Commissioned to Be Apostles: Love, Worship, Community, Learning, Service

Commissioned to Be Apostles: Love, Worship, Community, Learning, Service

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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 Five

Apostolic Succession

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.   Acts 2:42

Good morning Prayer Team!

It is amazing, in a world that is constantly changing, that many things in our Orthodox faith and practice have stayed the same since the early church.  One important concept in the Orthodox Tradition is “Apostolic Succession.” This refers specifically to the succession of church leadership from the time of the Apostles to the present.  As we will discuss in the future, the Apostles ordained their “successors” who then ordained their successors and on down the line until we get to the bishops we have today, who have ordained today’s priests.  Part of what makes us Orthodox is having bishops who have Apostolic Succession.  If a person just wants to ordain himself a bishop but goes outside of the body of the church to do that, he could set up a church that would look Orthodox, he could conduct a “liturgy” that would seem to be Orthodox, but he would not be Orthodox.  He would have broken the line of Apostolic Succession.

While Apostolic Succession generally refers to the line of bishops from Apostolic times to the present, I believe it can also refer to the other things that the Apostles were doing that have survived to this present time.  Four things are found in today’s verse of Scripture which were present from that first WEEK of the church and are still present today.

The teaching, or doctrines, of the Apostles have not changed.  They preached Christ, the incarnate Son of God, who came into the world to save us through the Cross and Resurrection.  This very basic teaching of the Church has never changed, at least not for the Orthodox.  I remember back when served in North Carolina that one year on Holy Saturday, the local newspaper had an article which was entitled “80% of Christians believe in the Resurrection.”  Which led me to wonder what the other 20% believe, if they don’t believe in the Resurrection.  The basic message of Christ has not changed since the time of the Apostles.

Fellowship has always been a part of the ecclesia.  We don’t exist as islands unto ourselves.  Nor are we expected to make our journey to Christ alone.

There are three dangers to living the Christian life in isolation.  The first is that we might change the message if we are not living it with other people.   Imagine if you lived on a deserted island for twenty years.  Without anyone to teach you, you could take whatever you have learned and twist it into something else.  Being in a community helps keep the message consistent.  The second danger is discouragement.  Without other people around to encourage us, what would we do in the times when life gets hard or God seems far away, or we feel like we are the only ones who are suffering.  Encouragement is a vital ingredient in the ecclesia.  Third, in the context of community there is accountability.  When we are with others, we are accountable for what we are doing and how we are behaving.  One can’t be accountable and always be right.  So accountability allows us to learn to correct behaviors and grow.

The “breaking of bread” in Greek is the phrase “ti klasi tou artou”.  The word “Eucharist” is not used in the Bible at all.  The first term to be used for what we know today as the “Eucharist” was “the breaking of bread.”  In Luke 24, following the Resurrection, we read an account of Jesus appearing to two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  Yet, they do not recognize Him as He converses with them.  In 24:30-31, we read, “When He was at table with them, He took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them.  And their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished out of their sight.”When they went and told the other disciples, “they told what had happened on the road, and how He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”  (Luke 24:35)  Christ was revealed then in the breaking of bread, and this is the first term given to what we now call the Eucharist, or Holy Communion.  This action, of breaking the bread, was also central to the life of the early Church, as it remains to this day.

Finally, the fourth thing we received from the Apostles was that the Church should also be centered around a life of prayer.  There is not relationship with Christ without prayer.

We will discuss all four of these aspects of life in the early church in future reflections.  As we continue to lay the foundation for what makes a good apostle, remembering that we are all commissioned to be apostles, it is important to note that remaining consistent with Apostolic teaching, fellowship with one another, the centrality of the Eucharist and the importance of a prayer life were hallmarks of the early church that remain her central pillars today.

Remember, O Lord, in David’s favor, all the hardships he endured; how he swore to the Lord and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob, “I will not enter My house or get into My bed; I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”  Lo, we heard of it in Ephrathah, we found it in the fields of Ja’ar.  “Let us go to His dwelling place; let us worship at His footstool!”  Arise, O Lord, and go to Thy resting place, Thou and the ark of Thy might.  Let Thy priests be clothes with righteousness and let Thy saints shout for joy.  For Thy servant David’s sake do not turn away the face of Thy anointed one.  The Lord swore to David a sure oath from which He will not turn back; “One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne.  If your sons keep My covenant and My testimonies which I shall teach them, their sons also forever shall sit upon you throne.”  For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for His habitation; “This is My resting place forever; here I will dwell for I have desired it.  I will abundantly bless her provisions; I will satisfy her poor with bread.  Her priests I will clothe with salvation, and her saints will shout for joy.  There I will make a horn to sprout for David; I have prepared a lamp for My anointed.  His enemies I will clothe with shame, but upon himself his crown will shed its luster” Psalm 132

Learn in the context of community, celebrating the Eucharist and praying.  This is what the ecclesia has done as its central functions since the first day until today!

+Fr. Stavros

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With Roger Hunt providing today’s Daily Reading: Listen Now

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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

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. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros 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