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”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
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 Twenty-One
Conciliarity and Inclusiveness
But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoencia and Samaria, reporting the conversation of the Gentiles, and they gave great joy to all the brethren. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders and the declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the part of the Pharisees rose us, and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the Law of Moses.” The apostles and the elders gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter role and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the Gospel and believe. And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as He did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them; but cleansed their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers not we have been able to bear? But w believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” Acts 15:1-11
Good morning Prayer Team!
If the Acts of the Apostles spells out some of the practices of the early Church that continue to this day, this short passage points out three practices that have come down to us from then until now. The first is the practice of conciliarity. When there is an issue or a controversy that comes up in the Church, it is handled with a council, not decided by one person. There is no one in the Orthodox Church who speaks infallibly.
The most significant “Councils” were the seven Ecumenical Councils, held between 325 and 787 A.D. From these “Councils”, we got most of the Traditions and Canons of the Orthodox Church. In this case, there was a controversy and a council of apostles got together to make the decision. Paul and Barnabas also didn’t take it upon themselves to come up with an answer. Rather they also recognized the need for a larger body to speak for the entirety of the Church. This is how change is made in the Orthodox Church to this day. Individual priests do not make changes. Local bishops may make small changes. But large changes in doctrine come from a synod of bishops.
We have discussed previously the topic of Apostolic Succession, that the Apostles ordained bishops, who ordained more bishops, right up to the bishops of today. We see that when there was a controversy, “the apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.” (Acts 15:6) Not only have the controversies of the Church through the centuries been decided by councils of bishops, but the method of solving controversies by having councils is a Tradition started by the Apostles themselves.
The second practice of the Church that we read about in this short passage is that baptism became the official means by which people entered the Church. One need not become a Jew before becoming a Christian. One need not be circumcised prior to being baptized. Salvation no longer comes through the Law of Moses but rather through the example of Jesus Christ. The Mosaic Law required circumcision as a prerequisite to becoming Jewish. In other words, there was a required ritual which acted as an initiation for anyone who was going to follow God’s Law. Baptism became the new initiation ritual, replacing circumcision. However, it is our Tradition that baptism is a required ritual of initiation. As St. Paul wrote in Romans 2:29, “real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal.” Baptism is the indelible mark of God made on someone’s heart, done with water rather than with blood.
And third, the Church would be inclusive of all people who “cleansed their hearts by faith.” (15:9) In other words, there would be no distinction between Jews and Gentiles. There would be no group seen as superior. This is important in the Church today, especially in America, where there are divisions that occur over ethnic group as well as whether one is “cradle” Orthodox or a convert to Orthodoxy. The Greeks are not superior to the Russians or vice versa. Neither “cradle” nor “convert” should look up or down on the other. If we are to recapture the spirit of the early Church, we should see signs of unity rather than marks of division. And the unity of the faith is expressed specifically in the Eucharist, which all receive equally, without any distinction. Indeed God calls all people, regardless of race or circumstance, to come to Him.
God has taken His place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods He holds judgment: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. I say “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like men, and fall like any prince.” Arise, O God, judge the earth; for to Thee belong all nations. Psalm 82
Conciliarity, baptism and inclusiveness are contemporary practices of the Church that have been in place since the first years of the Church!
With Roger Hunt providing today’s Daily Reading: Listen Now
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