June 12, 2015

Acts 24:1-27 Paul Comes Face to Face with State Power

Caesarea, seat of the Roman Procurator of Judea

24 And after five days the high priest Anani′as came down with some elders and a spokesman, one Tertul′lus. They laid before the governor their case against Paul; 2 and when he was called, Tertul′lus began to accuse him, saying:

“Since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your provision, most excellent Felix, reforms are introduced on behalf of this nation, 3 in every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude. 4 But, to detain you no further, I beg you in your kindness to hear us briefly. 5 For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 6 He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him.[other ancient manuscripts add: …and we would have judged him according to our law. 7 But the chief captain Lysias came and with great violence took him out of our hands, 8 commanding his accusers to come before you.] 8 By examining him yourself you will be able to learn from him about everything of which we accuse him.” 9 The Jews also joined in the charge, affirming that all this was so.

10 And when the governor had motioned to him to speak, Paul replied:
“Realizing that for many years you have been judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense. 11 As you may ascertain, it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship at Jerusalem; 12 and they did not find me disputing with any one or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues, or in the city. 13 Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me. 14 But this I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the law or written in the prophets, 15 having a hope in God which these themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. 16 So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward God and toward men. 17 Now after some years I came to bring to my nation alms and offerings. 18 As I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult. But some Jews from Asia— 19 they ought to be here before you and to make an accusation, if they have anything against me. 20 Or else let these men themselves say what wrongdoing they found when I stood before the council, 21 except this one thing which I cried out while standing among them, ‘With respect to the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you this day.’”

Roman coins
Roman coins from Judea in the era of Felix (52-58 AD)

22 But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lys′ias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.” 23 Then he gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody but should have some liberty, and that none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs.

24 After some days Felix came with his wife Drusil′la, who was a Jewess; and he sent for Paul and heard him speak upon faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And as he argued about justice and self-control and future judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present; when I have an opportunity I will summon you.” 26 At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him. 27 But when two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.

Drusilla, wife of Felix

It would not have crossed Paul’s mind that he was no longer Jewish or that his accusers were not his brothers. And because of this he refuses to air in front of the Gentile Roman Procurator the real reason that provoked the Sanhedrin’s violent reaction. Yes, Paul had played on divisions between Sadducees and Pharisees by saying, “With respect to the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you this day.” But that wasn’t the full story. The fact was that the Jewish leadership had contempt for the Gentiles (including their Roman occupiers) and that they all—both Pharisees and Sadducees—had joined forces against Paul when he claimed that God was now including the Gentiles among His people (22:20.) Although Paul is hinting that his accusers should be the ones to openly come out with the real reason they hate him so much, neither Paul nor the Jewish leaders were willing at that point to uncover this to the Gentile governor. The high priest and company didn’t want to insult Felix, and Paul was still hoping that the Way would develop within his native Judaism.

Roman bust of the historian Josephus (37-c100 AD)

There’s also a scandalous back-story about Felix and Drusilla that would have been well-known to everyone there and accounts for Felix’s discomfort as Paul spoke of “justice and self-control and future judgment.” Soon after Emperor Nero appointed Antonius Felix as governor in 52AD, Felix met the strikingly beautiful 18-year-old Drusilla, the sister of the Jewish vassal King Herod Agrippa. She was Jewish and already married but he determined to convince her to divorce her husband and marry him. To complicate matters, Drusilla’s jealous older (and unmarried) sister Berenice lived in the palace with their brother King Herod. The Jewish historian Josephus recounts what happened:

While Felix was procurator of Judea, he saw this Drusilla, and fell in love with her; for she did indeed exceed all other women in beauty; and he sent to her a person whose name was Simon, a Jewish friend of his, by birth a Cypriot who pretended to be a magician. Simon endeavored to persuade her to forsake her present husband, and marry Felix; and promised, that if she would not refuse Felix, he would make her a happy woman. Accordingly she acted unwisely and, because she longed to avoid her sister Berenice’s envy (for Drusilla was very ill-treated by Berenice because of Drusilla’s beauty) was prevailed upon to transgress the laws of her forefathers, and to marry Felix. (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, xx.7.2)

Josephus says that Felix and Drusilla later had a son named Marcus Antonius Agrippa and a daughter Antonia Clementiana. Drusilla and their son were killed in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD that destroyed Pompey.


18th AAC

In preparation for the 18th All-American Council in July I’ve been speaking with the OCA’s Diocesan Chancellors in order to get their grass-roots perspective on progress since the last regular AAC in Seattle (2011). I’m glad to say that the unanimous verdict is that the general level of calm within our church is much improved since the chaotic times four years ago. That said, there are many challenges and demanding tasks ahead if we are to live out the vision and promise of being the Orthodox Church in America. I’ll share some of their thoughts in coming days. Here’s the first installment.

How do you see the current state of the OCA compared to when we were gathered for the AAC in Seattle in 2011?

Things have significantly improved. We needed a time of peace and healing, the new metropolitan is good, there’s good conciliarity among the Holy Synod and the bishops “play well together.” Our focus is good too: evangelization, clergy health and the health of our institutions. The Mission School and Department of Pastoral Life and Ministry are significant accomplishments.  We now have bishops in almost all dioceses. Diocesan revitalization is happening. And we’re making progress on a new approach to finances.

We are definitely more stable and stronger. His Beatitude is a major factor. But the chancery as well. Given the limited staff, the responsiveness from the national church to diocesan concerns is excellent. This makes it a lot easier for me as a diocesan chancellor. The Holy Synod too is stronger from my perspective. I like what I’ve been hearing, and it’s encouraging to know that the bishops are talking to each other.

The OCA is quieter, in a good way. There isn’t as much disruption.

There’s peace. The Church has settled down to do its real work. There’s a sense of calm now. Like a ship starting out on a journey we need to have a time of relative calm to be prepared for future storms.  His Beatitude and the chancery have made an effort to connect with the dioceses and this has been important. I get up in the morning and don’t need to wonder what the Central Administration is doing. When the Administration speaks they speak with one voice, and that’s essential. All of this is such a contrast to the past years of troubles. If someone doesn’t see this then they’ve been asleep.

Functionally the OCA is doing much better. The Metropolitan and chancery have done a great job of calming things down.  The problem is that instead of being excited that there is order, we have apathy. We have lost the sense of mission and identity as the autocephalous Orthodox Church in North America. We need to start acting that way again.