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Acts of the Apostles

The book of the Acts of the Apos­tles was writ­ten by St Luke toward the end of the first cen­tu­ry, as the sec­ond part of his his­to­ry for Theophilus about Christ and His Church. The book begins with an account of the Lord’s ascen­sion and the elec­tion of Matthias to take the place of Judas as a mem­ber of the twelve apos­tles. Then fol­lows the record of the events of the day of Pen­te­cost when the promised Holy Spir­it came upon the dis­ci­ples of Christ empow­er­ing them to preach the gospel of new life in the res­ur­rect­ed Sav­ior to the peo­ple of Jerusalem.

The first chap­ters of the book tell the sto­ry of the first days of the Church in Jerusalem and pro­vide us with a vivid pic­ture of the prim­i­tive Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty being built up through the work of the apos­tles. It tells of the peo­ple being bap­tized and endowed with the gift of the Holy Spir­it through repen­tance and faith in Christ, and con­tin­u­ing stead­fast in their devo­tion “to the apos­tles’ doc­trine and fel­low­ship (com­mu­nion), to the break­ing of the bread and the prayers” (2:42).

Fol­low­ing the descrip­tion of the mar­tyr­dom of the dea­con Stephen, the first to give his life for Christ, Acts tells of the con­ver­sion of the per­se­cu­tor Saul into the zeal­ous apos­tle Paul, and records the events by which the first gen­tiles were brought into the Church by the direct action of God. There then fol­lows an account of the first mis­sion­ary activ­i­ties of Saints Paul and Barn­abas, and the famous fif­teenth chap­ter in which the first coun­cil of the Church in Jerusalem is described, the coun­cil which estab­lished the con­di­tions under which the gen­tiles could enter the Church rel­a­tive to the Mosa­ic law which all of the Jew­ish Chris­tians were then keeping.

The final half of the book describes the mis­sion­ary activ­i­ties of the apos­tle Paul through Syr­ia and Cili­cia, into Mace­do­nia and Greece and back again through Eph­esus to Jerusalem. It then gives the account of Saint Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem, and his defense before the author­i­ties there. The book ends with the descrip­tion of Saint Paul’s jour­ney to Rome for tri­al, clos­ing with the infor­ma­tion that “he lived there two whole years… preach­ing the King­dom of God and teach­ing about the Lord quite open­ly and unhin­dered” to those who came to him in his house of arrest (28:30).

The book of the Acts of the Apos­tles forms the apos­tolic lec­tionary of the Church’s Litur­gy dur­ing the time from East­er to Pen­te­cost. Selec­tions from it are also read at oth­er feasts of the Church, e.g., St. Stephen’s Day. It is also the cus­tom of the Church to read the book of Acts over the tomb of Christ on Good Fri­day, and over the body of a deceased priest at the wake pri­or to his burial.