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, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”
Listen Now. We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you.” John 20:21
The Book of Acts and the Early Ecclesia—Part Twelve
The Early Ecclesia Did Exactly TWO Things
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the Word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit, and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:1-4
Good morning Prayer Team!
As we have discussed, the Book of Acts is a history of the early Church, most specifically the “Practice of the Apostles.” If the Orthodox Church touts itself as the guardian of “Ortho” (correct) “Doxia” (practice, or dogma), then it is critical that we understand how the early Ecclesia conducted itself and check ourselves against our foundation to see how we are doing.
Today’s Scripture passage from Acts 6 is insightful because it reveals to us that the Ecclesia had exactly TWO concerns—preaching the Word of God and the daily distribution. In other words, the only two things that Apostles were doing, and therefore the only two things that the early Ecclesia was doing was preaching the Word of God and giving food to the hungry, the daily distribution to the widow and orphans and poor.
How are we doing as a modern day Ecclesia compared to the Ecclesia of the Apostles? If we are honest, most of our communities today would be almost unrecognizable to the Ecclesia of the Apostles. Our preaching consists of a 10-15 minute sermon at Sunday Liturgy that many people complain is too long. Bible studies offer another opportunity for people to “hear the Word” but not many participate. And in most churches, there is only one Bible study even offered.
Even worse is what we do, or rather do not do, for the poor. Most churches do not operate soup kitchens or food pantries. Most churches do not give much money to the poor. In many churches, paying the bills and surviving to see another year is a challenge.
Let’s think critically about where our churches put their emphasis. Look at the calendar of several churches. We see Sunday Liturgy and perhaps one more service during the week. We see one Bible study perhaps. There will be many meetings and social events, and even worthwhile youth programs and choir practice. Many churches will have Greek dance practice and Greek school as a major thrust of the youth program. Most church websites have a tab for the Greek Festival but no tab for community outreach. Most church websites have a way to donate online to a building program or for stewardship but they don’t have a button to press to donate to charity.
This is our reality. And this is our challenge.
We know that the Ecclesia of the Apostles grew by 3,000 people on its first day, and it grew exponentially each decade. This was not because it was a church of freebies, but because it was a church of conviction. The Apostles were not lazy when they asked for some help. They were convicted about the two tasks they were doing. They wanted sufficient time to pray and to preach. And they wanted to make sure there was sufficient help to distribute food to the poor.
I feel fortunate that in the parish I serve we have a food pantry, which gives food to hungry people who live on the streets near the church. We go downtown to a church that feeds the homeless a hot breakfast on Saturdays. We send a contingent once a month. We help at our local Metropolitan Ministries holiday tent during the Christmas holidays. We give 10% of our festival profits to local charities. Overall, about 3% of our budget goes to charity.
However, there is much more we can and should be doing. If everyone in the church took a turn feeding the homeless on Saturdays, we could provide the workers for EVERY Saturday of the year and we’d all need to go only twice. We are working our way one percentage each year (so it will be 4% next year) until we get up to 10% of our budget being donated to charity. We’re adding more Bible studies. And the Prayer Team has become a daily outlet to preach the Word of God. Acts 6 makes it very simple to understand what we are supposed to be doing in the Ecclesia—preaching the Word of God and helping people. Yes, there is a social component to the church and that’s not a bad thing, but that can’t be the only thing. There is a cultural component in our churches, but that cannot be favored over preaching and philanthropy. People join churches for many reasons, but it’s learning and service that should be the things that attract us the most.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the lands! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into His presence with singing! Know that the Lord is God! It is He that made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him, bless His name! For the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100
Preaching the Word of God and serving tables. Put very simply, these are the most important things that an Ecclesia should be doing. We’ve all got a lot of improvement to make in these two areas for sure.
With Roger Hunt providing today’s Daily Reading: Listen Now.
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The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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