Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Listen Now. We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you.” John 20:21
The Book of Acts and the Early Ecclesia—Part Fifteen
The Need for a Guide
And behold an Ethiopian, a eunuch, as minister of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of all her treasure, had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Acts 8: 27-31
Good morning Prayer Team!
In Acts 8, we read the encounter of Philip, one of the seven deacons, with an Ethiopian eunuch. This story has two lessons that are so relevant, we will spend two reflections discussing them. The first lesson concerns the need for guidance in our spiritual life.
Going to the account from Acts, we read of an Ethiopian eunuch, an important minister of the queen of the Ethiopians, who was riding in a chariot to Jerusalem. As he was in charge of all her treasure, one can only imagine the kind of opulent chariot this must have been. Philip was a devoted Christian. He was so in tune with his faith that he could hear the Holy Spirit speaking to him. A small lesson here is that when we come to the Lord with a heart that is open and strives to be pure, His Spirit will speak into our hearts, just as He spoke to Philip. When the Spirit speaks to us, however, it is not always an easy thing that He is saying or asking us to do. In this case, he told Philip to go and speak to this powerful person, so Philip ran up to the eunuch’s chariot. This bold move would ultimately result in the making of another Christian.
Philip heard the eunuch reading from the Prophet Isaiah. He asked him if he understood what he was reading. The eunuch’s response was “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. (Acts 8:31)
We aren’t expected to get through our Christian journey alone. We are supposed to receive guidance from others in our journey. Take the Scriptures as an example. It is very hard to understand everything we read in Scripture. In fact, the more I read Scripture, I have a desire to understand it on a deeper level. And for this, I go to different places to get guidance. One very helpful aid in reading Scripture is to read from a Bible that has footnotes or annotations in it. These notes help us understand meaning but also context. For example, the Jewish rituals of washing hands and other cleanliness rituals are mentioned frequently in the New Testament, but there is not an explanation of them—how they came to be, what they are. Because the Gospel writers were writing in a prominently Jewish world, they did not add explanations of these things because those who heard the scripture at the time already knew them. So, annotations or footnotes are added for us living in contemporary times to understand the history behind things that are discussed in Scriptures.
Commentaries on Scripture are also beneficial. There are old commentaries from St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil and others whom we recognize as saints. Certainly they were inspired by the Spirit and it is reflected in their writings. There are also modern commentators who have the benefit of modern research tools, who are gifted in languages and have other things at their disposal that were not in existence centuries ago. Reading multiple commentaries is important for two reasons. First, many people may look at the same passage and still find different interpretations. Secondly, and most important, if we isolate on one commentator, especially a modern one, we risk hearing only one person’s interpretations of Scripture. Some commentators bring out specific things they see, or want to see in Scripture, like focusing on the verses where God wants us to be prosperous and then they leave out the passages where He tells us to be generous, as an example. These commentators are said by some to be preaching the “prosperity Gospel.” The point is, we need some help in interpreting what we read in Scripture.
We also need some guidance for how to live our Christian life. Christians are not cookie cutters—we are not all the same. In fact, if three different people came to me for advice about the same issue, they might each go away with a different piece of advice. Let’s take for example a frequent question I get: How should I fast during Lent? The answer is always “in a way that challenges you.” However, how that looks for each person is different. For the person who has never fasted, I might suggest fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays the first year. For the person who is adept at fasting strictly, I might suggest adding fasting from television or social media and spending more time reading the Bible.
Questions come up throughout our lives—about marriage, parenting, how we should use our talents, what happens when we die, etc. We aren’t expected to answer these questions on our own. This is yet another reason why we have a church—to help guide us—whether it is through a sermon, a written article, a Bible study, an individual conversation with a priest or in confession or in some other way.
We are not expected, nor should we try, to go through life without medical advice. We’d actually be pretty foolish to do that. Likewise, we shouldn’t try to get through life without some spiritual advice. Concerning our health, we go to many medical people for advice—doctors, dentists, optometrists, and other specialists. We also read on our own. It is the same thing in the church—we should rely on priests, on counselors, on fellow parishioners, and we should read on our own.
Having said that, it is important to remember that we shouldn’t only get advice from others as it concerns our spiritual life. We should do some of the work on our own. We should read the Scriptures on our own. The best way to understand the Christian life is a combination of our own study intertwined with notes, commentaries and sermons. The best way to live the Christian life is with individual effort intertwined with solid guidance.
In Thee, O Lord, do I see refuge; let me never be put to shame; in Thy righteousness deliver me! Incline Thy ear to me, rescue me speedily! Be Thou a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me! Yea, Thou art my rock and my fortress; for Thy name’s sake lead me and guide me, take me out of the net which is hidden for me, for Thou art my refuge. Into Thy hand I commit my spirit; Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God. Psalm 31:1-5
We are not expected to figure out the Christian life on our own. And like the eunuch, we have to be humble and sincere that we need some help. Look for guides and accept guidance!
With Roger Hunt providing today’s Daily Reading: Listen Now
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