The first six chapters of Acts are an excellent lesson in catechism. We were able to learn a great deal about the birth, growth and spreading of Christ’s Church from just seven verses of the sixth chapter of Acts.
The holy Apostle Luke, author of the Acts of the Apostles, takes us on a journey to the holy city of Jerusalem in which only weeks ago, the most exciting and crucial events in human history had taken place. The Lord had just risen and the first significant fruits of His Resurrection were made manifest. The Apostles, reborn and strengthened by the grace of the Holy Spirit, became the fearless preachers of the Risen Christ. After only one of St. Peter’s homilies, about three thousand people were baptized on the same day. All of them, having accepted the seed of the word of God into their hearts “continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).
Furthermore, says Apostle Luke, “the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common…and great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the Apostles’ feet, and they distributed to each as anyone had need” (Acts 4:32-35). Thus, if there ever was social justice and equality on this planet, it was in those early days of Christ’s Church.
But soon, as the holy chronicler Luke witnesses, Satan filled the heart of one of them, Ananias, who, having sold his land and kept back part of the proceeds. Although he tried to weaken the harmonious community, soon it became manifest that justice was reserved exclusively for heaven. When they spoke to us of “equality” during the period of Communism in our country, where everyone would labor according to their ability and everyone would receive as much as they needed, I knew that those were just empty words for I always remembered the wretched Ananias and his wife Sapphira.
In spite of all this, Christ’s Church grew and flourished. With the expansion of the Church, various issues were raised and problems appeared that needed solving. In order to understand this it is important for us to bear in mind that the early Christians lived as one family. All of them, the wealthy and the poor, brought their offerings to a communal table from which all ate equally. Then the “unapproved,” as St. Paul calls them, appeared. He criticizes them openly: “Therefore, when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s supper. For in eating, each one takes his own food ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to rat and drink in? Or do you despise the Church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you” (1 Cor. 11:20–22).
Even among the “approved” there arose a problem around the distribution of food among those who could not take part in communal meals. “Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arouse a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually in prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:1-4).
There we have the cornerstone of the Church which is established on all the faithful – the Apostles, the priests and the first deacons, as well as on all the people of God. The first four verses of the sixth chapter of Acts answer once and for all questions pertaining to who does what in the Church, who are the leaders and who are the administrators.
Every single one of us priests who has come to serve on this continent has heard more than once these rude words: “You priests, keep to the altar. That’s your place. Anything happening out of the altar space is our business.” This should mean that the priest’s job is to serve and keep his mouth shut at all times. He is not to open his mouth even in the presence of those whom he personally swore in when they became functionaries in the church board. I even heard that at some assembly a very “wise” decision was voted on: that priests should not be permitted to sign church cheques. Such wisdom from church people, I am truly amazed! Unfortunately, many priests, probably out of necessity, were pressured into accepting this crude division forced on them by these uncouth church bullies, and were happy with the small salary they received. “We’re the ones paying you, Father!”
However, if we listened carefully to the holy word of God (if, indeed we are still guided by the Holy Scriptures, as the canons tell us to), it should be completely clear that such limitations imposed on the priests have no grounds either in the Scriptures or in Church practice. As we heard, the Apostles withdrew from the material aspects of Church administration in order to dedicate themselves to the more important aspect – prayer and the spreading of the word of God, but they were still the leaders of the community and were still responsible for appointing members of the community to perform other church duties. It is implied that he who has the greater authority keeps also the lesser authority. Those which the Christian community elected to take care of the material aspects of the Church were brought to the Apostles so that they might give their blessing and appoint them to their duties. “They set them before the Apostles and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them” (Acts 6:6). Those who were chosen had to satisfy the criteria of being “of good reputation.”, and “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3), so that it would not occur to them to take for themselves what did not belong to them.
Church property is not like any other property. The purpose of church property is a holy one and, because of the holiness of its purpose, church property itself is considered holy. Every form of theft is a sin, but the theft of church assets is a very grave sin. Excluding the priest from the leadership in church affairs is an equally grave sin.