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 Thirteen
You Don’t Need to be a Priest to Serve
And what they said pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the Apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. Acts 6: 5-7
Good morning Prayer Team!
In our last reflection, we talked about how the Apostles were unable to manage preaching the Word of God and serving tables, the two necessary “works” of the Ecclesia. They wanted to choose “seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3) who could help them primarily in the daily distribution, the giving of food to the widows and the poor.
Today’s brief Scripture passage is the foundation for two things that are part of our Church to this day—the office of Deacon and the sacrament of ordination. The seven men—Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolaus—were the first seven deacons. In the ensuing centuries, the “Apostles” would become the “bishops” of the church and those that assisted them would be called “deacons.” The “bishop” would be the person in charge or a region. His church would be called the “Cathedral” church. Other churches in his region would be administered by “presbyters” or “priests,” who were the last of the three orders of clergy that were created. In modern times, a person who is ordained into the clergy first serves as a deacon, then is ordained a priest, and from the unmarried priests, the bishops are ordained.
Today’s scripture passage gives the ritual basis for the sacrament of ordination, which is the laying on of hands by the bishop (Apostle). This first “ordination” was done publicly, in front of all the Apostles. Today’s ordinations are also done publicly. An ordination to the Deaconate or the Priesthood requires the presence of at least one bishop. And ordination the Episcopacy requires the presence of at least three bishops. The moment of ordination comes when the bishop lays his hands on the candidate for ordination and prays over him that the Holy Spirit comes down on him to ordain him to whatever office he is being ordained to.
The thing to take away from today’s message is that one does not have to be a priest in order to serve the church. While the priests and bishops are the only ones who can preside over the services, they are not the only ones who can teach. They are not the only ones who can counsel, or come to the assistance of those in need. Strictly speaking, the role of the clergy is to preside at the services, administer the sacraments (including offering Communion to the sick and hearing confessions), and preach the Word of God. There are a lot of other things that the Ecclesia is supposed to be doing and all of these other things can be led by people who are not priests.
What are these other roles? There is a teaching role in the church. Teaching Sunday school, leading a youth group, leading a Bible study, or leading a small group are all things that properly trained laypeople can do. While it is only the clergy who can distribute Communion at a hospital, everyone should visit the sick and pray for those who are in hospitals and shut in in homes. While it is only the clergy who can offer absolution after a confession, everyone should be involved in consoling and encouraging those who are repenting. The priest is not the only one who can encourage others—we all have a role in encouraging others. There are also many other roles in the church—teaching, singing, and administration are three such example. The point is, serving the church isn’t “I’ve got to be a priest or I can’t serve.” No, there are many ways to serve. The priest gives his entire life for the service of the Church. Others can give their life and not be ordained. And still others can give part of their life to serve and still have another career.
Whether we are a clergyman or a layperson, we are all called to serve. And we don’t necessarily need to lead a ministry. We need lay leaders but we also need lay followers. We may have thirty people in the choir with one director. We need the thirty choir members as much as we need the one choir director. So, think about the ways you’d like to serve, talk it over with your priest, and jump in and help. Because lots of help is needed when it comes to teaching the Word of God and helping others.
Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision. Then He will speak to them in His wrath, and terrify them in His fury, saying, “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my son, today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Now therefore, O kinds, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, with trembling kiss His feet, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way; for His wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him. Psalm 2
Whether we are a clergyman or a layperson, we are all called to serve!
With Roger Hunt providing today’s Daily Reading: Listen Now
These readings are under copyright and is used by permission. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, in print or on other websites or in any other form, without the prior written authorization of the copyright holder: Reading © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA, Apolytikion of Abbot Marcellus © Narthex Press, Kontakion of Abbot Marcellus © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA.
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.
Photo credit: Christianity Cove
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