|This weekly bulletin insert complements the curriculum published by the Department of Christian Education of the Orthodox Church in America. This and many other Christian Education resources are available at http://dce.oca.org.|
April 11 is Thomas Sunday, when we read the well-known story of the apostle Thomas' encounter with the risen Christ. But on this day we also read a passage that reveals the extraordinary spiritual growth of another apostle, Peter.
This passage, Acts 5:15, tells us that the Spirit-filled apostles were doing many signs and wonders among the people, in a part of the Temple in Jerusalem called Solomon's Portico. The leader in this exciting work was none other than Peter, once so afraid and craven that he denied knowing Christ. But now, people "carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and pallets, so that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them."
Some might question the idea that Peter's shadow could have an effect. But Luke makes two other references to such healing power. One is in his Gospel, where we read (8:43-44) about the woman who has had flow of blood for twelve years. She comes up behind Jesus, obviously in fear and trembling, and touches the fringe of His garment. The flow of blood ceases at once. Far from rebuking her or criticizing what she has done, the Lord receives her humble declaration "in the presence of the people" that she has been healed of a terrible affliction by touching His clothing. He says, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace."
Luke also tells us, in Acts 19:11, that God "did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul." The apostle was so revered and trusted as a healer that people took handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his body to the sick, and "diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them."
Some people still have difficulty in understanding this working of God's grace through human beings. Visitors to an Orthodox Liturgy may express discomfort at seeing worshippers venerate the hem of the priest's garment. But the examples in Luke and Acts give us a good basis to explain what is going on. The same explanation could apply to kissing the hand of a priest and asking for a blessing; the grace that comes is only in God, but it comes through the hand of His ordained servant.
Peter's new courage as he and the apostles worked among the people would soon be needed, as today's passage from Acts reveals. The jealous Sadducees arrested and imprisoned him and the others. They were rescued and released by an angel, but their release didn't mean that they could go home and relax. The angel gave specific instructions: "Go and stand in the Temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life." The apostles were to return to the very place where opposition to their message was strongest and most concentrated, and were to continue delivering that message.
It was not an easy assignment, but they carried it out admirably, creating the foundation of the Church to which we can now belong.