The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Thursday, May 12: St John Chrysostom’s Homily 19 on Acts 8:26-40

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 11, 2011

The following is excerpted from St John Chrysostom’s 19th homily on Acts of Apostles.

It seems to me, this1 (Philip) was one of the seven; for from Jerusalem he would not have gone southwards, but to the north; but from Samaria it was “towards the south. The same is desert:” so that there is no fear of an attack from the Jews. And he did not ask, Wherefore? but “arose and went. And, behold,” it says, “a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet.” (v. 27, 28). High encomiums for the man, that he, residing in Ethiopia and beset with so much business, and when there was no festival going on, and living in that superstitious city, came “to Jerusalem for to worship.” Great also is his studiousness, that even “sitting in his chariot he read.2 And,” it says, “the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him reading the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me?” (v. 29–31). Observe again his piety; that though he did not understand, he read, and then after reading, examines. “And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. The place of the Scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened He not His mouth: in His humiliation His judgment was taken away: and who shall declare His generation? for His life is taken from the earth. And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same Scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.” (v. 32–35). Observe how it is Providentially ordered. First he reads and does not understand; then he reads the very text in which was the Passion and the Resurrection and the Gift. “And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” (v. 36). Mc the eager desire, mark3 the exact knowledge. “And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.” (v. 38, 39). But why did the Spirit of the Lord bear him away? (Hereby) the occurrence was shown to be more wonderful. Even then, the eunuch did not know him. Consequently this was, done, that Philip might afterwards be a subject of wonder to him.4 “For,” it says, “he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.” (v. 40). This (Philip, therefore) was one of the seven; for there in fact he is afterwards found at Caesarea. It was well and expedient therefore that the Spirit caught Philip away; else the eunuch would have desired to go with him,5 and Philip would have grieved him by declining to comply with his request, the time being not yet come. (a) But6 at the same time here was an encouraging assurance for them that they shall also prevail over the heathen: for7 indeed the high character (to axiopiston) of the (first) believers was enough to move them. If however the eunuch had stayed there, what fault could have been found? [But he knew him not]: for this is why it says, “he went on his way rejoicing:” so that had he known him, he would not have been (so) delighted.

“And the Angel of the Lord,” etc. (Recapitulation, 5,26). (b) See Angels assisting the preaching, and not themselves preaching, but calling these (to the work), But the wonderful nature of the occurrence is shown also by this: that what of old was rare, and hardly done, here takes place with ease,8 and see with what frequency! (c) “An eunuch,” it says, “a man of great authority, under Candace, queen of the Ethiopians.”9 (v. 27). For there women bore rule of old, and this was the law among them. Philip did not yet know for whose sake he had come into the desert: (d) but10 what was there to hinder his learning all (these particulars) accurately, while in the chariot? “Was reading the prophet Esaias.” (v. 28). For the road was desert, and there was no display in the matter. Observe also at what time: in the most violent heat (of the day). (e) “And the Spirit said unto him.” (v. 29). Not now the Angel11 but the Spirit urges him. Why is this? “Then,” the vision took place, in grosser form, through the Angel, for this is for them that are more of the body, but the Spirit is for the more spiritual. And how did He speak to him? Of course, suggested it to him. Why does not the Angel appear to the other, and bring him to Philip? Because it is likely he would not have been persuaded, but rather terrified. Observe the wisdom of Philip: he did not accuse him, not say, “I know these things exactly:” did not pay court to him, and say, “Blessed art thou that readest.” But mark his speech, how far it is from harshness alike and from adulation; the speech rather of a kind and friendly man. “Understandest thou what thou readest?” (v. 30). For it was needful that he should himself ask, himself have a longing desire. He plainly intimates, that he knows that the other knew nothing: and says, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” at the same time he shows him that great was the treasure that lay therein. It tells well also, that the eunuch looked not to the outward appearance (schma) (of the man), said not, “Who art thou?” did not chide, not give himself airs, not say that he did know. On the contrary, he confesses his ignorance: wherefore also he learns. He shows his hurt to the physician: sees at a glance, that he both knows the matter, and is willing to teach. Look12 how free he is from haughtiness; the outward appearance announced nothing splendid. So desirous was he of learning, and gave heed to his words; and that saying, “He that seeketh, findeth,” (Mt 7:8). was fulfilled in him. “And,” it says, “he besought Philip, that he would come up and sit with him.” (v. 31). Do you mark the eagerness, the longing desire? But should any say he ought to have waited for Philip (to speak), (the answer is), he does not know what is the matter: he could not in the least tell what the other was going to say to him, but supposed merely that he was about to receive some (lesson of) prophecy. And moreover, this was more respectful, that he did not draw him into his chariot, but besought him. “And Philip,” we have read, “ran to him, and heard him reading;” even the fact of his running, showed13 that he wished to say (something). “And the place,” it says, “of the Scripture which he read was this: As a sheep He was led to the slaughter.”14 (v. 32). And this circumstance, also, is a token of his elevated mind, (filosofia”) that he had in hand this prophet, who is more sublime than all others. Philip does not relate matters to him just as it might happen, but quietly: nay, does not say anything until he is questioned. Both in the former instance he prayed him, and so he does now, saying, “I pray thee of whom speaketh the prophet this?” That15 he should at all know either that the Prophets speak in different ways about different persons, or that they speak of themselves in another person—the question betokens a very thoughtful mind.16 Let us be put to shame, both poor and rich, by this eunuch. Then, it says, “they came to a certain water, and he said, Lo, here is water.” (v. 36). Again, of his own accord he requests, saying, “What doth hinder me to be baptized?” And see again his modesty: he does not say, Baptize me, neither does he hold his peace; but he utters somewhat midway betwixt strong desire and reverent fear, saying, “What doth hinder me?” Do you observe that he has the doctrines (of faith) perfect? For indeed the Prophet had the whole, Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, Ascension, Judgment to come. And if he shows exceeding earnestness of desire, do not marvel. Be ashamed, all ye as many as are unbaptized. “And,” it says, “he commanded the chariot to stand still.” (v. 38). He spoke, and gave the order at the same moment, before hearing (Philip’s answer). “And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip;” (v. 39) in order that the occurrence might be shown to be of God; that he might not consider it to be merely man. “And he went,” it says, “on his way rejoicing.” (P. 121, note 2). This hints, that he would have been grieved had he known: for the greatness of his joy, having had the Spirit also vouchsafed to him, he did not even see things present—“But Philip was found at Azotus.” (v. 40). Great was the gain to Philip also:—that which he heard concerning the Prophets, concerning Habakkuk, concerning Ezekiel, and the rest, he saw done in his own person. (BDan 14:36 Ezek 3:12). Thence it appears that he went a long distance, seeing he “was found at Azotus.” (The Spirit) set him there, where he was thenceforth to preach: “And passing through, he preached in all the cities, until he came to Caesarea.”

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4 Responses to “Thursday, May 12: St John Chrysostom’s Homily 19 on Acts 8:26-40”

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