We are pleased to present to you the next part of our “A Prayerful Reading of Holy Scripture” series, namely, “A Prayerful Reading of the Acts of the Apostles”.
The Acts of the Apostles continues the storyline where the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John stop, inviting us to the early Christian Church. The Book of Acts was likely written by the holy evangelist Luke and begins where the Gospel of Luke ends — Christ’s Ascension into heaven. The disciples and those who are with them witness the descent of the Holy Spirit on the fiftieth day, which we understand as the birth of the Church. From then, Christianity spreads throughout the world, accompanied by the Holy Spirit, down to our time.
Like Saint Paul, who plays a leading role in Acts, we are also called to be missionaries by spreading the Good News of the Gospel in our family, in our circle of friends, and finally, among strangers.
Accept the challenge of prayerfully reading the
Acts of the Apostles, allowing the Holy Spirit to again enter your lives!
May the Lord bless you abundantly!
Bishop David Motiuk
Chair, Patriarchal Catechetical Commission
Introduction to the Prayerful Reading of the Book of Acts
The Acts of the Apostles in the heritage of the New Testament is organically linked to the Gospel of Luke.
In fact, the introduction to the Book of Acts calls this Gospel “the first book… about all that Jesus began to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1). Let us be mindful of this important detail: the “first book”, that is, the Gospel, contains exactly what “Jesus began to do and teach.” When analyzing this in more detail, we will see that the semantics of the original Greek is often lost in existing Ukrainian translations, as the verb “to begin” is replaced with a temporal construction: “from the beginning” (see Father Ivan Khomenko, Metropolitan Ilarion Ohiienko). This departure from the authenticity of the term used in the introduction (Acts 1:1) greatly complicates the understanding of the integrity of both books — the Gospel of Saint Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.
If we appeal to the literal meaning of the introduction, we will see that the second book describes the development and fulfilment of Christ’s work in his Church through the apostles and disciples. They are the ones who, in imitating Christ and receiving full authority from him, spread the Gospel of Christ. Therefore, the apostles’ path of formation in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus, their being strengthened in the faith after the Resurrection, their being endowed with responsibilities and charisms, the creation of a separate group of those who believe in Christ — all of this provides continuity that bridges the Gospel of Saint Luke and the Book of Acts.
The central part of the Gospel of Luke 9:51-19:28 is the story of Christ’s journey to Jerusalem, which reveals the essence of his divine person and his teaching. The author formulates the beginning of this part in this way: “When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up (from this world), he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). Thus he immediately points to the prospect of the Ascension of Jesus who will complete the work of salvation in Jerusalem and be carried up into heaven, but, before this, he will give the starting point and show the way to continue this work of salvation in the Church. It is from Jesus’ words of farewell given to the apostles and the events of the Ascension (cf. Acts 1:2) that Luke begins the Book of Acts — his account of the culmination of Christ’s work of salvation against the new backdrop of the early community.
In fact, an important aspect of the theology of the apostolic Church, emphasized in Acts, was the desire to be united with Christ who ascended into heaven. It is precisely from carefully looking up at the sky for the Lord who ascended that the Book of Acts begins. Consequently, the high point of the apostle Peter’s first sermon during Pentecost were the arguments about the Ascension of Jesus as proof of his divine mission and of fulfilling the work of salvation (cf. Acts 2:33- 36). Later, in his first sermon at the Temple in Jerusalem, the apostle Peter called for repentance and for receiving forgiveness of sins as he concludes: “…so that the times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord and that he may send his Christ appointed for you, that is Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets” (Acts 3:20-21).
For the whole structure of the Book of Acts, Christ’s words of farewell: “…You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8), these words are a very important expression, because the entire dynamics of the apostles’ life and preaching will emerge based on this model — the spread of the faith in Christ in the capital city of Judaism, and afterwards in the province of Judea, on the territory of the ethnic region of Samaria (Acts 8:1- 25), and eventually it will manifest itself in preaching outside Palestine (Acts 13-14; 16- 21,14) as far as the capital city of the Empire — Rome (Acts 27- 28).
As in the central part of Luke’s Gospel 9:51-19:28, the enormous geographical perspective of Acts is based on the ‘road, way’ motif. However, this concept refers to not only the numerous routes of the apostles, especially Peter, of the apostle Paul’s three evangelizing journeys (Acts 13-14; 15:40-18:22; 18:23-21:17), of his associates Barnabas, Silas, or Philip the Deacon. Christ’s followers were so identifiable by their faith in
Christ and way of life in their community that the term “road” became their characteristic name. In particular, the Pharisee Saul, having received letters from the High Priest addressed to the synagogues at Damascus, began to scheme: “if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:2). And again, perhaps due to a stylistic discrepancy, Ukrainian translations generally replace the authentic term “road” with other expressions, cf. Father Ivan Khomenko “…who were of this profession”; Father Rafail Turkoniak: “…if you find any who is of this line of teaching…”
The witness of faith in Christ by the example of one’s words and life was combined with various challenges for the apostolic Church: employing threats, not being accepted by the locals, the use of physical force and persecution… The true apostolic principle on the road of witnessing can be called perseverance combined with a clear realization that one will have to accept martyrdom for Christ (cf. Acts 20:22-26). Thus the apostles and disciples re-created Christ’s very way to Jerusalem, which took place combined with a clear realization of future sufferings. However, the evangelists, bound by faith and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, saw all experiences as the way to the risen and glorified Christ. Even at the end of the long first evangelizing journey (Acts 13-14), after facing every manner of hardship and beating, the apostles Paul and Barnabas remained uplifted, “strengthening the souls of the disciples and encouraging them to continue in the faith, for it is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
We ask the Most High for abundant grace to grow in the knowledge of his holy Word and to be strengthened on our way to heaven.
Father Petro Terletsky, PhD
Why is it Useful to Read and Listen, Pray and Share the Texts of the Acts of the Apostles?
It is good to walk together in the footsteps of those who were first to proclaim the Good News.
This is an opportunity for mutual knowledge, sharing and enrichment.
But at the same time, it is important to immerse oneself in moments of silence (of wilderness) so that the Word of God would find a reaction in the heart of each of us.
Why Read Acts?
We often have a fragmentary and episodic knowledge (a few passages are contained in liturgical texts) about this book (which is certainly not as well-known as the Gospels). We lack an understanding of the peculiarities of this text, being that it is the continuation of the Gospel of Luke.
This is a modest opportunity to receive biblical formation so as not to force the sacred text to say what it does not say!
Whereas, consistent reading of the text sheds new light on familiar episodes, reveals the meaning of less important (or even unknown) passages and, to a greater degree, helps to examine the general nature of the composition itself.
As for the use of Greek terms in many quotations (from the Greek text of Nestle-Aland), they are transliterated with the designation of only a tonic accent for their correct pronunciation. The designation, — Greek — means that the term (expression) is taken just as it is used in the text. However, the designation — from the Greek — means that the noun or adjective is given in the nominative masculine singular form, and the verb is given in the first person singular of the present tense.
Thus, the many referenced Greek words are presented in order to show the full range of possible meanings and to help more accurately understand the text itself.
This is one of the reasons why there will be – always in parentheses — many quotations from the Old Testament, which is the rootstock (indeed, this is also the Word of God!), onto which the New Testament is grafted. It would be good to read them! They do not just create a background, they give a more integral view of the content and meaning of the passage we are listening to or reading. But, quite often a reference is made to the third Gospel, the text of which sheds light on the reading of Acts (and vice versa). Luke’s two works complement each other, so they should be read in the same way.