For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are ill-clad and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things. I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.
I Corinthians 4: 9-16 (Epistle from Feastday of the Holy Apostles)
On November 14, we celebrate the Feast of St. Philip, one of the twelve disciples. We don’t know much about Philip’s like. We know that he was born in Bethsaida and that he was Jewish. He was so well versed in Scriptures, meaning that he had such a great understanding of the prophecies about a coming Messiah, that he immediately recognized Jesus as the Messiah the first time he saw Him. We read in John 1:43 that Jesus called Andrew and Peter, James and John on one day. And the next day, when Jesus decided to go to Galilee, He found Philip and invited Philip to follow Him. In John 1:45, we read that “Philip found Nathanael, and said to him, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph.’” When Nathanael questions with skepticism, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” it is Philip who insists that Nathanael “come and see.” (John 1:46) Obviously, Philip has a heart for evangelism, as evidenced by how excited he was to tell Nathanael about the Messiah.
After Pentecost, when the Apostles went out into the all the world to spread the Gospel of Christ, Philip and Nathanael (also called Bartholomew) did missionary work in Greece, Phrygia and Syria. While preaching with Bartholomew in Hieropolis, he converted the wife of a Roman proconsul, who became so enraged that he ordered both Philip and Bartholomew to be crucified upside-down.
The Epistle lesson on the feast of St. Philip is the same Epistle lesson read on the Feast of the Synaxis of the Holy Apostles (June 30) and on feastdays of some of the other Apostles. The Epistle lesson, taken from I Corinthians 4:9-16, speak of the attributes of an Apostle. Apostles need to be humble. Rather than be first, they must be content with being the last. I Corinthians 4:9) They must not worry about how the world sees them—whether it sees them as a “spectacle” (4:9), as “fools” or as “weak”. (4:10) They must be content with being held with “disrepute” rather than “in honor.” (4:10) Being an apostle will not bring material gain. Rather it might bring the opposite. It might mean being “ill-clad, and buffeted and homeless.” (4:11) Apostles don’t just sit around enjoying themselves. They “labor, working with (their) own hands.” (4:12) Apostles also are not popular—the risk being “reviled,” “persecuted,” and “slandered.” (4:12-13) Indeed they will be seen by some as “the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things.” (4:13)
We are called to be an apostle, with the same traits that Philip and the other apostles embodied. And as Philip invited Nathanael to “come and see”, this is also an “apostolic” role that each of us is called to fulfill. It was Jesus who “converted” Nathanael. But it was Philip who invited Nathanael to come to Jesus. It is the Lord, through the Holy Spirit, that converts the hearts of people to come to Him. It is us, who invite others to come and see.
One very encouraging thing about Philip was that he hardly knew Christ and not only had faith, but had the conviction to bring Nathanael to him. Philip was not a theologian, an ordained priest, or even an accomplished professional. He had a heart that was open to Christ, and a heart that desired to bring others to Christ as well. There are many people who have hearts for Christ. However, we often forget the expectation that Christ has for us to bring others to Him as well. We don’t need to be theologians or marketing experts in order to do this. A simple invitation is all that is needed. It is we who do the inviting. The Holy Spirit is the one that converts the hearts of those who have been invited.
O Holy Apostle Philip, make intercession to our merciful God, that He grants to our souls forgiveness of offenses. (Apolytikion, St. Philip, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Have a heart that is open to Christ. Have a heart that invites others to Him.
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. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros 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
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