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
And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. Acts 2:43-45 Friday after Pentecost-Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Good morning Prayer Team!
In the Old Testament, we were introduced to the concept of the tithe, which is that ten percent of everything a person had was given to the temple, in order to contribute to the welfare of all. For those who complain that the Old Testament has been superseded by the New, that nothing in the Old Testament applies today, and that the concept of the “tithe” is an archaic idea of an age gone by, the book of Acts seems to imply that all possessions are to be given to the church community. Given the choice between giving 100% or giving 10%, it seems that ten percent is the easier choice.
While someone could use these verses to debate the merits of “communism” as a Godly political system (it isn’t), as I reflect on these verses, I want to focus on the word “common.” “Common” is the root word of both “Community” and “Communion.” The Church is the Body of Christ, a “community” of believers who come together to partake of “Holy Communion.” Without “community” and without “Communion,” there is no Church. And without points in “common,” among the worshippers, there is neither of these.
The ideal church community strives for the common good, the good of all people. The greatest “good” is Holy Communion, which is why this is the centerpiece of any Church. People coming together on a regular basis to partake of Divine Nature is what the Church is all about. Communion is not enjoyed privately. In fact, there cannot be a celebration of the Divine Liturgy unless there is at least one person besides the priest present. Every time Holy Communion is administered, it is in the context of community. So that even when the priest gives Communion to someone who is in the hospital, it is the priest and patient who are present, a “community” of two people.
Partaking of Holy Communion is the central act that Christians experience in community. This is why it is perplexing that some members of the “community” rarely partake of Communion, or even worse, rarely participate in worship. Worship and the Eucharist is central to the community and all members in it. How can one consider himself a member of the community, if he does not engage in worship, or receive Communion?
Any “community” is set up based on things held in “common.” This is why the center of the church community cannot be “culture.” In the Greek Orthoox Church as an example, not all members are of Greek ancestry. If “Greek” is the center of the community, then members who are not of Greek ancestry cannot truly be part of the community. The youth group is not the center, neither is the seniors group, neither is the Parish Council, or the community outreach groups. The most “common” denominators of all Christians are Christ and our need for Him to save us from our sins. That’s why humility and repentance should be at the center of “community” life, second only to the Eucharist. And this is why prayer is at the heart of every activity, and worship is the most important activity in the community, because these are the two things that unite us in Christ, and that unite us with each other.
“As any had need” means that in the ideal church community, everyone bears the burdens of the others, as we read in Galatians 6:2. If someone has two coats, as Jesus says in Luke 3:11, “let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” If we are looking out for one another, there ideally should be no one who is hungry, no one who is without a home, and no one who is without a friend. There should be a sense of the “common good” in each community. That means that if I’m sharing the pew with someone sitting next to me, ideally I should know his or her name and even his or her need, so that I can help carry the burden.
In a book I read once about church work, I read the terms “worship circle” and “fellowship circle.” The “worship circle” is defined as all those who worship. The “fellowship circle” is defined as those who share in the community life outside of worship. There are many people who are part of the “worship circle” but not part of the “fellowship circle”. Their experience of church consists of worshipping and nothing else. Sad to say, there are a few people who are part of the “fellowship circle”, who participate in the various aspects of community life who are not part of the “worship circle.” Ideally, there are not two circles—everyone worships, and everyone is part of the community life outside of worship as well.
I will always believe that if everyone gave ten percent of their income to the church, and if every church gave ten percent to social welfare programs, that we wouldn’t need government to provide welfare, nor would we be constantly solicited by various charities. Because the church, to a large extent, has not followed this teaching of giving “as any had need,” government and other organizations have taken over this domain, which is not necessarily a good thing. It is certainly not consistent with the verses above. Finally, a person’s choice to contribute to the life of community or to the general welfare of others should be just that, a choice. Contributing to the general community because it is required to, is not the same as doing out of love. The choice to give should be done out of a sense of compassion and love for others and should be a matter of conscience. When our lives are examined at the Judgment Seat of Christ, He will know what is in each of our hearts, in the conscience of each, so we have ample incentive to give and to love.
In the ideal life, participation in Church becomes one of our primary, if not the primary thing that we do. For what is more primary than the Eucharist, “Communion,” and what is more of an incentive or encouragement to participate in the Eucharist, then to do so in the context of a loving, supportive and encouraging “community.”
By their virtues’ effulgent light, they made the earth to be heaven-like and they imitated the death of Jesus Christ. These are the ones who have walked the way that leads to immortal life. By the surgery of grace, they removed human passions as healers of mankind. And united throughout the world the Martyrs have courageously contests. Let us extol all the Saints today. (From the Praises of the Feast of All Saints, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes.)
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