Placing God First
by Father Peter Orfanakos
A Time for You to Bear Testimony
There is an exercise that is used many times to begin retreats or seminars during which the participants are asked to form a list of the ten relationships that are most important to them. Each participant tends to react differently to this request as they begin to formulate their list. Some worry that they will not be able to produce a list of ten, others insist that it will be difficult for them to limit the list to just ten. So they begin their list: Parents, Friends, Brother, Sister, Teacher, Co-worker…. Hopefully God has also made the list – although many times he is not in the top four.
In the tenth chapter of the Gospel According to Matthew, Jesus calls our attention to this list by presenting us with the following statement, that “whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 10:32 – 33; 37-38)
Through these statements, Jesus is forcing us to take a more in-depth look at our list and to see how high we have placed our relationship with God. We are called to first list these relationships by order of importance and then, Christ reminds us that he who loves mother, father, wife, husband, son, and daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. In many ways he causes us to take pause and reflect on our answer.
Perhaps we require more time to reflect on the awesomeness of the question being asked.
There are some who will state that it is difficult to put God ahead of our spouse, or our parents, or even our children. Why does God need to be first anyway? Why is He making us question our priorities? The answer to these questions are simple and quite unique.
Christ reminds us that if we love Him first, if we place God first in order of priority – that our experience on this world will be intensified. Christ reminds us that our love for God will be overshadowed by God’s Love for us and it is through God’s over-whelming Love and Forgiveness that we have the ability to be His Children and follow His Example.
Let us not forget that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3: 16-17)
God gives us many examples, and has placed Himself as the supreme example.
He sent Christ to live among us, to teach us how we were supposed to follow His commandments; to teach us how to love each other and God. We are called to remember that just in the same way as Christ was wedded to the church, just in the same way as Christ gave up His life for the church, in that same sense we are called to offer our lives to God first. And when we offer our lives to God in such a manner then all of our relationships, all of our experiences in this world, take on a different meaning and take on much greater importance.
It is no coincidence that we read this Gospel lesson the Sunday following the great Feast of Pentecost, the Sunday in which we celebrate All Saints Day. The reason that we read this gospel is because placing God as the priority in their life is exactly what the saints did. That is why we honor them, that is why we look to them and to the Theotokos as examples to us as humans, of how to place God first. When we do that all of our other relationships are filled with heavenly blessings and they become more powerful, more intense, more rewarding and more fulfilling. Because they are not being energized by human emotions and human frailties, they are being energized with heavenly strength, they are being charged with divine intervention and they are being infused with God’s power.
We are called to look at our list and re-prioritize. We are called to try to comprehend what it means to put God first and to live as if God is in fact the priority in our life. When we do this we will be able to do exactly what the saints were able to do, for as Saint Paul reminds us, through faith the saints conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness. (Hebrews 11: 33 –34)
As we prepare ourselves to begin Great Lent let us refocus ourselves, and reprioritize our lives, placing God first and further enhancing the life that we live in this world. This is my prayer, that we each take the time to stop, reflect, reprioritize and grow; and if I may borrow the beautiful words of Saint Paul, “bring strength out of weakness.”
Rev. Peter J. Orfanakos serves the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Barbara
in Orange, Connecticut