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Acts 8 Study: Persecution and Dispersion of the Early Church/Miracles, Sorcery & Early Sacraments

Good evening, my brothers and sisters in Christ.

The First General Persecution: Acts 8:1-3

In the Liturgy of St. Basil, we, as Orthodox Christians, proclaim God as one who “makes the evil to be good.” About the vv. 1-3, Saul (Paul) was an early hardliner and hard persecutor of those who followed Jesus Christ. In other words, God uses a man's sins for excellent and holy results. We see how the disciples scattered after the stoning of Stephen. They scattered during this time of persecution, leading to people hearing the gospel spread in multiple other areas. St. Stephen is also referred to as the “Protomartyr” (meaning also “First Martyr”), meaning he was the first Christian believer to be killed in the name of Jesus Christ.

-The Christians scatter, reminded of the night when Jesus is arrested, Matthew 26:31: Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be [a]made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:

‘I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

Zechariah 13:7

“Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, Against the Man who is My Companion,” Says the Lord of hosts. “Strike the Shepherd, And the sheep will be scattered; Then, I will turn My hand against the little ones.

The Church in Samaria: Acts 8:5-13

Philip is also a deacon (see Acts 6:5) and was the first to evangelize Samaria fully with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Philip also brought both teachings and healing. We see in v. 12 the eagerness of the people to receive the words of Philip, which could be due to the foundation laid by St. Photini, John 4:39, the woman at the wheel. She was the one who brought news of the coming of the Messiah right before His crucifixion. In v. 9, Simon the sorcerer was dazzled by the teachings of Philip, and with the healings, Simon converts to Christianity later in Acts 8; we see his conversion was for other things that had nothing to do with actual faith in Christ, see vv. 18-24 for further understanding of Simon the sorcerer. According to tradition, Simon returned to his magical arts afterward and was known as a bitter enemy of the Church.

According to the commentary of the Orthodox Study Bible regarding v. 14, the unity of the Church is shown by new communities that are under the authority of and are in communion with the church of Jerusalem. To this day, all communities in Orthodox churches are united under the authority of a local bishop, who is also in communion with all the other Orthodox Church and faith bishops.

According to the commentary of the Orthodox Study Bible, vv. 16-17, baptism and chrismation (“anointing for the reception of the Holy Spirit”) were from the very beginning of the early Church and were two distinct sacraments. The phrase “BAPTIZED IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS” should never be understood to mean that the Holy Trinity was not mentioned during the baptism. St. Basil writes, “Do not imagine that because the names of the Father and the Holy Spirit are sometimes omitted when the Apostles speak of baptism that the innovation of their names has been omitted.” We do, however, notice in the Bible that sometimes the Bible speaks of baptism in the Holy Spirit, and other times it says baptism in Christ to emphasize specific points. According to St. Basil,” We are always baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (another reference, see Matthew 28:19). When we see a specific reference to baptism in Jesus Christ, was never intended to neglect the Trinity, but to distinguish Christian baptism from John’s baptism of repentance (see also Acts 19:1-5).

In vv. 22-24, in Acts 8, we see that faith must always be accompanied by a radical shift of one's life from evil to good, meaning a complete change of life or our faith, along with our conversion, is worthless. Simon the sorcerer believed on a certain level (see v. 13), but he had no justification for his faith because he was “POISONED BY BITTERNESS AND BOUND BY INIQUITY.” We see Simon’s humanity in v. 24; he asked the Apostles to pray for him, but according to tradition, he fell away.

The Ethiopian Eunuch: Acts 8:26-40

Eunuchs were men, and they were castrated; their castration was either from a congenital disability, maybe from a disease, or even it could have been from self-inflicted mutilation. They were often employed to guard women of nobility. It is said that the eunuchs had a thorough knowledge of Judaism and could have been a Jewish “proselyte” (convert). In v. 29, Philip only has mature faith in St. John Chrysostom. Those of mature faith can hear and discern the promptings of the Spirit, and the commentary of the Orthodox Study Bible says that those of lesser faith are prompted by and more directly by words and angels. Philip shows us in vv. 30-31, the Scriptures have a specific God-given meaning (see also 2 Peter 1:20-21 for another reference). Philip teaches us that it is impossible to understand the Scriptures apart from the Church truly. For apostolic interpretation, it is held in the consciousness of the Church. The vv. 32-33 are part of the passages from the Book of Isaiah, and here is a fun fact: in the Orthodox Church, our priests pray this as they prepare the bread for Divine Liturgy. Philip shows us in v. 35 that the OT becomes the foundation for proclaiming Christ, the Gospel of Jesus Christ (additional references Acts 2:14-40, Peter’s Sermon, and see Acts 7:1-53, Stephens Sermon), according to St. John Chrysostom anyone who “would apply himself to the study of the prophets, he would need no miracles.” From the beginning, see vv. 36-39, baptism in water (v. 36), and faith in Christ (v. 37) are essential for our entrance into the NT Church. Note the apostolic pattern of conversion in Christ is hearing, believing, and baptism.

In Christ, love Jared W. Campbell

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