Conflict Reveals Important TruthsFr. Barnabas Powell
It seems we humans have an ingrained “love” of fighting, defending ourselves, and drama. We are really good at it. Just look at the conflicts that are raging today in our world. We seem to love to fight, and that, in itself, should be a sign of deep brokenness in us. Our impulse to fight, to demand our rights, to “get even” and “settle the score” all reveal a wound in humanity that must be addressed and healed. All you have to do is spend 5 minutes on certain social media to discover some would rather “fight” than make peace.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a time to “fight” and defend the Faith; to witness to the fullness of Faith and exhort others to hold to the “traditions” of our Faith. But HOW you fight reveals WHO you are! And immaturity always shows up during conflicts! But maturity does too and that’s the lesson we have to learn in conflict.
A wise man once taught me that conflict is necessary if a community is going to grow and be strong. This is because conflict reveals people’s true intentions, and uncovers where hearts need to be healed. So, avoiding conflict isn’t good, but handling conflict badly isn’t good either. That always leads to division instead of healing. Handling conflict well is the key to community and to peace!
Look at our lesson today in Acts 6:1-7:
“IN THOSE DAYS, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, “it is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochoros, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaos, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them. And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.”
So, the crux of the dispute was between the Hellenized Jews and the “native villager” Jews from Jerusalem. It seems that while all the widows were “equal” in this new community of the Church, some were more “equal” than others. And the danger to the community was growing because of this inequity to the point that it got the Apostles’ attention.
There is great wisdom in how the Apostles dealt with this conflict and their wisdom should be applied to our day as well.
First, the Apostles Understood their Priorities. It is a waste of resources when we encumber our leaders with duties that we should be taking care of in our parishes. The purpose the Apostles understood was their first priority was to obey the command of the Lord to them to go and make disciples through preaching (declaring) the Word of God. To take them off this necessary and vital task to make sure all the widows were cared for was to threaten the community. It is never in the best interest of the community to cause our leaders to have to come off their calling to do what we should all be doing. Setting our leaders free to be who they are for us and to us is ultimately for our benefit!
Next, the Apostles Saw their Purpose. The apostles understood that one of their tasks to keep the Church healthy was the recognition of the gifts of others that should be active in the community. Inactive parishioners mean the parish is missing those particular gifts and abilities and that impoverishes us all. So, the Apostles called the people to purposeful participation in the community, and thus our Faith was blessed with the ministry of Deacons! The men named were the first deacons in the Church!
Finally, the Apostles Acted on their Plan. The Apostles blessed these newly ordained deacons to serve the Church, and by doing so, they acted as true fathers in the community by enabling the community to be healthy and not encumbered with the immature bickering that always leads to a weak and unproductive parish. Empowering the vast resources of the people of our parishes is absolutely vital to the full witness of the Kingdom of God in our local parishes. And look at the results of this wise dealing with conflict! More people found the Faith and the Word of God “increased!” Isn’t that what we want?
Sts. Prochoros, Nicanor, Timon, & Parmenas were all part of those chosen by the Apostles to deal with the conflict over the way the Church was ministering to the widows in the community. All of them went on to serve the Church in significant ways. St. Prochoros was made bishop of Nicomedia and died in peace having been a faithful shepherd of the people. St. Nicanor was stoned to death in Jerusalem for his Faith. St. Timon became the bishop of a missionary area called Bostra in Arabia and was martyred by fire by the pagans of the area. And St. Parmenas died in peace in Jerusalem before the end of the first century. All of these men were called “Equal to the Apostles” because they matured in their Faith to the point that external conflict did not disturb or dismiss the inner peace they held in their hearts. They learned how to handle conflict, some even to the point of their physical death, well and faithful to the end.
Today, how are you handling the inevitable conflicts in your everyday life? Does how you handle conflict reveal a strength or weakness in you? Are you willing to learn from these revelations about yourself, or are you ignoring this wisdom to deflect blame and assign guilt? The wise in the Faith knows how to hold their peace, and that doesn’t just mean their silence. It means that when you learn to confront conflict well, you will start living a Normal Orthodox Life!
P.S. By faith you were shown forth as the Word’s hallowed deacons, His venerable eye-witnesses, and chosen vessels, Nicanor and Prochoros, glorious Timon and Parmenas; hence we celebrate today your sacred memorial, and with joy of heart, we keep the feast now in gladness, whereon we all call you blessed. By your prayers, intercede with Christ to save our souls!