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
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
Establishing Churches is not Easy
Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue, and so spoke that a great company believed, both of Jews and of Greeks. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of is grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. Acts 14: 1-3
Good morning Prayer Team!
The Book of Acts continues following Paul’s conversion with stories Peter healing a man named Aeneas in Lydda, as well as a girl named Tabitha in Joppa. (Acts 9) Peter was preaching and Gentiles received the gift of the Holy Spirit from him. (Acts 10) Peter got up to speak to the church in Jerusalem and others were converted. (Acts 11) The church also was being stablished in Antioch. (Acts 11) All seemed to be going along smoothly until Herod the king started violently persecuting Christians. He killed James, the brother of John and had Peter arrested. (Acts 12:1-3) Peter was quickly delivered from prison by an angel. (Acts 12:6-11) Herod died.
Barnabas and Paul were then commissioned by the Apostles through a ceremony involving the laying on of hands, which is a precursor to today’s sacrament of ordination, which is still done through the laying on of hands by a bishop. (Acts 13:1-3) The Apostles then took the Church to Cyprus and to Antioch. For four chapters in Acts, we read about the quick establishment of churches and other than the brief imprisonment of Peter and the killing of James in Acts 12, it seems that the churches were growing with little or no resistance. We know, of course, that that was not the case.
At Iconium, Barnabas and Paul entered a Jewish synagogue and spoke with such conviction that many of both the Jews and Greeks believed. Imagine two people going into a crowded church, let’s imagine one of these “mega-churches” with thousands of people worshipping and imagine two people convincing thousands that there was no Christ. Imagine the uproar. Well, this is what the scene must have looked like in the temple, as Paul and Barnabas convinced a large group of Jews and Greeks that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and converted them to Christianity. The unbelieving Jews then stirred up the Gentiles, the Greeks, and poisoned their minds against these new believers. Paul and Barnabas were undeterred in their work. In fact we are told that they “remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” (Acts 14:3)
No one is suggesting that we go to people who are part of a religious tradition that is not Christian and suggest that they be Christian. I have never actually done that or thought of doing that. Saint Paul did these kinds of things. He was not only much bolder than I, but also much more gifted as an orator. I also would never suggest going to another Christian group and converting people away from another church to join ours. The idea is to grow the Body of Christ, not just reapportion members from one congregation to another. There are plenty of people who don’t know Christ that don’t belong anywhere.
So if we are not going to go into temples of other religious groups and preach to them, what should be we doing in order to bring others to Christ? This is a very important question, and we will discuss it on a number of times during this unit on being commissioned to be apostles.
Someone recently shared with me the image of an artist painting a masterpiece with a brush. In order for the masterpiece to be created, it requires both the brush and the artist. The brush does not paint by itself. Nor can the artist paint without a brush. The brush is a necessary tool for the artist. In spreading the Christian faith, we are like the brush. The Holy Spirit is the artist. The canvas is the field white for harvest (Lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest.”John 4:35). This metaphor refers to the many people who don’t know Christ but whose hearts, if stirred, will desire to come to Him. Paul was bold and went right to the Jewish temple to do his preaching. There are more subtle ways available to us. The most subtle is living the faith and being an example. This doesn’t require preaching, only modeling. If we model the peace and the joy that come from knowing Christ, the Holy Spirit can work through our example. We can simply invite someone to come to church. We can invite someone who doesn’t know Christ to come to church. Most of us have never done that. Again, all we have to do is make the invitation. That is our role. Be welcoming to all people who come into our church. Strive to include them in conversation, invite them to participate in a ministry, introduce them to people.
There are two things to expect when trying to bring others to Christ. First is failure. Many invitations will simply be turned down or ignored. Again, it is not our job to be successful, only to invite and give a chance for success. Second is resistance. There will be people who resist an invitation, and even people within our own church communities who may be resistant to the idea of bringing others to Christ, to enlarging the congregation.
One thing I was taught in childhood—nothing worthwhile comes easy. Perhaps the most worthwhile thing to do is to spread the Word of God to others. It is not an easy job. Working in tandem with God through prayer and trust, seeing our role as the brush while He is the artist, will help us keep reaching out to the canvas and being content to do so, rather than focusing on creating a masterpiece—that’s His job.
If there is no boldness in sharing the faith, how does the good news of Christ get spread and how do churches get established? If there was never a Peter or Paul to deliver a bold message, the message would have died with them. They were pivotal in helping the church take root. Our job is not to create the foundation but to build upon the foundation given to us.
I cry with my voice to the Lord, with my voice I make supplication to the Lord, I pour out my complaint before Him, I tell my trouble before Him. When my spirit is faint, Thou knowest my way! In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me. I look to the right and watch, but there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to e, no man cares to me. I cry to Thee, O Lord; I say Thou art my refuge, my portion in the land of the living. Give heed to my cry; for I am brought very low! Deliver me from my persecutors; for they are too strong for me! Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to Thy name! The righteous will surround me; for Thou wilt deal bountifully with me. Psalm 142
Model the Christian life. Invite someone who doesn’t know Christ to a church service. And don’t worry if there is failure or resistance. Our job is to ask. The Holy Spirit converts the heart.
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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