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.