On the 6th Sunday after Pascha we proclaim a scripture lesson from Acts 16, part of which reads:
But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and every one’s fetters were unfastened.
When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out and
the jailer said, “Men, what must I do to be saved?”
And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their wounds, and he was baptized at once, with all his family. (Acts 16:25-33)
At several points in Scripture as well as in the later writings of the saints of the church we find very succinct statements about what is expected of Christians. These distilled statements are very short and to the point. So we see above in the Acts of the Apostles that St. Paul summarizes all that is required is to believe in the Lord Jesus. He makes no further claim about morality, piety, behavior or beliefs. No Nicene Creed insistence on the Trinity. No demands to read the entirety of the Bible or attend any prayer services. This is of course the limit of having summary statements, but on the other hand such statements focus on what is absolutely essential.
Even when the Apostles met together to consider what should be expected of Gentile converts to Christianity, they require nothing more than this:
“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.” (Acts 15:28-29)
An incredibly simple set of moral and pious demands! Especially from a group of men that were recently wondering whether Gentiles could become Christians at all and who struggled with how much of the Torah did Gentile converts to Christianity have to observe.
Of course through the many centuries of Christianity hundreds of rules, rubrics, regulations, canon law and tradition have been laid upon Christians, all considered mandatory. That is why it is so important for us each year to celebrate Pascha and to proclaim
“Christ is risen!”
That is the primary and foundational message of Orthodoxy, everything else has been added to it. Many rules and expectations have been important for Church order, but sometimes people confuse the issue and think all the rules are the proclamation and they forget it is the relationship to Christ and His Father and the Holy Spirit which are at the heart of everything we say.
In the 4th Century, we find one of the simple summations of what is required of Christians.
“When Abba Benjamin was dying he said to his sons: ‘Do these things an you will be able to be saved:
pray without ceasing;
in everything give thanks”’
[1 Thess. 5.16-187].”
(Benjamin in Give me a Word: The Alphabetical Sayings of the Desert Fathers, p 82)
All the rules need at times to be summarized as briefly as possible so that we remember what is essential. Our Lord Jesus Himself did this when asked about what the greatest of the commandments might be.
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)