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May 13, 2009 + History of the Missionary Growth of the Church (Part 1)

By Fr. Daniel Griffith
From The Word, February 1979
Click here to read Part 2
Click here to read part 3

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

These are the parting words to His Apostles of our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ just before His ascension in glory to the right hand of the Father. It is interesting that our Lord did not make His final words words of comfort but, rather, a summons to action. However, this great commission to proclaim the Gospel awaited one further divine action, which was to occur on the day of Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit. The Acts of the Apostles says that on that day, as a result of the preaching of St. Peter, “So those who received his words were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (2:41)

Initially the mission of the Church confined itself mainly to Palestine and was limited exclusively to the Jews. The reason for this is that the Jews, even those who had heard and responded to the Gospel, were accustomed to see themselves as God’s chosen people, not only in an explicit sense, but in an exclusive one. It would take a few years before the infant Church could come to terms with the fact that she herself was the means by which the prophecy of Joel would be fulfilled, “And it shall come to pass afterwards, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” (Joel 2:28)

The first tentative steps toward a fuller expansion of the missionary field occurred with the proclamation of the Gospel to the Samaritans by St. Philip the Deacon and with the imparting to them of the Holy Spirit by Saints Peter and John (Acts 8). Then, as if the Spirit, once loosed, could not be contained, there followed in rapid succession the conversion and baptism of two notable pagans, the Ethiopian eunuch and a prominent Roman centurion Cornelius and his entire household. Yet, the real explosion of the Gospel upon the Gentile world awaited the conversion, in 36 AD, of one man, Saul, also known as Paul, formerly the most virulent enemy of the infant Church. Within a few years of his conversion, he began his enthusiastic missions among the Gentiles, using Antioch as his base. It was at the Council of Jerusalem in 52 (Acts 15) that the Church lifted all the remaining barriers (circumcision and the rest of the Mosaic Law) to the conversion of the Gentiles. Thereafter, the missions spread rapidly throughout the Mediterranean world. In this work of evangelization, the Apostles and Evangelists participated actively: Peter in Rome; Andrew in Greece, Asia Minor, and Southern Russia; Thomas in India; Mark the Evangelist in Egypt; Barnabas in Cyprus; etc.

It was in 64 that the emperor Nero began his persecution of the Christians, the holy Apostles Peter and Paul being among the first victims. Until the time of Constantine, the Christian Church was considered an illegal religious organization. We should not think that the Church was always and everywhere subject to harsh and cruel persecution. There were periods of considerable freedom and prosperity for the Church during these years. It is even rumored that one of the emperors, Philip the Arabian (244-49), was a Christian. Nevertheless, the Church’s illegal status always hung over her head like the sword of Damocles, ready to be invoked by the emperor, or even some over-zealous local official, or to be the means whereby some spiteful neighbor could revenge himself. Under such tenuous conditions the Church was unable, other than in rather limited circumstances, to proclaim her message openly and publicly. She had, therefore, to rely on her life as a witness. Throughout these centuries, two phrases echoed from the lips of the pagan world and led to the conversion of many: “See how the Christians love one another” and “See how the Christians face death.” We should remember that the word martyr really means witness. The courageous and zealous witness, the steadfastness in the love of Christ and His Church, of many a Christian martyr, be he cleric, layman, woman, or child, led to the conversion of thousands. For example, according to tradition, the martyrdom of St. George saw 2000 soldiers, St. Alexandra (wife of the emperor Diocletian), and countless others added to the faith.

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St. Glyceria, May 13

Troparion of St. Glyceria, Tone 3

Let us honour Christ's fair virgin who excelled in the struggle of contest. She trampled on the serpent although she was weak in the flesh. For love of Christ she despised her torments and was therefore glorified by God. Let us cry to her: Rejoice, O blessed Glyceria.

Kontakion of St. Glyceria, Tone 3

Through love for Mary the Virgin Mother of God thou didst preserve thy virginity, O Glyceria. Thou didst surrender thy heart to Christ thy God and bravely fight till death. Therefore He has crowned thee with a double crown.