Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Acts 12 - Return to Jerusalem

Acts 12 - Return to Jerusalem

1. Herod in this verse is Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great. He ruled in Palestine from 41-44. The Herods were half-Jews who ruled the Jews in Palestine on behalf of the Roman empire. Because of their divided loyalties they often performed acts to prove their patriotism the Jewish people. The actions of Agrippa persecuting the Christians is possibly one such act.

2. James, the brother of John was the first of the apostles to be martyred. And because it brought him favor with the Jews, he then arrest Peter.

3ff. This is during the Feast of Unleavened Bread which is Passover. This was an important time for both Jews and Christians. The Christians would have been celebrating the anniversary of the Resurrection. The church prayed for him during his captivity, and in spite of the guards n angel rescued him from prison.

12. From this verse many have supposed that this was the house where the upper room was. ..Mary was the mother of John Mark. St. Mark’s Church stands over the traditional site of the first Christian house of prayer in the Holy City of Jerusalem, and belongs to one of the most ancient Christian denominations in the Holy Land: the Syriac Orthodox.

The sanctuary occupies a building some eight centuries old, which is above an even older structure. A tradition developed in antiquity that the event that many Christians mark on nearby Mount Zion – the first speaking in tongues (Acts 2:1) – took place at John Mark’s house (Acts 12:13).

An inscription in the sanctuary dating to the sixth century, reads: this is the house of Mary mother of John Mark. It also says that the house was destroyed in 70 AD, but was rebuilt and used for prayer just two years later. The inscription is in Syriac, a language akin to the Aramaic that Jesus spoke, and that is still spoken by the community.

16. The people think it is Peter's guardian angel rather than him, and are astonished as well at the miracle.

20. The chapter ends with the fate of Herod Agrippa. He set himself up as a god, and presented himself in such a way that the people would proclaim him a god. This open rebellion toward God became his demise as he was eaten by worms. There is a similar story in 2 Maccabees 9:9 with person of Antiochus.

Finally we find Saul and Barnabas leaving Jerusalem for Antioch with John Mark.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Acts 11 - The Infant Gentile Church

Acts 11 - The Infant Gentile Church

1-18: Peter recaps the Gentile conversion and demonstrates that it was the fulfillment of the vision he had of the unclean animals.

19-24: The Church at Antioch is established and Jerusalem sends Barnabas to teach them. Barnabas goes to Tarsus and seeks out Paul and brings him to Antioch where they teach together. And it is here that "the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch." Being Orthodox Christians under the Antiochian jurisdiction we are very familiar with this line of Scripture. It is a point of boasting and is included in our "tag-line" on the Antiochian website.

Chrysostom comments on the scattering of the Church due to persecution:
When Stephen was slain, when Paul was twice imperiled, when the apostles were scourged…then the nations received (the word), then Samaritans…Therefore, they went about discoursing also with Gentiles. ‘But some them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who, after they came to Antioch, began speaking to the Hellenists, preaching as good tidings the Lord Jesus.’ For it is likely then both that they knew the Greek language and that there were many such in Antioch.

27. The Church in Jerusalem continued to keep a connection with Antioch by sending prophets.

Agabus: Saint Agabus was one of the Seventy Apostles chosen and sent forth to preach by Christ (Luke 10:1).

The holy Apostle Agabus was endowed with the gift of prophecy. He predicted (Acts 11:27-28) the famine during the reign of the emperor Claudius (41-52), and foretold the suffering of the Apostle Paul at Jerusalem (Acts 21:11). St Agabus preached in many lands, and converted many pagans to Christ.

Agabus endured fierce sufferings for Christ and was found worthy of a martyr's crown.

28. The great famine took place in 44-51. It began in Judea and spread to Greece and then to Italy.

29. The church in Antioch sent assistance to Jerusalem by way of Barnabas and Paul.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Acts 10 - The Gentile Pentecost

Acts 10 - The Gentile Pentecost

This important chapter continues to follow the flow of Acts from Judea, Samaria, to the uttermost parts of the earth. Or one could say the Gospel goes to the Jew, the half-Jew, and then the Gentile.

We find ourselves at the house of Cornelius, a Roman officer, who was also one who feared God. He was one of the "God-Fearers" or Gentile Jewish Catechumens. He participated in the liturgical life of the Jews but had not become one himself. He was obviously devout and brought power to his prayer via almsgiving.

Both prayer and almsgiving and held in esteem as Christian ascetical practices. See the following two quotes:

St. Maximos the Confessor (First Century on Love no. 79)
Almsgiving heals the soul's incensive power; fasting withers sensual desire; prayer purifies the intellect and prepares it for contemplation of created beings. For the Lord has given us commandments which correspond to the powers of the soul.

Chrysostom Homily on Hebrews 6
And after prayer thus intense, there is need of much almsgiving: for this it is which especially gives strength to the medicine of repentance. And as there is a medicine among the physicians’ helps which receives many herbs, but one is the essential, so also in case of repentance this is the essential herb, yea, it may be everything. For hear what the Divine Scripture says, “Give alms, and all things shall be clean.” (Luke xi. 41.) And again, “By alms-giving and acts of faithfulness sins are purged away.” (Prov. xvi. 6.) And, “Water will quench a flaming fire, and alms will do away with great sins.” (Ecclus. iii. 30.)

3. Cornelius observed the Jewish hourly cycle of pryaers. The Ninth Hour was around 3 pm. Today the Psalms ascribed for this hour are 83, 84, 85. It was at this time the angel of the Lord visited him. And the angel views not only his prayers as ascendending to God but his alms as well. From this visit the angel promises the coming of Peter who will bring the gospel.

9. Peter is observing the Jewish Hours. The Sixth Hour is around 12 noon. (Psalm 16, 24, 50 for Orthodox Christians)

10. Fell into a trance: literally an ecstasy fell up him, or an out of body experience. St. Symeon the New "He who is united to God by faith and recognizes Him by action is indeed enabled to see Him by contemplation."

Peter's vision of Christ commanding him to eat non-kosher food was understood to mean all men, kosher or not, are acceptable in the sight of God. Peter then heads to Caesarea and meets Cornelius. In meeting him, and his household he preaches the Gospel and the people believed.

44. This was opposite of the way the Holy Spirit had come previously. The people had been baptized and then the HS had fallen on them. Today we continue the practice of baptizing first and then chrismating. Chrysostom states because they were not Jews baptism would never have been offered them, because the Jewish Christians still saw the Faith as something only for the Jews. However, when it was evident God had allowed the Holy Spirit to come to the Gentiles they were forced to offer baptism. This later becomes the argument Peter uses in Acts 15 that Gentiles did not need to become Jews first. The Holy Spirit confirmed their worthiness.

*Life of St. Cornelius: Commemorated on September 13 The Hieromartyr Cornelius the Centurion: He retired from the world and went preaching the Gospel together with the Apostle Peter, who made him a bishop. When the Apostle Peter, together with his helpers Sts Timothy and Cornelius, was in the city of Ephesus, he learned of a particularly vigorous idol-worship in the city of Skepsis. Lots were drawn to see who would go there, and St Cornelius was chosen.

In the city lived a prince by the name of Demetrius, learned in the ancient Greek philosophy, hating Christianity and venerating the pagan gods, in particular Apollo and Zeus. Learning about the arrival of St Cornelius in the city, he immediately summoned him and asked him the reason for his coming. St Cornelius answered he came to free him from the darkness of ignorance and lead him to knowledge of the True Light.

The prince, not comprehending the meaning of what was said, became angry and demanded he answer each of his questions. When St Cornelius explained he served the Lord and the reason for his coming was to announce the Truth, the prince became enraged and demanded Cornelius offer sacrifice to the idols.

The saint asked to be shown the gods. When he entered the pagan temple, Cornelius turned towards the east and uttered a prayer to the Lord. There was an earthquake, and the temple of Zeus and the idols situated in it were destroyed. All the populace, seeing what had happened, were terrified.

The prince was even more vexed and began to take counsel together with those approaching him, about how to destroy Cornelius. They bound the saint and took him to prison for the night. At this point, one of his servants informed the prince his wife and child had perished beneath the rubble of the destroyed temple.

After a certain while, one of the pagan priests, by the name of Barbates, reported he heard the voice of the wife and son somewhere in the ruins and they were praising the God of the Christians. The pagan priest asked the imprisoned one be released, in gratitude for the miracle worked by St Cornelius, and the wife and son of the prince remained alive.

The joyful prince hastened to the prison in the company of those about him, declaring he believed in Christ and asking him to bring his wife and son out of the ruins of the temple. St Cornelius went to the destroyed temple, and through prayer the suffering were freed.

After this the prince Demetrius, and all his relatives and comrades accepted holy Baptism. St Cornelius lived for a long time in this city, converted all the pagan inhabitants to Christ, and made Eunomios a presbyter in service to the Lord. St Cornelius died in old age and was buried not far from the pagan temple he destroyed.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
The Church hath received thee as the holy first-fruits of the nations; for thou dost illumine her with thy great deeds of godly virtues, O hallowed and sacred initiate, most godly Cornelius.

Also discussed during this class was the nature of the first century house church. The information belows is condensed from an article found by Kevin Burt via this link: House Church info

****The House Church: The front door of a Roman house was the public entrance for people who had business dealings with the household. It opened into a very large rectangular room—the atrium—had a well, stream, or small pool just inside the entrance. The atrium could be very ornate, with a colorful mosaic floor and paintings of ancestors on the walls, but there was very little, if any furniture. On the other side of the atrium, opposite the front door, there was a raised platform serving as the household’s dining room with a chopping block front and center. There was no wall separating the dining room from the atrium, which allowed servants to attend to the diners from the atrium.

When the household was conducting its business, the atrium was a busy place, filled with people talking to each other and doing business with the household. Since the dining room was a raised platform without a wall separating it from the atrium, it was the best place for the father and his sons to conduct business. The father sat in the center behind the chopping block where he oversaw the proceedings, while his sons, seated on either side against the back wall, conducted the business of the household.

Hebrews 3:5-6 alludes to the different roles of servants and sons in the business dealings of the house:

Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future. But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast
—Hebrews 3:5-6, NIV

The sons, by virtue of being sons, had their father’s power of attorney, so whatever they did was binding on the father. Legally, so far as business deals were concerned, the sons were equal to the father:

For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
—John 5:18, NIV

When a house was converted to a church, the water source at the entrance became the baptistery, the atrium became the nave, the dining room became the chancel, the chopping block became the altar, the bishop sat in the father’s seat, and the priests sat on either side. The house could accommodate a congregation of about 100-150 people. Pews were invented in the west in the middle ages. Orthodox churches still do not have seats in the nave.

Acts 9 - Conversion of Paul

Acts 9 Conversion of Paul

Chapter 9 picks up where chapter 7 leaves off (or at least 8:1). Saul (the future Paul) continues his persecution campaign against the followers of Jesus.

1. "Breathing threats" actually is breathing in rather than breathing out. This suggests that threatening and murder had come to be the very breath that Saul breathed.

Paul requests letters from the high priest to have permission to enter the synagogues of Damascus to hunt down the followers of the Way. This is an description of the early Christians. They had not yet been called Christians. The term the "Way" illustrates that this is not an ideological movement or some new school of interpretation. Christianity is primarily the Way. The Way that Jesus blazed ahead which culminated in the cross. It is the Way of the Cross.

As he journeyed toward Damascus, he was overcome with a light that caused him to fall to the ground. He then heard the voice of Jesus speaking.

5. Jesus told him that he was kicking against the goads: goads or prods used to herd animals; rather than being directed by the master Paul was kicking against it.

You can imagine the shock to him to hear that Jesus was God.

He arose and went to Damascus to a man named Ananias on a Street called Straight. This street still exists in Damascus and it is on this street that you can find the home of our Antiochian Patriarchate. It may seem strange that the Patriarch of Antioch is in Damascus, but the Patriarchate was moved from Antioch to Damascus in the 1300s due to the Western Crusaders.

Ananias baptizes Paul and restores his sight.

18. Life of St. Ananias: Commemorated on January 4 The Holy Apostle Ananias of the Seventy was the first Bishop of Damascus. The Lord ordered him to restore the sight of Saul, the former persecutor of Christians, then baptize him (Acts 9:10-19, 22:12). Saul became the great preacher and Apostle Paul. St Ananias boldly and openly confessed Christianity before the Jews and the pagans, despite the danger.

From Damascus he went to preach at Eleutheropolis, where he healed many of their infirmities. Lucian, the prefect of the city, tried to persuade the holy one to offer sacrifice to idols. Because of Ananias' staunch and solid confession of Christ, Lucian ordered that he be tortured. Harsh torments did not sway the witness of Truth. Then the torturers led him out beyond the city, where they stoned him. The saint prayed for those who put him to death. His relics were later transferred to Constantinople.

19. Paul offers his first sermon to the Jews in the area, which was to become his normal practice when entering a city for the first time. The Jews became angry with his teaching and he had to escape Damascus with his life.

25. There appears to be a gap her as referenced by Gal 1:17,18. There was a three year period here where Paul spent time in isolation and study. It is difficult to know if this was with a Christian community or if he was totally isolated. Based on what we know about the early church, my guess is that he was with a small community. It is perhaps this time that he experienced visions of heaven and of Jesus speaking with him.

After this three year period, he heads to Jerusalem and meets the apostles due to the kindness of Barnabas. He is accepted as part of the community, and sent back to his hometown of Tarsus.

The remainder of the chapter beginning in verse 32 is a wonderful story of Peter traveling to Joppa on the coast of Palestine to minister. It is here that he raises the woman Tabitha from the dead.

36. Tabitha (Dorcas): October 25 St Tabitha is considered the patron saint of tailors and seamstresses, since she was known for sewing coats and other garments (Acts 9:39).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Entry of the Theotokos in the Temple

Entry of the Theotokos in the Temple

This is one of the 12 major feasts in the life of the Orthodox Church. We celebrate this every year on Nov. 21.

Below are some notes from a previous year's Sunday School. Our original class series was focused on the Old Testament Liturgical life, but we took a pause to cover this feast because it landed on a Sunday that year.  

In the midst of our discussion of the temple and the sacrificial system of Israel, the significance of this feast became more apparent.  

Based on the Scriptural readings and the hymns used during the feast, several points can be made.

1. She becomes the Temple of God. She enters the Temple and supersedes it to become herself the living temple of God.

The most pure Temple of the Saviour, the precious Chamber and Virgin, the Sacred Treasure of the Glory of God, is presented today to the house of the Lord. She brings with her the grace of the Spirit, which the angels of God do praise. Truly this woman is the Abode of Heaven! (Kontakion)
Each one of the OT readings all end with exactly the same line, "for the glory of the Lord filled the house (tabernacle) of the Lord God Almighty." (Exodus 40:35; 3 Kingdoms [1 Kings] 8:11; Ezekiel 44:4)  The NT reading from Hebrews 9:1-7 paints a picture of the tabernacle, the dwelling place of God, of which Mary was to fulfill for all mankind.  

Other related hymns from the feast:

Let us believers exchange glad tidings, singing to the Lord with psalms and songs of praise, honoring His holy tabernacle, the living ark who contained the uncontainable Word; for in a supernatural manner is she offered to God as a babe. And Zachariah the great High Priest receiveth her rejoicing since she is God's abode. . . .

Today the living temple of holy glory, the glory of Christ our God, who alone is blessed and undefiled is presented in the Mosaic Temple, to live in its holy precincts. Wherefore, Joachim and Anne rejoice now with her in spirit, and the ranks of virgins praise the Lord with songs honoring his Mother. . . .

Apolytikion (Fourth Tone)Today is the prelude of God's pleasure and the proclamation of man's salvation. The Virgin is clearly made manifest in the temple of God and foretells Christ to all. Let us also cry out to her with mighty voice, "Hail, fulfillment of the Creator's dispensation."

2. She becomes the personification of the Temple and Israel. What was Israel’s purpose? To bring salvation to mankind. She is not the Savior, but the vessel whereby the Savior came to the world fulfilling Israel's mission.  

Shine! Shine! O New Jerusalem! The glory of the Lord has shone upon you! Exult and be glad O Zion! Be radiant 0 Pure Theotokos, in the Resurrection of your son! (Orthodox Paschal Hymn)

3. She is a Holy Offering to the Lord. 

For in a supernatural manner is she offered to God as a babe. And Zachariah the great High Priest receiveth her rejoicing since she is God's abode. . .
Today the Virgin is the foreshadowing of the pleasure of God, and the beginning of the preaching of the salvation of mankind. Thou hast appeared in the Temple of God openly and hast gone before, preaching Christ to all. Let us shout with one thrilling voice, saying, Rejoice, O thou who art the fulfillment of the Creator's dispensation. . . .
Today the all-blameless Virgin is presented in the Temple for the abode of God, the King of all, the Nourisher of all our souls. Today the all-pure holiness doth enter into the Holy of Holies, as a three-year heifer. Wherefore, let us like the angel, hail her, saying, Rejoice, O thou who alone are blessed among women. . . 

The feast demonstrates the human element in our salvation. Mary is man’s offering to God; Mary is mankind’s “Let it be” to God. Because of this Mary is the model of salvation for all men. God comes to man with the offer of salvation and we must respond with our own "Let it be".

What shall we offer you, O Christ, who for our sake has appeared on earth as man? Every creature made by you offers you thanks. The angels offer you a hymn; the heavens a star; the Magi, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder; the earth, its cave; the wilderness, the manger; and we offer you a virgin mother. (Nativity Vespers)

4. Announces the purpose of man. We should be the temple of God.

The feast inaugurates the New Testament in which are fulfilled the prophecies of old that "the dwelling of God is with man" and that the human person is the sole proper dwelling place of the Divine Presence. (Ezekiel 37:27; John 14:15-23; Acts 7:47; II Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 2:18-22; 1 Peter 2:4; Revelation 22:1-4)

... We are the temple of the living God, as God said, "I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (II Corinthians 6: 11; Isaiah 52:1 1)

Mary is the prototypical Christian, and our example of surrender to God, imaging for us what we are to be as the temple of God, saying "Yes" to God in imitation, bearing Christ in our hearts, bringing to salvation to those around us.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Acts 8 - The Gospel to the Half Jews

Acts 8 – The Gospel to the Half-Jews

1. In some Greek versions, this verse is included at the end of chapter 7.

Due to the wave of persecutions that began after the martyrdom of Stephen, Christians began dispersing throughout the Mediterranean world . This scattering was important for Christianity because it forced Christianity to be spread beyond Jerusalem. This is often the pattern in Christianity. Tertullian said the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.

4ff. Remember in Chapter 1, Jesus tells the apostles that they will preach the Gospel in Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth. This begins the expansion to Samaria (or the half-Jews). The progression of the Gospel was to the Jews, the half-Jews, and then the Gentiles.

The expansion to Samaria was important for several reasons. Mostly for racial reasons, the first Christians were Jews, and many thought it would never move beyond the Jews, and this was a controversy the Church dealt with throughout the first century. The Samaritans were half-Jews/half-Gentiles, and the embrace of the Gospel was the logical progression toward taking the Gospel to the Gentiles.

Samaria was the portion of Palestine between Judea and Galilee and the people groups were Jews who had intermarried with Gentiles during one of their exiles. They held to a similar religion with the Jews but with slight difference. Jews avoided them because they were considered heretics and worse because of their intermarriage with the Gentiles. See Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan women at the well in John 4. It may have been the Samaritan woman’s life and story which planted the seed for the fullness of the Gospel being brought by Philip.

Also, this Philip was not Philip the apostle, but Philip the deacon that we met in Acts 6.

Philip travels to Samaria and the gospel is heard and confirmed by the miracles that he performed. Yet among the hearers is a man named Simon who was a magician who accepted the gospel because of the attraction to miraculous power.

14ff. The apostles hear what is taking place and they travel to Samaria to confirm the work of the Holy Spirit. This paradigm is common among early missionary activities of the church. Men or women other than the bishops of the church enter non-Christian lands and begin spreading the gospel. The people accept the Gospel of Christ. Then the apostles/bishops are brought in to confirm the work and set things in order.

After Simon sees Peter anoint the people with Holy Spirit, he offers money to receive such a power, and Peter then rebukes him sharply. And it appears from what we know historically that Simon fulfills Peter’s prophesy in vs. 23.

24. Simon is often portrayed as the founder of Gnostic heresies among early Christian writers. Usually he is referred to as Simon Magus.

Simony is the ecclesiastical crime of paying for holy offices or positions in the hierarchy of a church, named after Simon Magus, who appears in the Acts of the Apostles 8:18-24. Simon Magus offers the disciples of Jesus, Peter and John, payment so that anyone he would place his hands on would receive the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the origin of the term simony, but it also extends to other forms of trafficking for money in spiritual things .

26. The second half of the chapter is the Gospel being brought by Philip to Ethiopia via the Ethiopian eunuch. Why would this be included in the Samaritan section? Ethiopians considered themselves Jews and even maintained a form of Judaism. The Eunuch was probably in Jerusalem on festal pilgrimage because he considered himself Jewish. Ethiopia claims that from the time of Solomon they have embraced Judaism. The Queen of Sheba visited Solomon and they bore a son. According to Ethiopian tradition, Sheba sent this son to live with Solomon for a time and Solomon called him David because he looked so much like his father. This Solomonic dynasty continued in Ethiopia until Haile Selassiein the 1970s. Supposedly when this son of Sheba returned to Ethiopia, he brought the ark back with him, and Ethiopians claim it remains there to this day.

The Ethiopians can produce the whole line of this dynasty beginning from the Queen of Sheba until this last king in the 20th Century. The symbol they use for this dynasty is the Lion of Judah.

In this dynasty you can find a Queen Hendeke which is similar to the literal Greek, Kandake which we transliterate into English as Candace. According to the Ethiopian dynasty she reigned for eight years including 34 AD.

Philip finds the Ethiopian eunuch reading from Isaiah (53:7 & 8) but the eunuch is unable to understand what he is reading. This is a clear illustration of the need for proper interpretation when reading Scripture. The eunuch had the inspired text but needed an inspired interpreter to understand. When he understood he asked for baptism by the hand of Philip.

* Life of the Holy Apostle Philip of the Seventy, one of the 7 Deacons is not to be confused with St Philip one of the Twelve Apostles (November 14). This Philip was born in Palestine, was married and had four daughters who had the gift of prophecy. (Acts 21:8,9)

The holy Apostle Philip tirelessly preached the Word of God in many of the lands of the Near East adjoining Palestine. At Jerusalem the Apostles made him a bishop and sent him to Tralles in Asia Minor, where he also baptized many. St Philip died in old age. He is also commemorated on October 11.

*thanks to Meskerem Eshetu for the Ethiopian history.

Acts 7 - Stephen's Sermon & Martyrdom

Acts 7

Stephen’s Sermon. This one sermon is one of the best summaries in Scripture of God’s plan for communion with mankind, and the role Israel played in God’s plan. In many ways St. Stephen sums up the whole of OT history in this one sermon.

3. Gen 12:1

7. Gen. 15:14

28. Exodus 2:14

30. St. Stephen is building up to his conclusion that these OT appearances where Jesus Christ. He was the Angel of the Lord.

32. Ex. 3:6, 15

33. Ex. 3:5

34. Ex. 3:7,8, 10

35. Again He is showing that it was Jesus Christ who gave the law to Moses.

37. Deut. 18:15; Peter had used that same passage in his Pentecost sermon.

40. Ex. 32:1, 23

42. Amos 5:21 - 25

43. Amos 5:26, 27

45. The Greek version of Joshua is Jesus. So the Hebrew leaders would have called Jesus by the name Joshua rather than using the Greek name Jesus.

49. Is. 66:1

50. Is. 66:2

53. Deut 33:2; Gal. 3:19, Heb 2:2

56. St. Gregory the Great Why does mark (16:19) testify that Christ is seated, and Stephen that he saw Him standing? You know, my friends that one is seated to judge, and one stands to fight or bring assistance. Our Redeemer was taken up into heaven; He judges all things now, and at the end He will come as Judge. Mark describes Him as sitting after His ascension, since we will see Him as Judge at the end…Stephen, who was still engaged in a painful struggle, saw the One Who was his Helper standing, because His grace was fighting for him from heaven so that he could overcome the unbelief of his persecutors on earth.

- Stephen: Being the first martyr and one of the first deacons Stephen is commemorated on the iconostasis of most Orthodox Churches. The door he is on is called one of the Deacon’s door.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Acts 6 - Stephen and the First Deacons

Acts 6

1. Hellenists were Jewish Christians who spoke Greek.

5. Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, & Nicolas were chosen by the Apostles as the first deacons. Although the word deacon never appears in this passage, it seems apparent based on later descriptions of the diaconate. Also Church tradition looks to this as the origin of the office of deacon.

Here are a summary of the lives of these men after they were chosen (taken from the OCA website).

St. Philip: Commemorated on January 4. Holy Apostle Philip of the Seventy, one of the 7 Deacons is not to be confused with St Philip one of the Twelve Apostles (November 14). This Philip was born in Palestine, was married and had four daughters who had the gift of prophecy.

After the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the Twelve Apostles made Philip a deacon in the Church of Jerusalem. Along with the other six deacons, they appointed him to deal with the offerings of the faithful and attend to the concerns of the widowed, the orphaned and the needy. The eldest among the seven deacons was the holy Archdeacon Stephen. When the persection of Christians began, the Jews stoned the Protomartyr Stephen. The Apostle Philip left Jerusalem and settled in Samaria. There he successfully preached Christianity. Among the disciple's converts was the noted magician Simon, who after being baptized, continued with Philip. (Acts 8:9-13)

At the command of an angel of the Lord, St Philip set out upon the road connecting Jerusalem with Gaza. There he met an official of the empress of Ethiopia, whom also he converted to Christianity (Acts 8:26-39).

The holy Apostle Philip tirelessly preached the Word of God in many of the lands of the Near East adjoining Palestine. At Jerusalem the Apostles made him a bishop and sent him to Tralles in Asia Minor, where he also baptized many. St Philip died in old age. He is also commemorated on October 11.

St. Prochorus: Commemorated on January 4. Saint Prochorus was one of the of the Seventy Apostles, and was among the first deacons in the Church of Christ.

In the Acts of the Holy Apostles (6: 1-6) it is said that the twelve Apostles chose seven men: Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicholas, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, and established them to serve as deacons.

The Holy Church celebrates their memory together on July 28, although they died at various times and in various places.

St Prochorus at first accompanied the holy Apostle Peter and was made by him bishop in the city of Nicomedia. After the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, Prochorus was a companion and coworker of the holy Apostle John the Theologian and was banished to the island of Patmos together with him. There he wrote down the Book of Revelation concerning the final fate of the world. Upon returning to Nicomedia, St Prochorus converted pagans to Christ in the city of Antioch and there he received a martyr's crown.

St. Nicanor: Commemorated on January 4. Saint Nicanor was one of the of the Seventy Apostles, and was among the first deacons in the Church of Christ.

In the Acts of the Holy Apostles (6: 1-6) it is said that the twelve Apostles chose seven men: Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicholas, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, and established them to serve as deacons.

The Holy Church celebrates their memory together on July 28, although they died at various times and in various places.

St Nicanor suffered on that day when the holy Protomartyr Stephen and many other Christians were killed by stoning.

St. Timon: Commemorated on January 4. Saint Timon was one of the Seventy Apostles, and was among the first deacons in the Church of Christ.

In the Acts of the Holy Apostles (6: 1-6) it is said that the twelve Apostles chose seven men: Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicholas, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, and established them to serve as deacons.

The Holy Church celebrates their memory together on July 28, although they died at various times and in various places.

St Timon was established by the Apostles as bishop of the city of Bastoria in Arabia and suffered from the Jews and pagans for preaching the Gospel. He was thrown into a furnace, but by the power of God he came out of it unharmed. The tradition of the Roman Church says that St Timon died by crucifixion.

St. Parmenas: Commemorated on January 4. Saint Parmenas, one of the Seventy Apostles, was among the first deacons in the Church of Christ.

In the Acts of the Holy Apostles (6: 1-6) it is said that the twelve Apostles chose seven men: Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicholas, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, and established them to serve as deacons.

The Holy Church celebrates their memory together on July 28, although they died at various times and in various places.

St Parmenas zealously preached Christ in Macedonia. He died after being afflicted with an illness. Some are of the opinion that St Parmenas suffered under Trajan (98-117) in the final year of his reign, and suffered martyrdom.

Of the original 7 deacons, Nicholas is the only one that I can not find any information on among the lives of the saints. This does not mean that he is not recognized among Orthodox churches as a saint. I just can’t find anything on him. There is a tragic possibility. Ireneaus along some other early church sources claim that Nicholas fell into a form of Gnosticism, and that he is the originator of the Nicolaitans (Rev. 2:6,15). It was supposedly a Gnostic heresy that indulged in sexual immorality. If it is true that Nicholas was a heresiarch then his life becomes a warning to us all to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

6. “laid hands on them” this is an act of apostolic ordination. This apostolic act is continued in the Church today through the bishops. They ordain today through their apostolic authority.

9. It was not uncommon within Jerusalem to have separate synagogues based on nationality and language. Apparently this synagogue was comprised of Hellenistic Jews and Stephen must have been one of them. It was this group that rose up and became more aggressive in their persecution of the early Christians. Paul was among this group of Hellenist, and may have been present and member of this synagogue.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Acts 5 - Ananias/Saphira & Gamaliel

Acts 5

-This is truly a frightening story. No doubt their sin was serious but are there reasons that this outcome was so tragic. I think there was certain level of purity that was present within the early Church that ws necessary to keep as a model for future generations.

Also this possibly took place during a liturgical service. Early in the life of the Church, offerings were given prior to communion. This also reflects Jesus’ statement that we should reconcile with our brother before bringing our gift to the altar. This definitely explains the seriousness of the act. The offering was an act of worship that was part of the reception of the mysteries. The act of worship was corrupted and death resulted.

1-11: Chrysostom: “that having made the money sacred he afterwards secreted it.”

-There is a similar story in the OT book of Joshua. Joshua 7. Israel had just defeated Jericho. Joshua 6:16ff. There next battle was a defeat at the hands of the small insignificant city of Ai. The reason for defeat was discovered in the person of Achan. He was found and then was excuted.

In the early Church the standard story of sanctity for those from upper class backgrounds usually involved rich persons doing one of two things: 1. giving away all of their possessions to the poor and leaving society to become a monastic or a fool, or, 2. staying in society for a period, due to the obligations of family or state; living in a simple, humble manner (as minimalist, materially speaking, as possible) until those obligations were met, and upon that meeting moving on to option 1. When these saints of old went with option 1, they gave up not only their wealth, but also there means of procuring

12-16: similar things continue to be experienced in the church by Holy Men and women

17. Once again the healings and teachings of the apostles caused a disturbance among the Jewish leadership and the apostles were arrested, but miraculously God delivered them through the hands of one of His angels.

Vs.20 The angel refers to the words about Jesus as “words of life”
Why? This is way to communion with God.

30. “hanging on a tree” one hung on a tree was supposed to be cursed in the eyes of Judaism. Christ bore our curse--the curse of sin and death.

33. They were rearrested and many within the council planned on killing the apostles. Yet Gamaliel stepped forward with words of wisdom that preserved their lives.

34. Gamaliel: August 2. St Gamaliel was a Pharisee, a doctor of the Law (Acts 5:34), and the teacher of St Paul (Acts 22:3).

In the year 415, St Gamaliel appeared to a priest named Lucian. He was a tall, venerable man with a long white beard. He was dressed in white clothing which was edged with gold and marked with crosses, and held a gold wand in his hand.

Gamaliel called Fr Lucian by name three times, then told him to go to Jerusalem and inform Bishop John to open the tomb where his relics and those of other saints were resting. The priest asked the stranger who he was.

"I am Gamaliel, who instructed the apostle Paul in the Law," he replied. Then he told the priest where to find the relics of St Stephen. He also revealed that he had taken St Stephen's body and laid it in his own tomb after it had been lying exposed for a day and a night.

St Gamaliel also mentioned that St Nicodemus was buried at the same spot. "I received him into my house in the country," he said, "and maintained him there until the end of his life. After his death, I buried him honorably near Stephen."

St Gamaliel informed the priest that he and his twenty-year-old son Abibas were also buried there. Fr Lucian was afraid to believe this vision right away, lest it be a temptation from the Evil One. However, when St Gamaliel appeared again and commanded him to obey his instructions, he did so.

A monk named Migetius also had a vision of St Gamaliel and told Fr Lucian to search for the relics in a place called Debatalia. When the relics were uncovered, an ineffable fragrance was noticed.

The relics of Sts Stephen, Gamaliel, Abibas, and Nicodemus were transferred from Jerusalem to Constantinople in 428 and placed in the church of the holy deacon Laurence (August 10).

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Political Thoughts

With great self-discipline I daily resist using this site for personal opinion, no matter how holy and right. Especially on matters political it is tempting to become another pundit during this past election season. Well the season is over, so I am gong to indulge in some prognostication. It is easy to get very euphoric or depressed concerning this last election based your political stripes. I don't know the political cultures in other countries but in the USA it seems we put a lot of faith in our political leaders. Both sides seem to make their leaders Messianic and the one who does a better job usually wins.

This past weekend during Liturgy, an Orthodox response to politics came shining through. For non-Orthodox readers, we pray at every service for our political leaders no matter who is in power. This is true the world over whether the Church lives under brutal dictatorships or mushy mouth elected officials.

This weekend I heard the Church pray as always:
"For the President of the United States and all civil authorities, and for our Armed Forces everywhere, let us pray to the Lord. Lord have mercy."
Shortly after these we prayed another prayer that summed up our attitude toward leaders of this world:
“Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to his earth and his plans perish. The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations!” (Ps. 146, the Second Antiphon).
These prayers juxtaposed encapsulate our attitude to our leaders, good or bad. Pray but don't trust for your salvation. Pray for them but don't expect them to usher in the kingdom.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Acts 4 - Peter's Defense of the Healing

Acts 4.

This chapter continues with the results of the lame man’s healing and Peter’s subsequent sermon to the crowd.

1 & 2. Sadducees: the Sadducees along with the Pharisees were the two primary religious parties that made up the Jewish ruling assembly—the Sanhedrin. The Sadducees only accepted the Torah/Pentateuch authoritative Scripture. They also rejected the idea of resurrection, angels and an after-life. This caused conflict earlier during the ministry of Jesus, but now because Resurrection was a central factor in the Apostolic preaching, they were more disturbed.

4. By this point 5000 Christian men….another way of saying families.

5. Ananias & Caiaphas were the same priests that condemned Jesus. It is important to remember that this may have been within two to three months of the Crucifixion of Jesus. It would have been fresh on the minds of the Sanhedrin.

8-12. Peter is more direct about their role in the Crucifixion of Christ to the rulers of the people than he had been with the people. He immediately proclaims that they crucified the Messiah. But he does not do so to condemn but to bring them to salvation in Christ.

11. As part of his response he quotes from the Psalm 117:22 The stone which the builders rejected, the same has become the head of the corner. 23 This has been done of the Lord; and it is wonderful in our eyes. (EOB). This is sung as one of the refrains during Matins. The idea of the cornerstone is followed throughout the pages of the OT and Jesus uses it of himself in the Gospels. The idea is that the perfectly crafted and ultimately necessary cornerstone is required for a building to be supported. Without the cornerstone, the building does not exist. To reject the corner is to deny what God has built. In Is. 28:16 it says, Therefore thus says the Lord, even the Lord, Behold, I lay for the foundations of Zion a costly stone, a choice, a cornerstone, a precious stone, for its foundations; He that believes on him shall by no means be ashamed.(EOB) Once again this follows the line of thought in the Psalm and is a prophesy of the Messiah, and upon Him is the salvation of mankind. The prophet Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzer’s dream and the Church sees the stone in the dream as a prophecy of Christ and the Theotokos. Daniel 2:45 Whereas you saw that a stone was cut out of a mountain without hands and it beat to pieces the earthenware, the iron, the brass, the silver, the gold; the great God has made known to the king what must happen hereafter: and the dream is true and its interpretation is sure. (EOB)

In the Gospels, Jesus quotes the passage from the Psalms, Mt 21:42-44 Jesus said to them, Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD's doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes' ? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.

Paul uses the same image in Eph 2:19-22 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone,
in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Finally, Peter repeats this idea again in his epistle. 1 Pet 2:4-8 “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame. Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone, and A stone of stumbling And a rock of offense. They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed”

13. Uneducated & untrained: refers to specific religious education, in contrast to the Sanhedrin who had formal education at the hands of famous Rabbis. In reality, the mere fact of being Jewish meant that Peter and John would have had whole portions of the OT memorized especially the Psalms along with portions of the Torah. Part of this came from the standard religious education in the lives of Jewish youth and some came from the liturgical worship they would have experienced in the Synagogue.

25-26. Psalm 2:1,2 “Why then did the heathen rage, and the nations imagine vain things? 2 The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers have gathered themselves against the Lord and against his Christ (from the EOB)”

32. Monastics continue to uphold this Apostolic example of commonality

36. Actions of Barnabas. Laid at the feet of the apostles during liturgical service. Also the meaning of his name, Son of Encouragement, becomes increasingly apparent as the book of Acts continues.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Acts 3 - Healing at the Temple

Acts 3

1. “at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour” The apostles were observing the regular Jewish hours of prayer. 1st (6am), 3rd (9am), 6th (12pm), 9th (3pm). The Orthodox church has continued these hours of prayers throughout its history. The full hours follow the Jewish reckoning of time beginning the day at Evening: Vespers, Compline, Midnight Office, Matins, 1st hour, 3rd hour, 6th hour, and 9th hour.

St. Basil: “The ninth hour is enjoined on us as a necessary time for prayer by the Apostles themselves in Acts. When the day is over there comes thanksgiving for what we have been given during the day and for our achievements; and confession of our failures, our voluntary or involuntary misdeeds, and those perhaps unknown to us, whether in word or deed or in the heart itself, asking God’s mercy for all through our prayers. For a review of the past is a great help against falling again in to similar faults.”

-Chrysostom sees in this miracle and image of the Resurrection because you had a man who had been lame from birth and now was made well. It mirrors all men who are born dead and then made alive in Christ.

11. Solomon’s porch is in the temple area. In the earliest days of the Church, there was no separation between Judaism. The apostles and all the early Christian still continued to go to the temple to pray and teach. It was not until the Jewish leaders kicked them out that they began to worship separately but still maintained the Jewish synagogue styles of worship.

12-36 Peter’s Second Sermon

This sermon again follows a similar pattern to his Pentecost sermon. He points out OT fulfillment in the person of Christ. He points to everyone’s culpability in Christ’s crucifixion but the heinous act brought God’s grace and salvation. He calls the people to repentance so that they may receive God’s salvation through Jesus Christ.

-Chrysostom: they defer the glory of the act from themselves to God.

22. Deut. 18:15,18,19 This was a prophesy that Moses gave to the people of Israel as part of his last will and testament before they went into the Promised Land.

25. Gen. 22:18, 26:4, 28:14 Abrahamic Covenant

Monday, November 03, 2008

Acts 2 - Pentecost

Acts 2

Descent of the Holy Spirit 1-13

The Day of Pentecost is a Jewish feast that occurs 50 days after Passover. As a result of the feast, there were many Jewish pilgrims in Jerusalem from around the Empire. Many would have come for Passover and stayed the 50 days until Pentecost.

St. Leo – ties mysteries of the old and new together. “Grace was foretold by the law, and that the law is made perfect through grace. For as of old on the fiftieth day after sacrifice of the lamb, the law was given on Mt Sinai to the Hebrew people, now delivered from the Egyptians, so, after the Passion of Christ, in which the true Lamb of God was slain, on the fiftieth day after His resurrection, the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and upon the people who believed; so that an earnest Christian might know beyond any uncertainty, that the sacred rites of the OT had served as foundations for the Gospel, and that by this same Spirit was the second covenant laid down, by Whom the first had been established.”

2. The violent wind is a demonstration of the strength of the Spirit. Also it is what attracts the crowd outside the house where the apostles were residing.

3a. St. Gregory the Great – why did the HS appear as fire. “God is immaterial and indescribable and invisible fire, as Paul testifies ‘Our God is a consuming fire. [Heb 12:29; Deut 4:24]’…He consumes the rust of sin. Lk 12:49, Lk. 24:32. The HS had to be manifested over the disciples as fire so that spiritual passion might rouse them against themselves, these men who were merely human beings and therefore sinners. Then through repentance they would punish in themselves the sins which God was sparing through His gentleness. We must always consume our sins with the fire of repentance.”

St Gregory the Theologian “The Spirit alighted upon them in the form of tongues as a sign of sanctification both of the principal controlling member of the body and of the mind itself, and showing that the Holy Spirit rests in the saints. The HS appears in the shape of separate tongues, is owing to the diversity of gifts.”

John the Baptist (Lk 3:16-17) promised that Christ would baptize with spirit and fire.

12: Jews from all over the empire were present in Jerusalem as pilgrims for the feast, and even though they could communicate with one another in Hebrew/Aramaic or perhaps even Greek; they were amazed that they could hear the apostles speaking in their own language. The event of the apostles speaking in tongues is a reversal of the curse of Babel. It is the creation of a new nation which is called by the name of Christ. All men are united in Christ and in no other name can they be united.

Peter’s Sermon: 14- 36

Peter’s Sermon is much like many of the early sermons in Acts. There is a call to memory of OT texts, their fulfillment in Christ, and a call to repentance.

15. The third hour was 9 am. From the prayers of the third hour “Thy Holy Spirit, O Lord, which Thou sent forth upon Thy holy disciples, and Thine honourable Apostles at the third hour, This, take not away from us, O Good-one, but renew Him within us. Create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.”

17. Joel 2:23-3:5

“23 Rejoice then and be glad, you children of Zion, in the Lord your God: for he has given you food fully, He will rain on you the early and the latter rain, as before. 24 The floors shall be filled with corn and the presses shall overflow with wine and oil. 25 I will recompense you for the years which the locust and the caterpillar and the palmerworm and the cankerworm have eaten, even my great power, which I sent against you. 26 You shall eat abundantly and be satisfied and shall praise the name of the Lord your God for the things which he has accomplished wonderfully with you: and my people shall not be ashamed for ever. 27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel and that I am the Lord your God and that there is none else beside me; and my people shall no more be ashamed for ever.

28 It shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy and your old men shall dream dreams and your young men shall see visions. 29 And on my servants and on my handmaids in those days will I pour out of my Spirit. 30 I will show wonders in heaven and upon the earth, blood and fire and vapor of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord come.

32 It shall come to pass that whoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall the saved one be as the Lord has said: and those who have glad tidings preached to them,whom the Lord has called.

3 3:1 For, behold, in those days andat that time when I shall have turned the captivity of Juda and Jerusalem, 2 Iwill also gather all the Gentiles and bring them down to the valley ofJosaphat and will plead with them there for my people and my heritage Israel, who have been dispersed among the Gentiles; and these Gentiles have divided my land, 3 and cast lots over my people and have given their boys to harlots and sold their girls for wine and have drunk.”

-from the EOB

-the trees bear their fruit: a foreshadowing of the Cross

-the vine and the fig tree refer to the establishment of the Church

-rain, wheat, wine, & oil is the food that is right for you referring to Baptism, Eucharist, and Chrismation.

St. Gregory Palamas “those deemed worthy of union with God are united to God in energy, and that the Spirit where he clings to God is one with God.”

19. Chrysostom – Christ permitted his crucifixion

25-28: Ps 15:8-11

29: Chrysostom: he upholds David as a matter of persuasion

30. Ps 131:11

35. Ps 109:1

Results of Pentecost 37-47

43. Fear came – reverential fear, not terror

46. It is important to remember that at this point in the life of the Church, this was still seen by all as a part of Judaism. The liturgical life was still very much tied to the temple/synagogue worship. The major difference was the introduction (per the command of Jesus) of the Eucharist. So here we see, the prayers, readings and teachings took place in the Temple and then the Eucharist portion was at the houses of the believers. Often liturgical scholars will refer to this 2 part division of the liturgy as the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Table. It is after Judaism fully renounces the Christians that these two pieces become one service as we know them today.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Before posting the notes on Acts 2, I decided to place our lesson on Pentecost from last year first. This provides much of the background material to understand some of the significance of what is happening in Acts 2.

As the name Pentecost indicates (pentekoste), this second of the great Jewish national festivals was observed on the 50th day, or 7 weeks, from the Paschal Feast, and therefore in the Old Testament it was called "the feast of weeks." It is but once mentioned in the historical books of the Old Testament (2Ch 8:12,13), from which reference it is plain, however, that the people of Israel, in Solomon’s day, were perfectly familiar with it: "offering according to the commandment of Moses, on the sabbaths, and on the new moons, and on the set feasts, three times in the year, even in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles." The requirements of the three great festivals were then well understood at this time, and their authority was founded in the Mosaic Law and unquestioned. The festival and its ritual were minutely described in this Law. Every male in Israel was on that day required to appear before the Lord at the sanctuary (Ex 34:22,23). It was the first of the two agrarian festivals of Israel and signified the completion of the barley-harvest (Le 23:15,16; De 16:9,10), which had begun at the time of the waving of the first ripe sheaf of the first-fruits (Le 23:11). Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, therefore fell on the 50th day after this occurrence. The wheat was then also nearly everywhere harvested (Ex 23:16; 34:22; Nu 28:26), and the general character of the festival was that of a harvest-home celebration. The day was observed as a Sabbath day, all labor was suspended, and the people appeared before Yahweh to express their gratitude (Le 23:21; Nu 28:26). The central feature of the day was the presentation of two loaves of leavened, salted bread unto the Lord (Le 23:17,20; Ex 34:22; Nu 28:26; De 16:10).* The size of each loaf was fixed by law. It must contain the tenth of an ephah, about three quarts and a half, of the finest wheat flour of the new harvest (Le 23:17). Later Jewish writers are very minute in their description of the preparation of these two loaves (Josephus, Ant, III, x, 6). According to the Mishna (Menachoth, xi.4), the length of the loaf was 7 handbreadths, its width 4, its depth 7 fingers. Le 23:18 describes the additional sacrifices required on this occasion. It was a festival of good cheer, a day of joy. Free-will offerings were to be made to the Lord (De 16:10), and it was to be marked by a liberal spirit toward the Levite, the stranger, and orphans and widows (De 16:11,14). Perhaps the command against gleaning harvest-fields has a bearing on this custom (Le 23:22).

Also, in the Old Testament Pentecost was the feast which occurred fifty days after Passover. As the passover feast celebrated the exodus of the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt, Pentecost celebrates the giving of the law to Moses and thus the creation of Israel.

In the new covenant of the Messiah, the passover event takes on its new meaning as the celebration of Christ's death and resurrection, the "exodus" of men from this sinful world to the Kingdom of God. And in the New Testament as well, the pentecostal feast is fulfilled and made new by the coming of the "new law," the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Christ. It is the recreation of Israel.

On Pentecost we have the final fulfillment of the mission of Jesus Christ and the first beginning of the messianic age of the Kingdom of God mystically present in this world in the Church of the Messiah. For this reason the fiftieth day stands as the beginning of the era which is beyond the limitations of this world, fifty being that number which stands for eternal and heavenly fulfillment in Jewish and Christian mystical piety: seven times seven, plus one.

Just as the OT Jews offered the First Fruits of harvest to God, Christ fulfills this OT feast by becoming the First Fruits of the resurrection.

*In Orthodoxy, we use leavened bread for communion rather than unleavened bread. The Eastern church has always done so and there has never been a concern for using the exact type of bread as used at the Last Supper. The OCA site states: "Christ "leavens" our lives, so to speak, and the purpose of the Eucharistic celebration is not to "recreate" or "reproduce" a past event but, rather, to participate in an event that is beyond time and space and which, in fact, continues to happen each time the Eucharist is celebrated in fulfillment of Our Lord's command." I do have to wonder if the use of leavened bread at Pentecost may account for the original usage of leavened bread. Comments are welcome on this point

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Acts 1 - Intro & Ascension

The notes on Acts are merely comments that were made in our Adult Class at St. Michael Orthodox in Louisville. They are in no way comprehensive, and no substitution for reading the text. When posting them online, I will try to pretty them up a little so that they are more comprehensible than the notes I would use while teaching.

In effect the book of Acts is Luke part 2. This becomes apparent when comparing the introductions of both books. Luke addresses each to a person named Theophilus. The identity of the man is unknown, and some surmise it was a catechumen in the early church or because it means “lover of God” the name could refer to a generic new Christian or catechumen.

Luke was a physician and traveling companion of Paul; so many parts of the book are first hand accounts. He was a Gentile and is the only Gentile writer in Scripture

The book was written n the 60’s. We can determine this because he neither mentions the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 nor mentions the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul.

The epistle is read right after Pascha, and throughout the Paschal season. By dong so, the Church teaches us the implications of the Resurrection or the first fruits of the resurrection of Christ in the world.

4. Promise of the Father – Holy Spirit

9. Chrysostom sees the clouds in the ascension as a fulfillment of Ps 17:10-14 ; 96:1 & 2

9-11. The Ascension is an integral part of our faith, and it is as necessary to our salvation as other events in the life of Christ. For in the Ascension Christ becomes enthroned and sits at the right hand of the Father. Christ brings human nature to the very throne of God—to the presence of the Father. Because of this man can know have access to communion with Father because man’s nature sits at the right hand of the Father. Now that man’s nature has been deified, he is able to dwell with God eternally. Thus it is only after the ascension that the HS can come because only then is mankind able to receive the HS in fullness.

The way the icon of the Ascension is written, it becomes hard to see if Christ is coming or going. This is intentional because just as he departed He will come, and He is eternally present with us.

Replacement of Judas 15-26

20. Ps 68:26

20b. Ps. 108:8 - The whole Psalm speaks of the unbelieving Judas and is prayed at the Thrid Royal Hour on Holy Friday.

-the word office here is episcopos, from which we get our word bishopric.

23. Matthias: The Holy Apostle Matthias was born at Bethlehem of the Tribe of Judah. From his early childhood he studied the Law of God under the guidance of St Simeon the God-Receiver (February 3).

When the Lord Jesus Christ revealed Himself to the world, St Matthias believed in Him as the Messiah, followed constantly after Him and was numbered among the Seventy Apostles, whom the Lord "sent them two by two before His face" (Luke 10:1).

After the Ascension of the Savior, St Matthias was chosen by lot to replace Judas Iscariot as one of the Twelve Apostles (Acts 1:15-26). After the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Matthias preached the Gospel at Jerusalem and in Judea together with the other Apostles (Acts 6:2, 8:14). From Jerusalem he went with the Apostles Peter and Andrew to Syrian Antioch, and was in the Cappadocian city of Tianum and Sinope. Here the Apostle Matthias was locked into prison, from which he was miraculously freed by St Andrew the First-Called.

The Apostle Matthias journeyed after this to Amasea, a city on the shore of the sea. During a three year journey of the Apostle Andrew, St Matthias was with him at Edessa and Sebaste. According to Church Tradition, he was preaching at Pontine Ethiopia (presently Western Georgia) and Macedonia. He was frequently subjected to deadly peril, but the Lord preserved him to preach the Gospel.

Once, pagans forced the saint to drink a poison potion. He drank it, and not only did he himself remain unharmed, but he also healed other prisoners who had been blinded by the potion. When St Matthias left the prison, the pagans searched for him in vain, for he had become invisible to them. Another time, when the pagans had become enraged intending to kill the Apostle, the earth opened up and engulfed them.

The Apostle Matthias returned to Judea and did not cease to enlighten his countrymen with the light of Christ's teachings. He worked great miracles in the Name of the Lord Jesus and he converted a great many to faith in Christ.

The Jewish High Priest Ananias hated Christ and earlier had commanded the Apostle James, Brother of the Lord, to be flung down from the heights of the Temple, and now he ordered that the Apostle Matthias be arrested and brought for judgment before the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem.

The impious Ananias uttered a speech in which he blasphemously slandered the Lord. Using the prophecies of the Old Testament, the Apostle Matthias demonstrated that Jesus Christ is the True God, the promised Messiah, the Son of God, Consubstantial and Coeternal with God the Father. After these words the Apostle Matthias was sentenced to death by the Sanhedrin and stoned.

When St Matthias was already dead, the Jews, to hide their malefaction, cut off his head as an enemy of Caesar. (According to several historians, the Apostle Matthias was crucified, and indicate that he instead died at Colchis.) The Apostle Matthias received the martyr's crown of glory in the year 63. (from OCA website)

Barsabas (Justus): January 4 St Justus, called Barsaba, a son of St Joseph the Betrothed, was chosen in place of Judas, together with Matthias. He was a bishop and died a martyr's death at Eleutheropolis. He is also commemorated on October 30 (from OCA)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Christianity in Ethiopia

The most that many Christians know about Christianity in Ethiopia is Deacon Philip's encounter with the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8. Some may be familiar with the Queen of Sheba's brief encounter with Solomon in the OT, but this is as far as it goes. Ethiopia was one of the first countries to embrace Christianity en masse, and it was partly due to the Eunuch's witness.

Our parish has a significant population of Ethiopian Christians, and because of this I have had the wonderful opportunity to be introduced to their culture and piety. This past year our parish supported an orphanage in Ethiopian. One of our parishioners, Meskerem Eshetu, visited the orphange on behalf of the parish. Being native to Ethiophia, Meskerem decided to spend more time in Ethiopia and visit the holy sites that she had wanted to visit since a child.

This upcoming Sunday, October 26 at 9:30 am, Meskerem will be doing a presentation in our church hall on the orphanage as well as the history of Christianity in Ethiopia.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Dynamic Horologion and Psalter

Yesterday I found a wonderful prayer resource on the web. It is called the Dynamic Horologion and Psalter. For the non-Orthodox, the Horologion is the service book for the prayers of the hours which includes: Vespers, Compline, the Midnight Service, Matins, First Hour, Third Hour, Sixth Hour & Ninth Hour. You can click on the service and the site will give you the service with the daily variable prayers and commemorations in place as well. There are multiple options available such as choosing particular Psalms, the current Kathisma (daily Psalm section), and daily Troparion/Kontakion (short chorus like prayers).

The designer of this work provides the following qualifications:

"Please note, this Horologion is not a complete Orthodox service book. Although it provides access to the normal weekly hourly services for non-feast days, it still lacks many features including the following:

  • Canons and Akathists such as Sunday Midnight and the Akathist to the Mother of God.
  • It currently ignores the feats/alleluia days and Lenten services.
  • It does not contain the Typica or a Lectionary.

Some of these things are in the works, but others are not planned at this time. Please report any bugs, typos, suggestions, comments, or criticism to the email listed at the bottom of the page. You'll have to put email address together by running it all together and replacing the "dot" with a "." and the "at:" with an @. Unfortunately due to spam, measures like these are necessary to prevent email address harvesting. Thank you and peace be with you!


This site was created for busy Orthodox Christians who for various reasons are forced to be online for long periods of time, but who still want to be able to incorporate the Psalms and hourly prayer services into their daily prayer life. As such, the dynamic Horologion will automatically display the current prayer service as read when a priest is not available (i.e. a reader's service) and/or the current kathisma for whatever time it is, while still allowing you to manually view the services if you want to view the services for the day at any time. So if you just wanted to read say, Matins, you can get the Matins service for the day at anytime during the day.

For more information about the Horologion, Psalter, or this site, please click on the navigation links on the left."

This is an excellent resource and for those who use a PDA could make this liturgical resource extremely practical.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sword in the Fire is back

I became a little lazy with the blog, and I am really backed up on Church School notes. Currently we are going through Acts, so I am going to try to get the notes caught up for Acts, and then go back to the previous lessons missed. By tagging the posts you could click on the tag and get everything in the category. So even if my chronological posting is off, one could still see all the notes together.

Here's a thought for the day that seems appropriate considering the blog title:

As at the rising of the sun over the horizon the shroud of darkness is removed from the face of the earth, so that it shows itself in all its beauty, so likewise when the love of Christ shines forth in the soul and the veil of the old nature is taken away, the light of Christ shines forth in it, and the hidden things that were not visible before are now seen by it. And as iron when placed in a fire has the fire pass into it to become one substance with it, the iron united with the fire assuming its likeness and colour, no longer appearing in its former aspect, but becoming like the fire, because they have become absorbed in each other and have become one, so it is when the love of Christ has come into the soul as a living fire which burns away the thorns of sin from the soul; it becomes one substance with him and he with it; then the soul which was old, becomes new; dead it comes alive; and the likeness of its own nature is changed into the likeness of God. And now everything it see appears to it as the likeness of God (for it is granted to created beings to behold the works of God spiritually), and it becomes absorbed in love for all humankind, so that if it could it would let itself perish, so that all humans might live.

St. John of Apamea

H/T Thicket & Thorp

Monday, March 17, 2008

Sin & Trespass Offering

Sin Offering: Lev. 4

Unlike the previous offerings we have discussed there are various degrees within this sacrifice. The material offered was determined by the nature of the offense and the rank of the individual for unintentional sins. Different offerings were made depending on whether the sacrifice was for a priest, a leader, a common person, or even the congregation as a whole.

A young bullock was offered for a sin of the whole congregation (Lev. 4:13), for a sin of the high priest (Lev. 4:3), for the high priest on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:3), and for the consecration of priests and Levites to their offices (Exo. 29:10,14,35; Num. 8:8).

A she-goat was offered for a sin by one of the common people (Lev. 4:28,32; 5:6).

This offering could be combined with others such as a whole burnt offering or peace offering, but if the sin offering was needed it had to be the first offered. Sin had to be dealt with before anything else. No doubt this was designed to make the people aware of the nature of sin and what it did to their relationship with God. It kept man from union with God, and brought death into their life. The relationship of sin and death is clear by the death required of the animal.

The offerer identified with the offering by putting his hand on the head of the animal.

The priest then kills the offering. Part of the offering is sacrificed and part is eaten. What was not eaten was taken out of the camp and burned.

Anything that touches the offering because holy, therefore when the Christian partakes of the offering of Christ he participates in the holiness of Christ.

The offering could only be made in the tabernacle to do so anywhere else is to be excommunicated from the congregation. As Christians our sacrificed is only offered in one place, which is heaven; yet we participate in this sacrifice in the worship of the Church.

This sacrifice teaches that the only place we can deal with our sins is through the sacrifice of Christ and participation in His sacrifice brings cleansing.

Christ is the fulfillment of this sacrifice (Heb. 13:10--15). This offering tells of the Lord's death as presented in Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, 2 Cor. 5:21.

Trespass Offering:

The trespass offering may be regarded as representing ransom for a special wrong, while the sin offering symbolized general redemption.

The trespass offering was a ram, which was valued by a priest according to the shekel of the sanctuary (Lev. 5:15,18; 6:6; 19:21). In the case of a leper or a Nazarite, this offering was a lamb. These offerings were offered for the following offenses:

1. Trespass in ignorance against things of the Lord, that is, to inadvertently take away from God that which belonged to Him, of sacrifices, first fruits, tithes, etc. Compensation for the harm done accompanied the sacrifice, with the gift of a fifth part of the value to the priests.
2. Ignorant transgression of any definite prohibition of the law (Lev. 5:17).
3. Fraud, suppression of the truth, or perjury against a neighbor; with compensation to the victim and an additional fifth part of any property in question to the person wronged (Lev. 6:1ff).
4. Rape of a slave (Lev. 19:20-22)
5. At the purification of a leper (Lev. 14:12), and of a polluted Nazarite (Num. 6:12).

This ritual shows Christ's atoning for the damage caused by sin and has in view the injury of the sin as opposed to the guilt of the sin. This aspect of the trespass offering is seen in Psalm 51:4, "Against thee and thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight; that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest and blameless when thou judgest."

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The complete Orthodox Study Bible has arrived!

The Bible is here and in my hands! Actually our parish has had copies for 2 weeks now.

Rick Mansfield, a good friend of mine, has a wonderful blog that tends to focus on Bible translation. This is not by design but it is one of his big interests and therefore he has a lot of articles regarding translations. In fact, whenever I have a question about a translation I go to Rick's blog or to Rick himself. He has article on most modern English translation and even the various Greek and Hebrew Bibles that exist.

Rick asked me to write a review of the Bible which you can find here.

I am sorry for the lack of updates because now my study notes from class are really backed up. I plan on resuming the post soon.


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