The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace. It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers. (Acts 9:31)
What Catholic today does not desire a united and peaceful Church? If he does not desire it, he should. After all, Jesus desired it (Jn 14:27 & Jn 17:22-23). In today’s first reading for this 5th Sunday in Easter we get a true sense of the peace and unity of the early Church; for it “was at peace”, “built up in the fear of the Lord”, and consoled by the Holy Spirit. Yet, how can peace arise from fear and result in consolation?
First of all peace is most basically the tranquility of order. If we are speaking of a church, then peace is manifested as the tranquility of a well-ordered assembly. If we are speaking of a person, then peace arises as the tranquility of a well-ordered soul. In the early Church “throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria” the new Christians were united in thought, will, and prayer and were being well-ordered by common belief and trustworthy leadership. They were at peace.
Further, the earliest Christians were built up into a body or a legion walking side-by-side in the fear of the Lord. That is, they preferred to adhere to the teachings of the Apostles (Acts 2:42) fearing to offend the loving hand of God, rather than binding themselves to the world in order to avoid suffering the brutal hand of man. The first Christians no longer sought consolation in the world, but in the Spirit of God. They pursued the approval of God, not the approval of the state or the prevailing culture (Acts 5:29) – and they “grew in numbers”.
This leads us to the question: when will we, as Church, learn that it is only by aligning ourselves with God, rather than with earthly powers, that we will grow, if not in numbers, at least in faith, unity, and peace?
In order to assist us to answer this question we have placed on our bulletin cover a work by the Russian Realist, Vasily Perov, entitled, First Christians in Kiev (1880). Perov was a successful Academic painter until he joined a group of painters which resisted the Imperial Academy and its neoclassical constraint (e.g. against painting the gritty aspects of peasant life).
Like the early Christian community in Judea, the early church in Kiev was planted amidst a hostile pagan state. Thus, in Perov’s painting we see prayers, probably Holy Mass, being celebrated in stealth at night. The priest on his knees appears to be celebrating the liturgy while young worshipers sing hymns of praise. Not seen in our representation is a praying warrior dressed in chainmail indicating a church in which all stations of life are united in peace. The full view of this work shows these first Rus Christians huddled into a cave. There is something attractive in this isolation that gathers them together in faith. No doubt, the Spirit will move them to go out into the world to evangelize. However the Spirit will also urge them back to their spiritual shelter where their common faith and unity must not be overcome by the encroaching wiles of a wayward world.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services