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TALK ON THE ACTS OF
Continuing with our study on the Acts of the Apostles, at our last meeting we finished with chapter eighteen which took a break from Paul's journey to introduce us to Apollos and his success at Corinth. Chapter nineteen continues with Paul's journey saying that while Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the upper coasts, meaning Galatia and Phrygia and came to Ephesus. Here he found twelve disciples of John the Baptist and sensing that their faith was not complete, he asked them if they had received the Holy Ghost since they believed. They answered that they hadn't even heard that there was a Holy Ghost. As disciples of John they were Jews and certainly must have had a vague idea of the Holy Spirit since the Prophet Amos and John the Baptist spoke of him, but there was a vast difference in what they had heard and what Paul was asking of them. As they hadn't received the Holy Spirit, Paul asked them unto what baptism they were baptised and they replied unto John's baptism. Paul tells them that John's baptism was a type of the true baptism, because he said to the people that they should believe on him who would come after him, that is on Jesus Christ. When they heard this they were baptised in the Lord Jesus and when Paul laid his hands on them the Holy Ghost came upon them and they began to speak in tongues and prophesied.
At Ephesus Paul spoke in the synagogue for the space of three months concerning the kingdom of God, but because some of the Jews didn't believe and began to speak blasphemously of the Christian faith, Paul cut himself off from the synagogue and separated the believers from the rest of the Jews. Needing a place for the gatherings, Paul used a hall that was given or hired to him by a certain Tyrannus who had the teaching hall and was either sympathetic to the Christian faith of had converted to Christianity. According to tradition Paul preached in this hall from 11am until 4pm and during the rest of the day worked for his daily bread. Paul used the hall for about two years and many came from many cities of Asia to hear the word of God and returning to their own cities passed on the Christian faith to their families and friends.
Now Ephesus was the capital of Asia Minor and as such it was a centre of sorcery and magic. Christianity had to compete with these demonic practices not only with the word of God but also through miracles. Luke tells us that God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul and without Paul knowing, the sick and those possessed with evil spirits were touched with handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched his body and they were healed. These were probably supplied by Aquila and Priscilla with whom Paul lived and worked with.
At that time certain vagabond Jews who practiced exorcism through the art of magic came to Ephesus. By vagabond it means that they were travelling exorcists who went from city to city casting out demons for money. They were seven sons of a man called Sceva a Jew and chief of the priests. Historically no such name appears in the catalogue of the Jewish high priests, so it's reasonable to assume that he wasn't actually a high priest but rather belonged to one of the high priest's families.
When these seven brothers heard of the power of Jesus and Paul, they saw the opportunity to cash in and took it upon themselves to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus saying: We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches. The evil spirit answered and said: Jesus I know, and Paul I am acquainted with, but who are you? In other words Jesus I know to be the Son of God and Messiah, Paul I recognise as the servant of the most high God, but who are you? you are not the servants of Jesus, nor the disciples of Paul, but rather you are the children of the devil; you have no power over us, on the contrary you are subject to us. Then the man who was possessed with the evil spirit leaped on them and overcame them, beating them and tearing their clothes from them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded. This episode became known to all the Jews and Greek living in Ephesus and fear fell on everyone and the name of Jesus was magnified. Many that believed came to Paul confessing in public their evil actions. Many of those who practiced the evil arts brought their satanic books together and burned them before everyone. Magic books were very expensive and they calculated the price of them as being fifty thousand pieces of silver.
Paul had stayed in Ephesus for two years and three months and planned to continue his journey to go again to Macedonia and Greece and from there to go to Jerusalem and then to Rome. Planning ahead he sent two of his disciples Timotheus and Erastus to Macedonia, but he himself stayed behind for a while longer. Teaching and converting the people of Ephesus was no easy task. In the beginning he had problems with the Jews and now some of the Greeks had reason to complain.
A certain man named Demetrios who was a silversmith made silver shrines for the goddess Artemis known in Latin as Diana. Demetrios had become very wealthy through his trade and had many craftsmen working for him. With Paul preaching against idols his business was beginning to see a loss. He therefore called together a meeting with other workmen of the same occupation to resolve the matter. Speaking to them he said: sirs, you know that by this craft we have made our wealth, but you see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but throughout all of Asia, this Paul, through his preaching, has turned away much people saying that there are no gods that are made by hands. Because of him our businesses are in danger of closing, but not only this, he is responsible for people despising the temple of the great goddess Artemis and for the magnificence of her temple in danger of being destroyed, which all of Asia and the world worship. The temple of Artemis in Ephesus was one of the seven great wonders of the ancient world. When the craftsmen heard these things they were full of anger and cried: Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.
The whole city was confused by the uproar and word must have been given for everyone to go to the amphitheatre. The craftsmen had gone to Paul's house which he shared with Aquila and Priscilla, but not finding him there they took hold of Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia and Paul's travelling companions and rushed them to the theatre. During this episode Aquila and Priscilla must have been in danger of their own lives because in his Epistle to the Romans, Paul acknowledges them saying: "Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles." (Romans 16: 3-4) Hearing what had happened, Paul wanted to enter the theatre and speak to the mob, but his disciples didn't allow him to enter because they feared for his life. But also certain of the rulers of Asia who were his friends sent messages to him not to endanger his life by stepping into the theatre. With Paul not entering the theatre, the majority of the assembly had no idea why they were called to come together; some said one thing and others something else and the assembly was confused.
The Jews who were at the assemble realized that the uproar was not only directed towards Paul, but also towards all the Jews so they forced a man named Alexander to speak on their behalf with the hope of persuading the assembly that they had nothing to do with Paul's actions. Alexander was reluctant but in the end consented to speak. He beckoned with his hand for the assembly to hear him and would have made his defence on behalf of the Jews, but when they realized that he was a Jew, they began to shout for about the space of two hours that great is Artemis of the Ephesians. Eventually the town clerk calmed the people and said: "Men of Ephesus, what man is there that doesn't know how the city of Ephesus is a worshipper of the great goddess Artemis and of her statue which Zeus through down to earth from heaven? Seeing then that your devotion to her is unquestionable, you ought to keep silent and not do anything rashly. You have brought here these men Gaius and Aristarchus, who have neither stolen from the temple nor yet have they blasphemed against your goddess. If therefore Demetrios and the craftsmen that are with him, have a private matter against any man, there are deputies who run the open courts in the marketplace who are ready to judge any complaint. But if you have a complaint that is of a general nature that effects all the people then this will be determined by the assembly of the people which according to the law is called together on a determined date. For we are in danger of being accused for this day's uproar and unlawful assembly, because there is no justification for this disorderly gathering. When he had finished speaking he dismissed the assembly.
Chapter twenty. According to his first Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul had planned to leave Ephesus for Macedonia after the feast of Pentecost (Cor, 16: 8) but the uproar with the silversmiths forced him to bring forward his departure. He called together his disciples and having embraced them, departed for Macedonia.
We are not told the route of his journey, but from his second epistle to the Corinthians Paul tells us that he first went to Troas to meet up with Titus whom he had sent to Corinth with his first Epistle and was saddened at not finding him there. They probably met up at Philippi and Titus informed him how the Jews reacted to him and which was the reason for writing his second epistle to the Corinthians.
So Paul travels over the parts of Macedonia and then comes to Greece, probably Corinth where he abode three months without any problems from the Jews. When he was there last he was taken before the judgment seat and the Jews demanded that the Proconsul to judge him for preaching Christ, but the Proconsul threw out their accusations and put Paul under his protection. The Jews therefore couldn't harm Paul as long as he was in Corinth. When they heard that he was about to sail to Syria they laid wait for him to kill him, but hearing of their plans Paul decided to return to Syria by foot by going back to Macedonia and from there to Philippi and cross over to Troas. His Companions on the journey were Sopater of Berea; Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonica, Gaius of Derbe, Timotheus, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia. They probably had with them collections made at their local churches for the Church of Jerusalem which was in great need.
At some point they went ahead of Paul and waited for him at Troas, but Paul was not alone because Luke writes in the first person again saying that they waited for us at Troas indicating that he had rejoined Paul somewhere along the way. Paul and Luke reach Philippi and as it was the days of unleavened bread they remained there for the Passover feast and in five days crossed over to Troas where they met up with the rest of the company and remained there for another seven days.
On the Sunday the disciples came together to celebrate the Divine Liturgy and as Paul was ready to depart the next day, he took the opportunity to preach to them. They were gathered together in a large room on the third floor of a building which was lit up with many lights as Paul continued his speech until midnight. At one of the windows of the room sat a young man named Eutychios, who because of Paul's long preaching, had fallen into a deep sleep and fell down from the third floor and died. Paul went down to the ground and fell on him and embraced him, and said: "trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him." What Paul did was something very similar to what the prophets Elias and Elisaios did when they each raised someone from the dead. In Elisaios' account it says that he lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and he bowed himself upon him; and the flesh of the child waxed warm.(IV Kings 4:34) With the arms outstretched the body formed the sign of the Cross and with his mouth upon the dead person's mouth it reminds of our modern day mouth to mouth resuscitation, but it was reminiscent of the first breath of God which gave life to Adam. In fact in Elias's case it says that he breathed on the child three times signifying that God is Trinitarian.
So having raised the young man from death everyone was comforted and thankful for the miracle and the gift of life. Paul returned to the third floor of the building and after breaking bread and eating, he continued speaking until morning and then departed. Paul ordered the other apostles to sail to Assos which was about twenty miles south of Troas because he wanted to go by foot and would meet up with them there. Why he decided to go by foot we are not told. Joining the ship at Assos they sailed to Mitylene, Chios, Samos and came to Miletus. After Samos the next stop would have been Ephesus but Paul decides to bypass it because he wants to reach Jerusalem without delay at the latest on the feast of Pentecost. This will be his last trip to Jerusalem. Why this great rush we cannot be certain. It’s very unlikely that it was to take part in the festivities, but rather for the crowds, who would have gathered from various places, and would have given Paul the opportunity to preach to his fellow countrymen or to disproof the charges which had propagated against him.
From Miletus, Paul sends out messengers to Ephesus to call the Presbyters of the Church to come to him. He knows that this is the last time he will be in the area and desires to meet with the heads of the Ephesian Church, to greet them for the very last time and to address them with his final advice. The church of Ephesus is the fruit of his preaching and many struggles and it is natural that he should feel a special love for her and an increased concern for her unity and stability. Because the Church of Ephesus was very large with many members she would have had many Presbyters. But it is also possible that, as Ephesus was the metropolis of the area, that Presbyters from others areas near to Ephesus also came to Miletus with the Presbyters of Ephesus.
When the Presbyters were come to him, Paul addresses them for the last time saying: "You know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews, and how I kept back nothing that was profitable for you, but have shown you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there. The only thing I know is that the Holy Spirit has revealed to me from city to city that there awaits me bonds and afflictions. This means that he was being directed by the Spirit of God to go to Jerusalem to suffer for the Lord, and although he could foresee the temptations and trials that were to befall him, he places his complete trust in the hands of God. Paul says: I care for none of these things, neither do I care for my life, other than to finish my course with joy, preaching what I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God to men. And I know that you all whom I have preached to will see my face no more. Therefore I want you all to bear witness this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any man, neither have I avoided to declare to you everything God has planned for the salvation of mankind. Paul now gives his last instructions to the presbyters to take special care of their churches.
"Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, of which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood."
The thing which a shepherd of the Church must be armed with is carefulness, in other words, he must be spiritually alert and have a sense of responsibility. Paul advices the Presbyters to take heed firstly with themselves and secondly with their flock at whose head they have been placed by the Holy Spirit. The “take heed of yourselves” consists of moral uprightness, an impeccable manner and speech and the correct teaching, these are the basic requirements for all those who take upon their shoulders the work of shepherding the faithful. The manner, attitude, and words of a shepherd have a direct impact on the lives of Christians. For this reason he is obliged to take extreme care in how he conducts himself in public and in what he says.
The term “flock” in the Christian language of course means the Christians who are the people of God. Here we can say that Paul means specifically the Christians members of the local Church of Ephesus. The Presbyters with their ordination – a mystical act whereby the Holy Spirit appoints the ministers of the Church and empowers them with his grace – are placed as overseers of their flock. In the Greek the word overseer is επίσκοπος meaning bishop which literally means to oversee. During those early years of the Church, the ecclesiastical ranks had not yet acquired the form which they received in later years. Thus the overseers or Bishops at this time were the Presbyters, the priests, a title which quickly passed into the Christian life because it already existed in Judaism and who were the people who had the running of the Synagogue and the “bishoping”, that is, the oversee of the flock. So those who Paul at first calls presbyters he now calls bishops, because the presbyters were obliged to shepherd the flocks of the Church, lest someone was losing his faith, or someone was hungry or thirsty or had need of supervision and help to return.
The work and mission of the Presbyters was shepherding the Church of God. The holiness of the work of the Presbyters and its importance is made clear by St. Paul with what he says of the Church. The Church which the Presbyters are overseers belongs to God. It is the Church of God which the Lord purchased with his own blood. Therefore if God, with the blood of his only-begotten Son saves and sanctifies the Church, then the Presbyters and in general all ministers, are obliged to serve it with divine zeal and unending care. Neglecting the Church is equal to being in contempt of the precious Blood of our Lord which he shed for us. St. John Chrysostom observes that “with what St. Paul says, he shows how precious a thing the Church is, and the danger (if the Priests are not careful) is not a trivial matter, if the Lord did not spare even his own blood for our sakes.”
Paul then says: "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them."
As already mentioned, this meeting with the Priests is the last. Paul’s farewell talk hints at his own death, but also warns of the enemies that will rise up against the Church. Paul places the enemies of the Church into two categories. The first, which he calls “grievous wolves” and who shall conduct themselves before the flock hard and ruthless with the intention of wiping them out and will attack externally. The Lord also once likened the false prophets as “ravening wolves” who approach the faithful dressed “in sheep's clothing” (Matth. 7:15) with the intention to delude them and draw them away from the truth. The Second are those who will come internally from the very bowels of the Church and will twist the truth, by preaching various heretical teachings and will divide the unity of the ecclesiastical body, dragging the disciples into their delusions and schisms which will be created. When Paul says “Also of your own selves shall men arise” he doesn’t specifically mean from among the Presbyters, but from among the whole body of the Ephesian church and probably the Christian communities in the area. Without question, the two categories were to cause great harm; of the two however, the appearance of heretics from among the faithful was much worse and dangerous. History verifies the immeasurable harm made against the Church by the divisions and schisms caused by delusions and the disorderly conduct of many of the members: even high ranking shepherds of the Church who with demonic madness tried to break the unity of the Church and adulterate her tradition.
Paul’s prophetic words are very general and do not help us to understand which heresies he is referring to, but in the New Testament there is mention of various heretics of which six were Ephesians. Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:20), Phygellus and Hermogenes (2 Tim. 1.15), Philetus (2 Tim. 2:17) and Diotrephes (3 John 1:9).
Paul continues: "Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears."
Having prophesied of the appearance of heretics, Paul very naturally now hastens to advice the Presbyters to fulfil their obligation. Just a little while ago he told them to “Take heed”, but now he tells them to “watch”. To be watchful means to be spiritually awake, to be on guard and to have your wits about you. Christ used this expression when having prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane came and found the Apostles sleeping, he told them “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation:” (Matth. 26: 41). Paul uses the same expression here to warn the Presbyters that at all costs they must give wakeful attention and be spiritually alert according to the dangers that were to threaten the Church. Shepherds very often remain awake during the night to watch over and keep safe their sheep from wolves and other dangers. The presbyters of the Church as shepherds of the human flock are obliged to rid themselves of slothfulness and sleepiness of the soul and remain awake guarding the flock of Christ from the ravenous fury of the wolves dress in sheep’s clothing and the ecclesiastical truth from the danger of adulteration and corruption.
Paul doesn’t just limit himself to giving advice, but at the same time gave himself as an example. For three years, which is the time the Apostle previously remained in Ephesus, ceaselessly day and night he preached the Gospel and warned them with tears, each one separately. With his example we have all the basic characteristics of a genuine shepherd and true teacher: the self denial, the dedication to his mission, the unlimited affection and love for the flock and the laborious yet very fruit-bearing pastoral practice of individual spiritual guidance."
And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified."
After giving them his teaching and advice and knowing that his meeting with the heads of the Ephesian Church was the last, Paul commends the Presbyters to God’s providence. From now on he would not be able to care for them and the Christians of Ephesus. That is why he entrusts their protection and care to God himself. From now on God himself will strengthen and teach then with the word of his grace. He is the almighty Lord of the Church which he founded and continues to build upon. The increase of the Church and the spiritual progress of her members can only be achieved with the grace of the almighty Lord. It is he also that gives inheritance, in other words, the right and possibility to inherit the kingdom with all them that are sanctified. Those who are sanctified are those who become saints, in other words, Christians. Paul often called Christians by the name “saints”. With this understanding in mind the text means to say that it is God who grants the right of entry into the Church. But the text also appears to have an eschatological perspective. With the term “inheritance” Paul gives reference to the future hope so we should understand it as meaning that God grants the possibility of partaking in salvation just as Abraham inherited the Promised Land.
Paul, who was pre-eminently the spiritual father and founder of the Ephesian Church again comes round to his own personal example to show the Presbyters that they must have selflessness and not be lovers of money and wealth. "I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, you yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me."
He confirms that not only has he never sought to gain money and good clothing which is a sign of wealth and luxury, but has never allowed himself to be enslaved by their desire. Selflessness and shunning wealth are visible virtues of a shepherd and are the basic guarantees of his priestly ethos and his inner holiness. These together with integrity of which Paul’s greatness consist; reveal the fact that for his needs and also for the needs of his co-workers, he did manual labour. Paul constrained himself only to the very basic needs and did not overlook the needs of his loved and faithful co-workers. We have already seen that Paul was a tent maker and worked together with Aquila and Priscilla to provide for their daily needs.
"I have shown you all things, how that so labouring you ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive."
Again by using his own personal example, Paul advices the Presbyters how they should support the weak, in other words, the weak and poor among the brethren who must be helped with the product of our hard work. The words of the Lord which he tells the Presbyters to remember have not come down to us through the Gospels. Many things which the Lord said and did are not written in the Gospels and undoubtedly the disciples preserved the memory of many of these things which were not written. But it is also possible that the phrase “the words of the Lord Jesus” means in general the Gospel tradition. The Lord’s words “It is more blessed to give than to receive” does not condemn anyone from receiving something offered to him. The Lord did not say that it is wrong to receive, but compared the receiving with the giving and says it is of far more worth for someone to give than to receive. Our offering to our brethren and especially when they are in need, is an act that simulates us with our God and Father himself who continually gives to all without himself receiving the slightest from anyone.
Paul, having then finished his farewell talk to the Presbyters kneels to pray with them for the last time. The prayer to the Lord and saviour by the great Apostle, his disciples and the successors of the Ephesian Church comes and seals their unity and their unwavering trust in divine providence. At this point, Paul is imitating the Lord who after his talk with the Apostles before his passion sealed everything with his prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. Judging from other occasions mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, the first Christians seem to have had the custom of praying fervently when someone was to be separated from them because of a journey. Their prayer was usually on bended knees: a position which indicates humility and the venerable disposition of the person praying.
The time came for the farewells which was a very emotional moment. Everyone was weeping and fell on Paul's neck and kissed him. He had left them before, but this time things were different; emotions were running high because he had told them that they would see him no more and that at Jerusalem awaited him bonds and afflictions. The chapter finishes with everyone accompanying Paul to the ship.