Life in the Early Church

Life in the Early Church


Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?”  And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Acts 2: 37-38  Feast of the Holy Spirit


Good morning Prayer Team!

For the last week of these reflections (This series on Lent and Pascha will run through June 26 and a new set of reflections will begin on June 27) that have brought us through Triodion, Lent, Pascha, the Ascension and now Pentecost, we are going to focus on “life in the early church” which should serve as a blueprint for life in the modern church.  The Pentecost event was transformative for the whole world.  Why?  First, the Apostles were able to communicate the Gospel in all the languages known to man.  Everyone heard the Gospel in his or her own language.  Second, people who did not know the Christian message saw, before their own eyes, the simple men become extraordinary speakers.  They saw the power of God at work.  And this captivated their hearts, they wanted to know more.

So, when people heard all of the amazing things that Peter and the rest of the Apostles were saying, they approached them and asked how their hearts could be transformed as well.  The zeal of the Apostles made for a compelling witness and people were very attracted to what they were seeing.

Peter told the people that coming to Christ was a three step-process.  First, they had to repent.  They had to change the orientation of their lives from whatever they were toward being Christians, believing and acting appropriately.  Second, they needed to be baptized for the “remission” of their sins.  (In the Greek translation of Acts 2:38, the word “afesin” meaning “remission” is used.  As occurs many times in the English translations of the Bible, this word is mistranslated as “forgiveness”.  “Remission” means complete wiping out of sin, which is what Christ did on the Cross, thus it is the more correct translation.)  And if they did these two things—come to Christ in repentance, and accept Him through baptism—then they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In the Orthodox Church, immediately after one is baptized, he or she receives the Holy Spirit through the sacrament of Chrismation.  Holy Chrism is made from many oils taken from all corners of the world and consecrated approximately every ten years at the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey).  The Holy Chrism is then distributed to all the Orthodox Churches in the world and all those who are baptized are then anointed with the Holy Chrism, sealing them with the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is continuously bestowed on the faithful through the sacramental life of the church.  The Holy Spirit descends at each Divine Liturgy to consecrate bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.  The faithful are to partake of the Eucharist often.  But even if someone does not receive Communion at the Divine Liturgy, they still stand in the presence of the Holy Spirit as was mentioned in the last reflection.

The Holy Spirit “effects” all of the sacraments in the church.  We have mentioned the Divine Liturgy.  We have mentioned the sacrament of Chrismation, which is the Holy Spirit coming into someone.  At the sacrament of baptism, we call upon the Holy Spirit to come down and bless water, so that the person who is baptized is “changed”, putting away the old person and living for Christ, because the water is no longer ordinary water, but the saving water of baptism.

When we receive the sacrament of Holy Unction during Holy Week (or other times of the year), we ask for the Holy Spirit to descend on the oil we bring, a rather common commodity, and we ask that the oil be transformed with healing power, to heal the physical and spiritual wounds of those who are anointed with it.  In the sacrament of Confession, we ask for the grace of the Holy Spirit to come down on the person who is repenting of their sins, to loose the sins that they have confessed.  In fact, the final prayer of the sacrament offers “The grace of the Holy Spirit, through my (the priest’s) unworthy person, has loosened and forgiven your sins.”  The priest doesn’t forgive the sins.  The person confessing doesn’t loosen his or her own sins.  Rather it is the grace of the Holy Spirit that loosens the sins of the faithful, allowing them to recommit themselves to Christ and be loosened of their former guilt.

The sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation are required sacraments of initiation.  In order to come into the life of the church, one has to receive these two sacraments.  They are offered one time in a lifetime.  The sacraments of Holy Communion, Holy Unction and Confession are to be done on a more frequent basis.  Holy Communion should be received, ideally, on a weekly basis.  Holy Unction is received at a minimum of once a year, during Holy Week.  And the faithful should partake in the sacrament of confession at least once a year.

There are two other sacraments which are “optional,” meaning that they are not needed in order to experience a full life and a successful journey to salvation.  The Holy Spirit “effects” these as well.  In the sacrament of marriage, we ask for God’s heavenly grace, the Holy Spirit, to come down on a man and a woman and unite them into a family.  Again, ordinary made extraordinary through the grace of the Holy Spirit.  In the sacrament of Ordination, ordinary men are endowed with the Holy Spirit to be the celebrants of the sacraments and leaders of the church.  I can tell you from experience, celebrating the sacraments is an extraordinary, other-worldly experience.

Thus, life in the church is a continual experience of receiving the Holy Spirit.  As Peter said, “repent and be baptized and then receive the Holy Spirit.”  Baptism is a one-time event.  Repentance is something we all must strive to do on a regular basis.  But we are aided in this by receiving the Holy Spirit on a continual basis as well.

All those who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ Alleluia. (Check translation from Fr. Seraphim)

Live with “grace” today!


+Fr. Stavros

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About author

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”: “ and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”