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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.