IN those days, Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was eager to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost. From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus, asking the elders of the church to meet him. When they came to him, he said to them, "Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the Church of the Lord and God, which He obtained with His own blood. I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to warn everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the message of His grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothing. You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions. In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed.
Christ is risen!
This Epistle reading shows us a few insights into the life of the early Church and how things have not really changed much in some respect to this day.
Saint Paul decided to sail past Ephesus because he wanted to be in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. While Pentecost was a Jewish holiday, for Christians it also became a major feastday, since it was on Pentecost that we received the Holy Spirit, Who is guiding the Church. Most likely, Paul was going to Jerusalem for the Christian Pentecost, to be there and celebrate with the brothers and sisters there. This shows that the early Church already had some sort of a liturgical calendar based on the holidays.
Yet, Paul still met with some of the elders of the church in Ephesus. The word elder is a translation of presbyter, what we today call a priest. Paul tells these elders/priests that Holy Spirit has made them overseers. The word translated as overseer can also be translated as bishop. In the New Testament, priest and bishop were used interchangeably. What all of this means is that the church in Ephesus had a developed sacramental leadership.
Paul warns them that there will be wolves who will undermine the teaching of the Church, and try to replace this teaching with their own, wrong and heretical, teaching. These wolves will come from within the church, just like from without. Meaning that the enemy is not always outside the community, but can lurk on the inside. Also, anyone who belongs to the fullness of the Faith, runs a risk of becoming corrupt. So the message is to two-fold - watch out for the wolves and make sure you stay sober and grounded in the faith in Jesus Christ.
The Church has always faced persecutions from without. For some reason there are people who simply can't stand the mention of Jesus Christ, His Gospel, and His people. And the Church has always had people who rebelled from within. Such people would claim that Church's teaching, which is the same thing as Christ's teaching, is somehow incomplete, obsolete, or simply wrong. They would propose their own "updated" teachings.
The Christian teaching is that Jesus Christ has revealed God to us as fully as we can possibly know Him and as fully as we need to know Him. The most important of His teachings were written down in the Gospel accounts and the Epistles (what we call today the New Testament). Everything else He taught, has been preserved and passed down in the Church, from the apostles to our time. To suggest that there is something lacking in what Christ is teaching us through His Church, is to suggest that His teaching is somehow lacking. An absolutely insane suggestion, unless one is crazy.
Anyway, stick "to God and to the message of His grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified."
Yours in the risen Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest