IN THOSE DAYS, the disciples having been scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen, traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they proclaimed the word to no one except the Jews. But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with a sincere heart, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord. Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought Saul to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.” Then the disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the brethren living in Judea. This they did, sending it to the presbyters by Barnabas and Saul.
Christ is risen!
There are two aspects of the above reading that I would like to focus on: "In Antioch the disciples were first called 'Christians'" and the relief that was sent "to the brethren living in Judea."
According to some historical sources, the people living in Antioch were famous for making up nicknames for different groups of people. These nicknames were especially made up for political groups, for people following different political figures. So it is possible that Antiochians called the followers of Christ "Christians" in this pejorative fashion, even though Christ was not a political figure.
Other, just as valid, possibilities for this nickname by the Antiochians was to refer to the disciples in a diminutive way, "Christians" can mean "little Christs." In this case it would be interesting to know what made disciples "little Christs"? Or, the word "Christ" itself means "the Anointed One," and could refer to the baptism, since at baptism we are anointed.
Whatever may be the case for the Antiochians coming up with this name, the disciples of Christ have been known as Christians for almost 2,000 years now.
The second part of emphasis for today's reflection is the relief that each of the disciples, according to their ability, sent to the brethren in Judea. As the beginning of the reading says, when traveling and proclaiming Christ, the disciples first went to the Jews, to their own people. There were Jews all over the Roman Empire. However, those living in diaspora were better off than those in Jerusalem, and that included the newly formed Christian communities. On top of that, in Judea, of the land that was not owned by Rome, around 70% of it was owned by the high priests and other religious authority. Therefore, the brethren from outside of Judea sent financial help to their brethren in Judea.
This is noteworthy because already here, roughly in 40-50 AD, we see that all Christians had an understanding that they are part of one family, one Church. In other words, Christians in Antioch and Christians in Jerusalem did not think of themselves as two churches in two different geographical locations, but as one Church. They were not congregationalists, there was not division into ethnic churches, into poor and rich churches, into good and bad churches. There was one Church and all Christians were one family spread out everywhere.
This is true to our day. In a 10-mile radius from our church, there are something like 20 Orthodox churches. While we may be individual communities, with our own peculiar local customs and backgrounds, yet we remain one Church, one family, brothers and sisters.
Yours in the risen Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest