truly pray – not only rote prayers in prayer books that we read (which have value) but prayer from the heart and as you say, the soul.