An excerpt from The Acts of the Apostles by Archbishop Averky (Taushev)
In this excerpt, the editorial staff of Orthodox Life offers you a glimpse into a newly published volume in the series Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament by Archbishop Averky (Taushev). This work stands apart in an intellectual climate that prizes innovation over tradition, headlines over the Truth, and intellectualism over divine revelation. Writing in the tradition of biblical exegetes, such as St John Chrysostom, Blessed Theophylact of Bulgaria, and St Theophan the Recluse, the work of Archbishop Averky (Taushev) provides a commentary that is firmly grounded in the teaching of the Church, manifested in its liturgical hymnography and the works of the Holy Fathers. Here, he explicates the strength of faith exhibited by the Apostle Peter when brought before the Sanhedrin for questioning.
Archbishop Averky discusses the apostles’ trial before the Sanhedrin who then prohibited them from preaching in the name of Jesus Christ.
These events from the commentary lead into the excerpt:
Apostle Peter’s miraculous healing of the man lame from birth (3:1–11).
St Peter’s sermon to the crowd that just witnessed the healing and his call to repentance (3:12–26).
The Imprisonment of the Apostles Peter and John as a reaction by the Sanhedrin to their preaching.
The consequences of Peter’s sermon: five thousand are converted to Christ (4:1–4).
Archbishop Averky writes:
Acts Chapter Four
Questioning by the Sanhedrin, Prohibition to Preach in the Name of Jesus. The Apostles Are Released (4:5–22).
On the next day, the meeting of the Sanhedrin took place. This was obviously a formal and full session of the Sanhedrin, as this judgment over the apostles was considered very important. Among them was the retired High Priest Annas as well as Caiaphas, who had condemned Jesus Christ to death. Also present were the heretofore-unknown (in the Gospel narrative) John and Alexander, members of the high priest’s family, who most likely had significant authority in the Sanhedrin at the time, being related to the high priest. Having placed the accused “in the midst,” as was customary (see John 8:3), they asked, “By what power or by what name have you done this?”
The members of the Sanhedrin, of course, knew that the apostles performed the miracle by the Name of Jesus Christ, but they wanted the apostles to incriminate themselves in heresy, blasphemy, or even seditious intentions, or perhaps they hoped that the apostles would simply recant in fear.
“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them …” He was filled with the Holy Spirit to defend the just cause, as Jesus Christ promised to His disciples before (see Matt 10:19–20). St Peter answered the question with unique power, directness, and boldness. Still giving respect to the lawful authority—even though it was unworthy—he began with the reverential address to the “rulers of the people and elders of Israel.” His subsequent word choice—“If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man”—trenchantly and unmistakably demonstrated the unfairness of the judgment to which the apostles were subjected. Indeed, they showed mercy to an unfortunate person: was this a reason to bring them before a tribunal? At the same time, the apostle triumphantly and boldly witnessed before them all that the miracle indeed did happen and moreover was performed “by the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.”
Then, citing the same prophecy that the Lord used concerning Himself, that is, Psalm 117:22 in Matthew 21:42, the apostle called the Lord Jesus Christ “the stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.” Then he added, “Nor is there salvation in any other.” He meant that Jesus, Whom they crucified, became the cornerstone of the new edifice of the kingdom of God on earth, and only by His Name can anyone attain salvation, because He alone is the Redeemer of mankind from sin, the curse, and death.
These words made such a strong impression on the members of the Sanhedrin that they did not know how to judge the apostles. They were amazed first of all by the unusual boldness of Peter’s confession of Christ before the whole Sanhedrin. Effectively, he had switched roles with them, no longer the accused but the accuser, charging them with the death of Christ. They wondered at his boldness and his oratory, seeing that both he and John were “uneducated and untrained men.” They recognized in them the disciples of Christ and were assured that they were continuing the work of Jesus, which was so abhorrent to them. At the same time, the presence of the healed man placed a seal of silence on their lips. They could say nothing to contradict the reality of the miracle performed by the apostles.
We must never go against God’s law... merely to curry favor with earthly rulers.
Having been placed in this difficult position, they sent out the apostles to confer among themselves about the best way of dealing with these unpleasant miracle-workers. They were seized with indecision, evidently as a result of everything that had occurred recently, beginning with the resurrection of Christ. It is possible that among them were people like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, and for that reason their decision was quite mild: all they did was forbid the apostles to “speak at all [or] teach in the name of Jesus.”
Clearly, this was the decision of people much disconcerted by circumstances. “O the folly!” St John Chrysostom comments on this, and continues:
Persuaded that He was risen, and having received this proof of it, they expected that He whom death could not hold, could be cast into the shade by their machinations. What can match the folly of this! Such is the nature of wickedness: it has no eyes for anything, but on all occasions it is thrown into perturbation.1St John Chrysostom, Homilies on Acts 10.2; NPNF vol. 11, p. 65–66.
With amazing courage and boldness, the apostles both answered, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.” Moreover, they openly said that they could not stop preaching about events to which they were eyewitnesses. The Sanhedrin’s fear of the people further prevented them from harming the apostles, and Peter and John were set free. Here we see the obvious moral victory of the apostles, but also the threatening signs of imminent persecution for their faith, which was to befall the apostles themselves and the first generation of Christians. The apostles’ answer to the Sanhedrin gives us a clear indication of how to act when earthly powers require us to do something contrary to the divine law and our conscience: we must never go against God’s law or the guidance of our conscience merely to curry favor with earthly rulers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Archbishop Averky (Taushev) (1906–1976) was the fourth abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York. Born in Imperial Russia before the Bolshevik revolution, he went on to become one of the leading voices and teachers of the Russian Orthodox Church, which he served in both Bulgaria and the USA. Widely regarded for consistently upholding traditional Christian teaching and exposition of the New Testament, he is best known for his commentary on the Book of Revelation, The Apocalypse: In the Teaching of Ancient Christianity.