25 Now when Festus had come into his province, after three days he went up to Jerusalem from Caesare′a. 2 And the chief priests and the principal men of the Jews informed him against Paul; and they urged him, 3 asking as a favor to have the man sent to Jerusalem, planning an ambush to kill him on the way. 4 Festus replied that Paul was being kept at Caesare′a, and that he himself intended to go there shortly. 5 “So,” said he, “let the men of authority among you go down with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them accuse him.”
6 When he had stayed among them not more than eight or ten days, he went down to Caesare′a; and the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought. 7 And when he had come, the Jews who had gone down from Jerusalem stood about him, bringing against him many serious charges which they could not prove. 8 Paul said in his defense, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended at all.” 9 But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem, and there be tried on these charges before me?” 10 But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried; to the Jews I have done no wrong, as you know very well. 11 If then I am a wrongdoer, and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death; but if there is nothing in their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.” 12 Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you shall go.”
13 Now when some days had passed, Agrippa the king and Berni′ce arrived at Caesare′a to welcome Festus. 14 And as they stayed there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a man left prisoner by Felix; 15 and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews gave information about him, asking for sentence against him. 16 I answered them that it was not the custom of the Romans to give up any one before the accused met the accusers face to face, and had opportunity to make his defense concerning the charge laid against him. 17 When therefore they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought in. 18 When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed; 19 but they had certain points of dispute with him about their own superstition and about one Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. 20 Being at a loss how to investigate these questions, I asked whether he wished to go to Jerusalem and be tried there regarding them. 21 But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of the emperor, I commanded him to be held until I could send him to Caesar.” 22 And Agrippa said to Festus, “I should like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” said he, “you shall hear him.”
23 So on the morrow Agrippa and Berni′ce came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then by command of Festus Paul was brought in. 24 And Festus said, “King Agrippa and all who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me, both at Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. 25 But I found that he had done nothing deserving death; and as he himself appealed to the emperor, I decided to send him. 26 But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you, and, especially before you, King Agrippa, that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write. 27 For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him.”
It’s a sad state of affairs when the civil authorities can be trusted to be more even-handed in justice than ones fellow believers. But such was the case with Paul. He preferred to be in court before Roman judges, the Roman emperor and Roman law.
Saint John Chrysostom uses this passage to meditate on the lessons we can draw from Paul’s refusal to be crushed by the “ill designs” of his enemies.
Let us not think that ill designs against us are a grievous thing. So long as we do not make ill designs against ourselves, no one will be able to have ill designs against us: or rather, people may do this, but they do us no hurt; no, they even benefit us in the highest degree. For it rests with ourselves, whether we shall suffer evil, or not suffer evil. Lo! I testify, and proclaim with a loud voice, more piercing even than the sound of a trumpet—and were it possible to ascend on high and cry aloud, I would not shrink from doing it—him that is a Christian, none of all the human beings that inhabit the earth will have power to hurt. And why do I say, human beings? Not even the Evil Spirit himself, the tyrant, the Devil, can do this, unless the man injure himself; be what it may that any one works, in vain he works it. For even as no human being could hurt an angel, if he were on earth, so neither can one human being hurt another human being. …
Metropolitan Tikhon and a number of the heads of Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States are in Istanbul today to meet with His All Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew. They will be discussing the state of progress in the Assembly of Bishops toward the visible unity of our churches and plans for the Great and Holy Council to be held in 2016. Please keep His Beatitude and this important meeting in your prayers.
Meanwhile, Melanie Ringa and I are in Chicago to meet with Bishop Paul and his diocesan council about the 18th All-American Council and the resolution on funding of the Church.
As I mentioned last week, in preparation for the 18th All-American Council I spoke with a number of the diocesan chancellors over the last few weeks. Here is a sample of their reflections on the OCA’s strengths.
There is a rich American heritage going from the Alaska mission, Saint Herman, Saint Innocent all the way to Father Alexander Schmemann and Father John Meyendorff. We are not just aspiring to be an American Church, we are an American Church.
It’s good that we are small and have many missions. We can be less worldly and attached to secular visions of a powerful church tied to overseas. There is strength in our weakness, it keeps us focused on the gospel and Christ. We have good clear documents, and can be a voice for the Orthodox faith in North America and the world. We don’t have to try to be what we’re not and succumb to the American (or simply human) temptation to live beyond our means. We have only Christ, and we’re not competing for what Fr Thomas Hopko called the “P’s of place, pride, prominence and position.”
We are united by a common vision of a church in and for America, though we come from different backgrounds. We are at home here, not in exile from some mother country. This vision was the great gift of Metropolitan Leonty, Father Alexander Hotovitsky and the others. They left us the Church. They gave us the framework and goals. History will judge us in 50 years, asking what we did.
A big part of what we have done is to come through a turbulent period. And we did it in public. Our transparency makes us unique. Whether we’re talking about finances, administration or misconduct, no other Orthodox church in the world does this, and can criticize itself and say “we’ve made mistakes but we’re going to learn from this.” This is our legacy and we continue it. To recognize our weaknesses is one of our strengths. As St Paul said, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
The OCA vision is still alive and well: an Orthodox Church in America, an American missionary church. Our parishes get this and are multicultural. Eventually we could even sacrifice our own existence to share this with other Orthodox Churches and unite with all to be one Church.
We have the best governance system in the Orthodox world, with lay involvement in the administration of the church. Yes, it’s a struggle at times, takes hours of conversation, but in the long run this will bear better fruit than the church dynasties of the old world.