July 14, 2015

Acts 28:23-31 Paul’s witness: some were convinced, others disbelieved

23 When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in great numbers. And he expounded the matter to them from morning till evening, testifying [witnessing, dia-martyromenos] to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets. 24 And some were convinced by what he said, while others disbelieved. 25 So, as they disagreed among themselves, they departed, after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your [our] fathers through Isaiah the prophet:
26 ‘Go to this people, and say,
You shall indeed hear but never understand,
and you shall indeed see but never perceive.
27 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are heavy of hearing,
and their eyes they have closed;
lest they should perceive with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their heart,
and turn for me to heal them.’
28 Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”[29 And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, holding much dispute among themselves]
30 And he lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ quite openly and unhindered.

St. Paul
The Apostle Paul

Coming to the end of the Acts of the Apostles we ought to take encouragement from the mixed results of Paul’s apostolic labors. For all his powerful personal witness, his vast knowledge of the scriptures and his unmatched ability to express the faith, he was incapable of convincing everyone. Neither was Jesus. “Some were convinced by what he said, while others disbelieved.” It isn’t hard to sense Paul’s frustration as he gives up banging his head against the wall of his Jewish brethren and puts his hope on the Gentiles. “They will listen.”

But living among the 21st century Gentiles of North America, I think Paul may have been too optimistic. Orthodox Christianity is not an easy sell. So when it comes to our own meager efforts to be witnesses of Christ in our families, parishes, schools, workplaces and communities we shouldn’t be discouraged or surprised how tough it is.  As one of the diocesan chancellors told me, “We’re never going to be a mega-church on this continent.  People want churches that adapt to and bless their lives as they are and we don’t do that. We insist on the truth, and that’s hard.” 

* * *

Saint Paul is Saint John Chrysostom’s hero and model for living the Christian life. As he ends his commentary on Acts he points his listeners back to Paul. If they want to know how to voyage from earth to heaven, then they should sail on the “sea” of Paul. Here are Saint John’s last words on the Acts of the Apostles.

Tomb St. Paul
Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Benedict XVI at the tomb of St. Paul in Rome (June 28, 2008)

Paul is a sea, having for its voyagers not those who sail from city to city, but those from earth to heaven: if anyone sails in this sea, he will have a prosperous voyage. On this sea it is the winds of the Holy and Divine Spirit which waft the souls which sails there: no waves are here, no rock, no monsters: all is calm. It is a sea which is more calm and secure than a protected coastal cove, having no bitter brine, but a pure fountain sweeter and brighter and more transparent than the sun…He who wishes to descend into this sea, needs no divers, needs no oil, but much loving-kindness (φιλανθρωπίας): he will find in it all the good things that are in the kingdom of Heaven. He will even be able to become a king, and to take the whole world into his possession, and to be in the greatest honor; he who sails on this sea will never undergo shipwreck, but will know all things well.

But as those who are untrained in our visible sea can drown in attempting to dive unprepared, so it is in that other sea…It behooves therefore to know the depth, or else not to venture. If we are to sail on this sea, let us come well prepared. “I could not,” he says, “speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal” (1 Cor 3:1.) Let no one who is without endurance sail on this sea. Let us provide for ourselves ships, that is, zeal, earnestness, prayers, that we may pass over the sea in quiet. For indeed this is the living water. …

For the understanding of Paul’s words there is needed also a pure life. … For therefore also it is said: “You need milk, not solid food, for you have become dull of hearing” (Heb 5:11-12.) For there is an infirmity of hearing. For as a stomach which is infirm cannot take in wholesome food which it finds hard to digest, so a soul which is become swollen and fevered, unstrung and relaxed, cannot receive the word of the Spirit. Listen to what the disciples said, “This is a hard saying: who can hear it” (John 6:60.) But if the soul is strong and healthy, all is most easy, all is light: it becomes more lofty and buoyant: it is more able to soar and lift itself on high.

Knowing then these things, let us bring our soul into a healthy state by following Paul, and imitating that noble, that unbreakable soul. And thus advancing in the steps of his life, we may be enabled to sail through the sea of this present life, and to come to the haven where there are no waves, and attain to the good things promised to them that love Him, through the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Whom to the Father and Holy Spirit together be glory, might, honor, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.


Fr. David Rucker baptizing grandson Walter Nicholas Pulley at St. Sergius Chapel

This past Sunday Father David Rucker and Matushka Rozanne Rucker brought their family to St Sergius Chapel for the baptism of their grandson, Walter Nicholas Pulley. Wesley and Lauren (Rucker) Pulley are at St Vladimir’s Seminary, where Wesley is a seminarian. Father David is in the Doctor of Ministry program there as well and is participating in the on-campus session this week. The Ruckers are mission specialists with the Orthodox Christian Missions Center and are currently serving at Saint Herman Seminary in Kodiak, Alaska. To learn more about their life and work and how you can support them, see www.ocmc.org/about/view_missionary.aspx?MissionaryId=34.

Archdeacon Kirill Sokolov leads diaconal vocations practicum at St. Vladimir’s Seminary

Yesterday evening I joined Archdeacon Kirill Sokolov and 23 participants for the Diaconal Vocations practicum at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary. It’s an inspiring group of men mainly from the OCA’s dioceses across the US, but there were two from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and an Anglican as well. To learn more about the Diaconal Vocations Program see oca.org/about/boards-offices-commissions/dvp.

Final Entry for the Chancellor’s Diary

For more than three years I’ve been writing this two-part column several times a week. In addition to brief updates on day-to-day activities, events or visitors at the Chancery the Chancellor’s Diary allowed me to reflect on the daily lectionary, then the Psalms and most recently the Acts of the Apostles. I’ve enjoyed doing this as part of my early morning routine and helping in a small way to open a window into the life of the Chancery. I hope the scriptural reflections have been beneficial, but if nothing else they have helped keep me seeing the bigger picture of our Church life while dealing daily with church administration.  It has been a good run but it’s time for me to do other writing projects. Thank you to everyone who read the diary and provided encouragement and helpful feedback.

Following the 18th All-American Council, there will be a complete review of the OCA’s website and communications, and His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon has expressed interest in perhaps doing something himself on the website. So watch this space.