What happened to the apostles after the Book of Acts?
I am with the Antiochian Archdiocesis – which is still connected to the church in Syria – in Damascus where “they were first called Christians”.
The church in Antioch was founded by Peter, who was likely bishop there for 8 years.
Some of you may know of, or possibly have read the writings of Ignatius of Antioch (if you haven’t, you should. They are short and well worth your time). He was the 3rd bishop of Antioch, possibly consecrated by Peter. He was a student of St. John the Apostle, and produced some of the earliest Christian writings, dying in Rome around 100AD. His teachings about Christ, bishops and the eucharist are the same as our faith today. Hopefully they should be the same, as we are the same church.
The Early Church had five main centers:
(which in the book of Acts is associated with Peter and James)
- Antioch: which I have already mentioned.
- Alexandria in Egypt: founded by Mark
and associated later with Antanasius, known for his writings, both the Life of St. Anthony and On the Incarnation.
- Constantinople: founded by Andrew
, and associated with St. John Chrysostom.
- (And) Rome:
which you are most likely to be familiar with. Founded by Peter & Paul. Gregory the Great was known for his missionary work, and the Gregorian Chant.
Irenaeus of Leyons – in his argument against the Gnostics, said that “the truth of the church is the unity of the faith in diversity of locations”. These independent churches were collegial; sharing a common faith and coming together to resolve disputes for almost 1000 years.
The faith was not limited to just these churches, but early on spread throughout, and beyond the Roman Empire:
- Aristobulus (whom Paul mentions in Romans 16:10), he may have been the brother of Barnabus, a Jewish Cypriot; was first biship of Britain in Glastonbury
- Thomas goes to India (read the Gospel of Thomas. It is not scripture, and suffers from possible Gnostic influences, but it gives wonderful insight into this period of time).
- The Etheopian eunich ( Book of Acts) takes the faith home. Why is he in Jerusalem? Because the Queen of Sheba (at the time of Solomon) had already taken the faith to Etheopia, and he had returned to worship.
- St Andrew ends up being martyred in Dacia. After the Roman armies withdraw in 271 and Christians were free from threat of Roman pagan persecution, the faith flourished. But they still identified themselves as “Roman” and so called the country Romania.
- And it continues: St. Nina 297-338 is considered the “enlightener of Georgia (not the peach state)” and as a woman is called “Equal to the Apostles” (a very interesting title).
This is all pre-Constantine, who as Emperor of Rome in 325 calls the Council of Nicea, from which we have the Nicean Creed, and which is still recited in every Eastern Liturgy. Historically, this is late, the church is already organized and worshiping, yet the books of the Bible are still up for some debate.
Besides the Eccumenical Councils, there are other of a more local issues. Council of Carthage (in modern Tunisia, next door to Lybia) in 397 we finally get a canon of scripture we recognize: it is becoming clear, but it is still not an absolute list. But the lack of a definitive list is not a significant concern because the Church is led by the Holy Spirit and guided by worship – which embodies the faith. Orthodox do not consider themselves to be a ‘Bible based Church’, one bumper sticker reads ‘We are the Church that gave you the Bible’.
Look on the Urbana website and you have a biography of (St.) Patrick (mid to late 5th century), who was not just a missionary, but also a bishop in Ireland. You will find that he has a more Eastern influence than Western as evidenced by the Irish stone crosses showing Sts. Antony and Paul – monks of the Egyptian desert
(the biography written by Athanasius). Not till 664 at the Synod of Whitbey that the British Isles come under a more Western liturgical influence (via some misunderstandings of Gregory the Great). These people are not as isolated as we often assume; there is evidence that pigments in the Irish Book of Kells came from Afghanistan. And they are not sitting still, Brendan the Navigator is making pastoral voyages to Iceland and Newfoundland, and there is evidence of the Church in America around this time. There are Irish runes in West Virginia mentioning Easter Liturgy (sorry Columbus, you are about 1000 years late).
Sts. Cyril & Methody, brothers born in Thessalonika (Greece), were sent from Constantinople to the Arabs, then in 862 they are sent to the Slavs – wonderful examples of missionary practices, creating written languages so they can translate scripture and worship books. Through them, Prince Vladimir establishes the Slavic (Russian) Church.
This was a diverse, but unified Church till 1054 – half way to modern times. It was not a perfect unity; Non-Calcadonian churches (Syriac, Coptic) have separated, but
they are on the fringes of the Roman Empire; the “world” is still basically of one faith.
The Roman Empire (as they called themselves – what in modern times has been termed the Byzintine Empire) lasted till 1453. Remnants still remain, like the “Eccumenical” Patriarch in Istanbull/Constantinople.
Russia takes up this missionary vision, and in 1790 sends missionaries to Alaska, another, modern, fascinating study of missionary practices.
- The Church defended the natives (many of whom are Russian citizens as a result of their baptism) against the oppression of Baranov and the heads of Russian Fur Trading Company
- They are again translating scripture and the liturgy into native languages (and used native music!).
- Education – Alaska is more literate than European Russia at the time of its purchase by the US.
- There is concern for the environment: quotas are placed on otter hunting, which were removed when the US took over.
And unfortunately, Orthodox – Protestant tensions are not new. The US government followed the “Pennsylvania Plan” in fear of Indian uprisings in Alaska, by taking native children from villages and putting them in all English missionary schools to suppress native culture (the Orthodox faith).
Which brings us to modern times:
- Russia still predominately Orthodox (after 70 years of communism). When communism fell there were 2,000 churches, now there are over 20,000 – some church growth.
- Egypt still 10% Orthodox, with historic monasteries such as St Catherine’s on Mt. Siani and St. Anthony’s.
- Speaking of muslim missions, St. Catherine’s gave shelter to Mohammed at one time, and has a document of protection issues by him.
- (And then there is) Haile Selassei (a wonderful name which means “Power of the Trinity”) who dies in 1975 – as the last Christian emperor, of Etheopia.
Do you see the pattern? One Church with common faith, in a diversity of cultures, coordinated by one Spirit.