Conversion of Cornelius the Centurion – Acts 10:1-43
Things are not always as they seem.
How to preach to those outside the church, Staretz Silouan the Athonite
4th Monday of Pascha
The Holy Cornelius the Centurion is commemorated Sept 13 (9/26 on the civil calendar). He became a bishop (by the Apostle Peter, whom he traveled and preached with), and a martyr. His life is available in the Menologion program (recommended, if you have a PC), or the Prologue.
The conversion of Cornelius is told in the entire 10th chapter of Acts, serialized on the 4th Monday, Tuesday and Thursday of Pascha (skipping Wednesday, since it is the important feast of Mid-Pentecost).
An important aspect of St Cornelius’ life, which we must take to heart is that he believed in the true faith before he was baptized, while appearances were that he was a pagan (since all Roman soldiers were de-facto pagans), and in any case, was certainly not circumcised, and therefore, a Gentile. .
Things are not always as they seem. People are rarely as they seem.
God will answer the prayers of anyone who seeks Him.
The Holy Apostle Peter had to be convinced by a startling vision to accept that Cornelius could become one of the household of faith. The vision of St Peter was meant specifically for a Jew, who followed the Law. After the resurrection, for a considerable time, the Apostles continued to observe the dietary and other laws. Peter was a good Jew. As such, and not understanding as of yet Lord’s frequent references to the calling of the Gentiles, he would in no way “defile himself”, by entering the home of a Gentile.
We must also recognize, not expecting startling visions, but instead being guided by our compassion and humility, that there is good in most people, and also belief. If it is not Orthodox belief, it is not perfect, but a heart that seeks God will find him. Of course, who among us can say that our faith is wholly Orthodox? Since faith is lived, and we are filled with passions and weaknesses, our personal faith is not pure.
One must be discerning concerning those outside the church. We should not go into a synagogue of Jews and pray with them, nor sing out in tongues in an Assembly of God service, but we must recognize that God can call anyone, from anywhere, if they are seeking Him. We had best not let our prejudices and pride get in the way!
In an absolutely incredible book, “St Silouan the Athonite”, Archimandrite Sophrony recalls a conversation in which St Silouan teaches quietly and firmly the proper approach to those outside the faith (such as Cornelius was when Peter received his vision):
Fr Silouan’s attitude towards those who differed from him was characterized by a sincere desire to see what was good in them, and to not offend them in anything they held sacred. He always reminded himself; he was utterly convinced that ‘salvation lies in Christ-like humility’, and in virtue of this humility he strove with his whole soul to interpret every man at his best. He found his way to the heart of everyone – to his capacity for loving Christ.
I remember a conversation he had with a certain Archimandrite who was engaged in missionary work. … The staretz asked him what sort of sermons he preached to the people … The Archimandrite … replied excitedly:
‘I tell them, your faith is all wrong, perverted. There is nothing right, and if you don’t repent, there will be no salvation for you’
The staretz heard him out, then asked,
‘Tell me Father Archimandrite, do they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, that He is the true God?’
‘Yes, that they do believe.’
‘And do they revere the Mother of God? ‘
‘Yes, but they are not properly taught about her. ‘
‘And what of the Saints?‘
‘Yes, they honor them, but since they have fallen away from the church, what saints can they have?’
‘Do they celebrate the Divine Office in their churches? Do they read the Gospels?’
‘Yes, they do have churches and services but if you were to compare their services with ours – how cold and lifeless they are!’
‘Father Archimandrite, people feel in their souls when they are doing the proper thing, believing in Jesus Christ revering the Mother of God and the Saints, whom they call upon in prayer, so if you condemn their faith they will not listen to you … ‘
‘But if you were to confirm that they were doing well to believe in God and honor the Mother of God and the Saints, that they are right to go to church, and say their prayers at home, read the Divine word, and so on; and then gently point out their mistakes and show them what they ought to amend, then they would listen to you and the Lord would rejoice over them. And in this way by God’s mercy, we shall all find salvation … God is love, and therefore the preaching of His word must always proceed from love. Then both preacher and listener will profit. But if you do nothing but condemn, the souls of the people will not heed you, and no good will come of it’
Note also the character of St Cornelius, a man with many responsibilities and difficulties, who feared God, gave alms and loved the true faith, no doubt at considerable personal risk. As always, when we read the scripture, we must make comparisons. He was not in the “household of faith” when he was initially doing these things. Do we give alms? Do we live piously? How can we do otherwise, when some who even do not have the true faith do things that are more pleasing to God than we?
4th Monday of Pascha: Acts 10:1-16 1 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, 2 A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. 3 He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. 4 And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. 5 And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: 6 He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do. 7 And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius was departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually; 8 And when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa. 9 On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: 10 And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, 11 And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending upon him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: 12 Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. 14 But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. 15 And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. 16 This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.
Not read in the lectionary: Acts 10:17-20 Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made enquiry for Simon's house, and stood before the gate, (18) And called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there. (19) While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee. (20) Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2010. St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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 Archimandrite Sophrony, “St Silouan the Athonite”. Pp 63-65