How Can I Understand Unless Someone Guides Me?

On October 11, the Orthodox Church commemorates Apostle Philip of the Seventy. Philip was from Caesarea of Palestine. He is not to be confused with Apostle Philip; one of the twelve Apostles celebrated on November 14. 
The Seventy were early emissaries of Jesus who were sent out to do missionary work. After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go.  Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest (Lk 10:1-2).
After Christ's Ascension and the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Philip was chosen as one of the seven deacons. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them (Acts 6:2-5).
Stephen was the eldest of the seven and the first to be martyred for Christ. When the persecution of Christians began, the Jews stoned Stephen the Archdeacon. Philip then left Jerusalem and settled in Samaria. There he preached the Good News, bringing many to Christ. 
Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. So, he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The place in the Scripture which he read was this:“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.” So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized? Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing (ibid 8: 26-34).
How can I, unless someone guides me? This is a question for us all. We might go to church regularly, as a child have gone to Sunday School or had religious instruction in a parochial day school. Yet, the question is: do we know our Faith? 
Before every Gospel reading in the Liturgy, there is a prayer the priest intones: Shine within our hearts, loving Master, the pure light of Your divine knowledge and open the eyes of our minds that we may comprehend the message of Your Gospel. Instill in us, also, reverence for Your blessed commandments, so that having conquered sinful desires, we may pursue a spiritual life, thinking and doing all those things that are pleasing to You. For You, Christ our God, are the light of our souls and bodies, and to You we give glory together with Your Father who is without beginning and Your all holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. 
In our daily readings, it is encouraged for us to recite this prayer before we read all Scripture readings. There is a small pamphlet called Amnos that is printed yearly with all the daily epistle and gospel readings for the year. On the front cover is the aforementioned prayer. It is a great pamphlet to have; of course, this prayer along with the daily readings could be found online as well. 
Nevertheless, we beseech the Lord our God to reveal Himself to us. We might read regularly, but do we understand? If we truly seek to know Him, He will reveal Himself to us, just as He sent an angel to Philip who was sent to the eunuch. The way He will reveal Himself to us and how and through whom is not for us to know, but will come to fruition in due time. We just need to pray to the Lord, asking for His help. 
Had the Angel not instructed Philip to approach the eunuch, perhaps there would have been a different outcome. Maybe the eunuch would have understood the excerpt from Isaiah differently. Perhaps it would not have convinced him that Isaiah was speaking about Christ. 
St. Irenaeus wisely said: a skillful artist has made a beautiful image of a king, composed of many precious jewels. Now, another man takes this mosaic image to pieces, re-arranges the stones on another pattern so as to produce the image of a dog or of a fox. Maybe the eunuch did see a dog or a fox and not Christ until Philip arrived. 
We need to be mindful of this when we read Scripture.  Lectio Divina is a practice using prayer and meditation accompanied with scripture reading in order to increase the knowledge of God’s Word. Although originally a practice in Western Christianity, Lectio Divina is commonly used among the Orthodox Faithful. 
If we continually dwell upon them [the Scriptures], we shall learn right teaching and a perfect life (St John Chrysostom).
The best way to find out what is fitting for one’s life is the meditation of the Divinely-inspired Scriptures. For in these are found counsels for our actions, and the lives of blessed men, though transmitted in writing, are put before us, like living images of a godly life, for our imitation of their good works (St Basil the Great).
Psalm 46: Be still and know that I am God. Observing 5-10 minutes a day of utter silence, not thinking of anything or envisioning anything, allows for God to speak to us. When we pray with words, we are speaking to God, but we need to be silent in order for us to hear Him. 
Philip continued his missionary work throughout the Near East and in Jerusalem was made a bishop. He was then sent to Tralles of Asia Minor where he completed the remaining years of his life preaching the Gospel.
O Holy Apostle Philip, intercede to our merciful God, that He may grant our souls forgiveness of sins (Festal Apolytikion).  

-John Athanasatos 

A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.


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