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
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42 Thursday after Pentecost
Good morning Prayer Team!
Many times, even those who are very involved in the church (this includes priests, parish council members, Sunday school teachers and others in church leadership) forget about the true purpose of the church. As we continue to discuss the life of the early church, today’s verse mentions the main activities of the early church, activities that should form the purpose and the core of church life in every church community today.
Those involved in the early church, we are told in Acts 2:42, had four purposes: Teaching/learning about the faith, fellowship, breaking of the Bread (the Eucharist) and prayers. A fifth was soon added, which was the “daily distribution”, serving food to the poor and the widows. (Acts 6:1) These were the purposes of the church, the anchors of community life in the early church. Churches that want to be successful today would do well to make these five activities the core of their ministry.
Teaching/Learning—Knowledge is power. There is no power for someone in something they have no knowledge of. For example, I do not know much about the periodic table in chemistry. So, when someone starts talking about the elements and their properties, I quickly tune out and move on. If our knowledge of Christianity is like my knowledge of chemistry, then we will quickly lose interest in the things of God. Teaching and learning about the faith is also not confined to Sunday school, or to children. We should strive to continually learn about our faith, and we should see opportunities to teach others about the faith throughout our adult life. We must become lifelong students who at the same time are lifelong teachers.
Fellowship—A Christian does not live in isolation. Being a Christian is about being “in communion” with the Lord and with one another, following the two great commandments which are to love God and to love our neighbor. Saint Paul tells us in Galatians 6:2 that we are to “bear one another’s burdens” and this is done in the context of fellowship.
Breaking of the Bread—The central act of the church is the celebration of the Eucharist. One can learn about the faith in a Bible study in a home. One can have fellowship with other Christians outside the church. But the central act of the church community is the Eucharist. Because that is what is unique to the church community. It is the one thing that the church community does that cannot be done outside of the church community. Every church is, in reality, a Eucharistic assembly. So, the church where I serve in Tampa is really the Eucharistic assembly of Tampa, because this is where the Orthodox faithful of Tampa gather to celebrate the Eucharist.
Prayer—The most basic function of the church is prayer. Prayer is done constantly. Individual members pray to the Lord. Members pray for one another. Gatherings open and close with prayer. The priest prays with and for his parishioners. Prayer is something that should be done daily by all Christians, multiple times per day.
Daily distribution—From the get-go, there was a sense that the church needed to minister to the poor, and to those outside of the church. Community outreach, both ministering to one’s own church community and the community outside of the church, was important in the life of the early church. The church had a great desire to serve the poor, the widows, those afflicted in any way, so that no one would go hungry, no one would go without prayer, no one would be excluded from fellowship.
The early church was not a social club. It didn’t have a food or cultural festival to sustain itself. It wasn’t concerned with putting up beautiful buildings. And it didn’t single out people for awards or recognition. The Church had a narrow focus—Teaching, fellowship, the Eucharist, prayer and charity. It did these five things constantly and it did them well.
Remember that the early church was growing at a rate of 40% per decade. And it did that by sticking with the “basics.” If we want to recover the spirit of the early church, and enjoy the growth and the vibrancy of the early church, it is found in teaching, fellowship, the Eucharist, prayer and charity. Yes, there is a need to build a church complex to establish a home-base for church activities. Yes, it is necessary for parish boards and budgets to administer the church. But the church exists for us to learn about Christ, to enjoy fellowship with one another, to receive the Eucharist, to pray and to give/help/serve others who are in need. So, whatever our role is in the church, whether we be the priest, the board member, the Sunday school teacher or the parishioner, we have to remember that we each pray an important role in fulfilling the true mission of the church.
Christ the Lord has made wondrous all of His Saints that were on the earth, for as the Apostles declared, they bore His marks and in their flesh shared His sufferings, adorning themselves therewith, and distinguishing themselves in the beauty that is divine. Let us therefore praise and acclaim them as never-fading flowers and as voluntary victims, an as the Church’s unerring stars. (From the Praises of the Feast of All Saints, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Make sure you stay involved in learning, teaching, fellowship, the Eucharist, prayer and charitable outreach on a regular basis.
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