Friday, 15 April 2016

Acts 6 - Seven deacons to aid the twelve

Estevao e os apostolos.JPG
               from the façade of church of Urgezes, Guimarães, Portugal.Photo by Usuário:Manuel Anastácio

Acts 6 deals with the appointment of seven deacons to aid the twelve apostles (verses 1-7), and the ministry of one of them, St Stephen, leading up to his arrest (8-15).

Disputes amongst the faithful:
1 At this time, as the number of the disciples increased, complaints were brought against those who spoke Hebrew by those who spoke Greek; their widows, they said, were neglected in the daily administration of relief. 
Chrysostom (Homily 14): Behold another trial! Observe how from within and from without there are warrings, from the very first! ...So then there was a daily ministration for the widows. And observe how he calls it a ministration (διακονία), and not directly alms: extolling by this at once the doers, and those to whom it was done. Were neglected. This did not arise from malice, but perhaps from the carelessness of the multitude. And therefore he brought it forward openly, for this was no small evil. Observe, how even in the beginning the evils came not only from without, but also from within. For you must not look to this only, that it was set to rights, but observe that it was a great evil that it existed.
2 So the twelve called together the general body of the disciples, and said, It is too much that we should have to forgo preaching God’s word, and bestow our care upon tables. 3 Come then, brethren, you must find among you seven men who are well spoken of, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, for us to put in charge of this business, 4 while we devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of preaching. 5 This advice found favour with all the assembly; and they chose Stephen, a man who was full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, who was a proselyte from Antioch.6 These they presented to the apostles, who laid their hands on them with prayer.
Chrysostom: First he puts to them the unreasonableness of the thing; that it is not possible for both things to be done with the same attention: just as when they were about to ordain Matthias, they first show the necessity of the thing, that one was deficient, and there must needs be twelve. And so here they showed the necessity; and they did it not sooner, but waited till the murmuring arose; nor, on the other hand, did they suffer this to spread far. And, lo! They leave the decision to them: those who pleased all, those who of all were honestly reputed, them they present: not now twelve, but seven, full of the Spirit and of wisdom: well reported of for their conversation. Acts 6:3 Now when Matthias was to be presented, it was said, Therefore must one of these men which have companied with us all the time Acts 1:21: but not so here: for the case was not alike. And they do not now put it to the lot; they might indeed themselves have made the election, as moved by the Spirit: but nevertheless, they desire the testimony of the people. The fixing the number, and the ordaining them, and for this kind of business, rested with them: but the choice of the men they make over to the people, that they might not seem to act from favor: just as God also leaves it to Moses to choose as elders those whom he knew.

...But what sort of rank these bore, and what sort of office they received, this is what we need to learn. Was it that of Deacons? And yet this is not the case in the Churches. But is it to the Presbyters that the management belongs? And yet at present there was no Bishop, but the Apostles only. Whence I think it clearly and manifestily follows, that neither Deacons nor Presbyters is their designation: but it was for this particular purpose that they were ordained.

...Thus they were enabled to give their attention to things spiritual; thus were these also free to undertake long journeys; thus were these put in trust with the word. But the writer does not say this, nor extol them, but that it was not reason that they should leave the work given to them. Thus they had been taught by Moses's example not to undertake the management of everything by themselves.

...It is not simply, spiritual men, but, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, for it needed very great superiority of mind (φιλοσοφίας) to bear the complainings of widows. For what profits it, that the dispenser of alms steal not, if nevertheless he waste all, or be harsh and easily provoked?
7 By now the word of God was gaining influence, and the number of disciples in Jerusalem was greatly increasing; many of the priests had given their allegiance to the faith. 
Chrysostom: And as he is about in the sequel to enlarge (αὔξειν) upon the affair of Stephen, he puts first the causes which led to it. And many, he says, of the priests were obedient to the faith...

Those crucified Him, when He had come for the very purpose of doing them good; His disciples they scourged; and after all this, He admits them to the same honor with His disciples, making them equally partakers of His gifts. I beseech you, let us be imitators of Christ: in this regard it is possible to imitate Him: this makes a man like God: this is more than human.

Let us hold fast to Mercy: she is the schoolmistress and teacher of that higher Wisdom. He that has learned to show mercy to the distressed, will learn also not to resent injuries; he that has learned this, will be able to do good even to his enemies. Let us learn to feel for the ills our neighbors suffer, and we shall learn to endure the ills they inflict. Let us ask the person himself who ill-treats us, whether he does not condemn himself? Would he not be glad to show a nobler spirit (φιλοσοφεἵν)? Must he not own that his behavior is nothing but passion, that it is little-minded, pitiful? Would he not like to be of those who are wronged and are silent, and not of those who do wrong, and are beside themselves with passion? Can he go away not admiring the patient sufferer?

Do not imagine that this makes men despicable. Nothing makes men so despicable, as insolent and injurious behavior: nothing makes men so respectable, as endurance under insolence and injury. For the one is a ruffian, the other a philosopher; the one is less than man, the other is equal to angels.
8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, performed great miracles and signs among the people.9 There were those who came forward to debate with him, some of the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it is called), and of the Cyreneans and Alexandrians, and of those who came from Cilicia and Asia; 10 but they were no match for Stephen’s wisdom, and for the Spirit which then gave utterance. 11 Thereupon they employed agents to say they had heard him speaking blasphemously of Moses, and of God. 12 Having thus roused the feelings of the people, and of the elders and scribes, they set upon him and carried him off, and so brought him before the Council. 13 There they put forward false witnesses, who declared, This man is never tired of uttering insults against the holy place, and the law. 14 We have heard him say that the Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place, and will alter the traditions which Moses handed down to us. 15 And all those who sat there in the Council fastened their eyes on him, and saw his face looking like the face of an angel.

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