|Philip with the Ethiopian|
Menologion of St Basil, C11th
Acts 8 chronicles the early spread of the faith outside Jerusalem, spurred by those who fled Saul's persecution. It covers:
- the persecution of the Church in Jerusalem following the death of St Stephen, including by Saul (verses 1-4)
- the missionary work that spread as a result, including St Philip's mission to the Samarians (v 4-13);
- the visit to SS Peter and John (v14-25), who confirmed the newly baptised, and the encounter with Simon;
- the baptism of the eunuch by St Philip (verses 26-40).
The church in Jerusalem was much persecuted at this time, and all except the apostles were scattered about over the countryside of Judaea and Samaria. 2 Stephen was buried by devout men, who mourned greatly over him. 3 Saul, meanwhile, was making havoc of the church; he made his way into house after house, carrying men and women off and committing them to prison.4 Those who had been driven away spread the gospel as they went from place to place;Chrysostom (Homily 18): And now without scruple they had intercourse with Samaria, whereas it had been said to them, Go not into the way of the Gentiles and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not. Matthew 10:5 Except the Apostles, it says: they, in this way also, wishing to win the Jews—but not to leave the city—and to be the means of inspiring others with boldness...
The persecution, say you, gained strength. True, but at that very time to men possessed before (by a hostile power) it brought deliverance. For it planted the miracles like a stronghold, in the heart of the enemy's country.— Not even the death of Stephen quenched their rage, nay, increased it rather: it scattered wide the teachers, so that the greater became the discipleship.— And there was joy. And yet there had been great lamentation: true; but mark again the good— Of a long time was the malady, but this man brought them deliverance.
5 and Philip, who had gone down to one of the cities of Samaria, preached Christ there. 6 The multitude listened with general accord to what Philip said, as their own eyes and ears witnessed the miracles he did. 7 There were many possessed by unclean spirits, and these came out, crying aloud; 8 many, too, were healed of the palsy, and of lameness, 9 and there was great rejoicing in that city.And there was a man called Simon, who had been in the city before Philip came there, misleading the people of Samaria with sorcery, and pretending to have great powers, 10 so that high and low hung upon his words; This, they said, is an angel called the great angel of God. 11 Long misled by his sorceries, they continued to pay attention to him, 12 until Philip came and preached to them about God’s kingdom. Then they found faith and were baptized, men and women alike, in the name of Jesus Christ; 13 and Simon, who had found faith and been baptized with the rest, kept close to Philip’s side; he was astonished by the great miracles and signs he saw happening.Chrysostom: Observe another trial, this affair of Simon. Giving out, it says, that he was himself some great one. To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries. But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.
14 And now the apostles at Jerusalem, hearing that Samaria had received the word of God, sent Peter and John to visit them. 15 So these two came down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 who had not, as yet, come down on any of them; they had received nothing so far except baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus.17 Then the apostles began to lay their hands on them, so that the Holy Spirit was given them,Chrysostom: ...And (yet) great signs had been done: how then had they not received the Spirit? They had received the Spirit, namely, of remission of sins: but the Spirit of miracles they had not received. For as yet He was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. (v. 16, 17.)...
Why had not these received the Holy Ghost, when baptized? Either because Philip kept this honor for the Apostles; or, because he had not this gift (to impart); or, he was one of the Seven: which is rather to be said. Whence, I take it, this Philip was one of the Apostles. But observe; those went not forth: it was Providentially ordered that these should go forth and those be lacking, because of the Holy Ghost: for they had received power to work miracles, but not also to impart the Spirit to others: this was the prerogative of the Apostles. And observe (how they sent) the chief ones: not any others, but Peter [and John ].
18 and Simon, seeing that the Holy Spirit was granted through the imposition of the apostles’ hands, offered them money; 19 Let me too, he said, have such powers that when I lay my hands on anyone he will receive the Holy Spirit. Whereupon Peter said to him, 20 Take thy wealth with thee to perdition, thou who hast told thyself that God’s free gift can be bought with money. 21 There is no share, no part for thee in these doings; thy heart is not true in the sight of God. 22 Repent of this baseness of thine, and pray to God, in the hope of finding pardon for the thought which thy heart has conceived. 23 I see plainly that a bitter poison has taken hold of thee; thou art the bondsman of iniquity. 24 And Simon answered, Pray for me to the Lord, that none of this harm you have spoken of may fall upon me.25 So, when they had borne their full witness and preached the word of the Lord, they began their journey back to Jerusalem, carrying the gospel into many Samaritan villages.Chrysostom: For, to show that this was the case, and that it was the Spirit of miracles they had not received, observe how, having seen the result, Simon came and asked for this. And when Simon saw that through laying on of the Apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. (v. 18, 19.)...And how came he to baptize Simon also? Just as Christ chose Judas.— And beholding the signs which he did, forasmuch as the others did not receive the (power of working) signs, he dared not ask for it.
How was it then that they did not strike him dead, as they did Ananias and Sapphira? Because even in the old times, he that gathered sticks (on the sabbath-day) was put to death as a warning to others (Numbers 15:32) and in no other instance did any suffer the same fate. So too on the present occasion, Peter said to him, Your money perish, because you have imagined that the gift of God is to be purchased with money....
Why do they go there again where was the tyranny of the bad, where were those most bent upon killing them? Just as generals do in wars, they occupy that part of the scene of war which is most distressed. And preached the Gospel in many villages of the Samaritans. Observe them again, how they do not (προηγουμένως) of set purpose come to Samaria, but driven by stress of persecution, just as it was in the case of Christ; and how when the Apostles go there, it is to men now believers, no longer Samaritans. But when the Apostles, it says, which were at Jerusalem heard this, they sent unto them Peter and John. Sent them, again, to rid them of magic. And besides, (the Lord) had given them a pattern at the time when the Samaritans believed. And in many villages, it says, of the Samaritans, they preached the Gospel. John 4:39 Observe how actively employed even their journeys were, how they do nothing without a purpose.
26 Meanwhile, Philip was commanded by an angel of the Lord, Rise up, and go south to meet the road which leads from Jerusalem to Gaza, out in the desert. 27 So he rose up and went; and found there an Ethiopian. This man was a eunuch, a courtier of Candace, queen of Ethiopia, and had charge of all her wealth; he had been up to worship at Jerusalem, 28 and was now on his way home, driving along in his chariot and reading the prophet Isaias. 29 The Spirit said to Philip, Go up to that chariot and keep close by it. 30 And Philip, as he ran up, heard him reading the prophet Isaias, and asked, Canst thou understand what thou art reading? 31 How could I, said he, without someone to guide me? And he entreated Philip to come up and sit beside him. 32 The passage of scripture which he was reading was this; He was led away like a sheep to be slaughtered; like a lamb that is dumb before its shearer, he would not open his mouth. 33 He was brought low, and all his rights taken away; who shall tell the story of his age? His life is being cut off from the earth. 34 And the eunuch turned to Philip, and said, Tell me, about whom does the prophet say this? Himself, or some other man? 35 Then Philip began speaking, and preached to him about Jesus, taking this passage as his theme. 36 As they went on their way, they came to a piece of water, and the eunuch said, See, there is water here; why may I not be baptized? 37 Philip said, If thou dost believe with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answered, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. 38 So he had the chariot stopped, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him there. 39 But when they came up from the water, Philip was carried off by the spirit of the Lord, and the eunuch did not see him any longer; he went on his way rejoicing. 40 As for Philip, he was next heard of at Azotus; and from there he went preaching all round the villages, until he reached Caesarea.Chrysostom (Homily 19): It seems to me, this (Philip) was one of the seven...
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...
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. 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 Cæsarea. Acts 8:40 This (Philip, therefore) was one of the seven; for there in fact he is afterwards found at Cæsarea. It was well and expedient therefore that the Spirit caught Philip away; else the eunuch would have desired to go with him, and Philip would have grieved him by declining to comply with his request, the time being not yet come. But at the same time here was an encouraging assurance for them that they shall also prevail over the heathen: for indeed the high character (τὸ ἀξιόπιστον) 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...
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, and see with what frequency!