Author: Fr George Dimopoulos
Source: Orthodox Sermons for all the Sundays of the Year – Volume I
Publisher: Christian Orthodox Editions
“He rejoiced, and so did all his family, that He had become a believer in God”. (Acts 16:16-34)
Dear brethren, in order to fully understand today’s epistle reading, we should explain the whole chapter as well as the historical background. St Paul was in Troas (Troy). The city was very famous from Homer’s era. Troas was at a crossroads that marked the end of the East and the beginning of the West. Two different worlds were united there: the world of Asia and the world of Europe. Alexander the Great, the young King of Macedon, brought through Troas the gifts of Europe, the Greek language and philosophy to the East, as far as India (and transmitted by others beyond). When he arrived in Troas, he came forth from his ship in full armour and offered a sacrifice to his hero Achilles. It is said that Caesar of Rome took the Empire’s capital from Rome to Troas in order for the capital to be the link of the two worlds.
So our hero, St Paul, was in Troas with his two disciples, Silas and Timothy. There he met Luke for the first time. He was thinking of where to go; to the seacoast of Asia Minor or to Bithynia; but whereas man cannot give an answer, the Spirit of God provides one in his manner and dissolves the doubts. During the night a vision appeared to Paul. The vision was of a man from Macedonia, standing there pleading with him. “Come over into Macedonia and help us”, the man said. The explanation of the vision was given by the Apostle. “For we concluded that God had called us to tell them the Good News”. “Come Over” to help us, is sound to our ears, of the voices of many people from the many corners of the earth. The people are asking for help, they ask for the Good News.
The day Paul left Troas for Philippi was a great day in the history of humankind. Why? Because for the first time the Christian sermon was being extended beyond the borders of the East. Until then the sermon was preached mostly in the synagogues. Now the sermon would be preached to the philosophers of Athens.
The first city Paul came to was Philippi. This famous city’s original name was Krenidae, due to the many curing fountains which were there. But Philip, the father of Alexander the Great, enlarged the city both militarily and economically. For this reason he gave the city his name, a popular custom of the ancient world. There was no synagogue because the few Jews living there, but there were enough to permit the formation of a council. Even though the Jews had no synagogue, they had an enclosed place of prayer, probably a fenced grove called a “proseuche”. There Paul erected his pulpit “and began to talk to the women who had come to the meeting”. The first person who believed in Paul’s sermon was a rich lady from Thyateira, a merchant in expensive purple, named Lydia. Behold what the great theologian and Paulologist says about the Christian women. “The women were the last ones to remain by the Cross, and they were the first at the empty tomb. The gospels have a sad story of hypocrisy, hatred, persecution, calumny, treason and cowardly flight to tell, but these things are never told about women. The men are in the spotlight as the heralds of the Gospel, as the great missioners and representatives of religion. But where would Christianity be today without the Christian woman in her role as mother, wife, sister, and dispenser of charity in a thousand different kinds of misery?
The second step of St Paul was to heal an unfortunate slave from an evil spirit. She was said to have a pythonic spirit, or she was a “pythia”, one of the oracles that was under the protection of Apollo, who was the god of divination. We can compare her to today’s fortune tellers who predict many things, and some of them can come true. As we have said before, Satan uses them to complete his plans. “There is nothing surprising about that; Satan himself masquerades as an angel of Light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). But there exists one difference between today’s fortune tellers and that slave. While those of today are rich and keep the money they gain from that profession for themselves, that unfortunate slave was a source of income for her masters. She was very poor, having one pair of slippers and a cheap cloth to cover her nakedness, with which she was satisfied. She had duties without rights. How many such slaves exist all over the world who await the sermon of Paul?
The curing action of St Paul: “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I order you to come out of her”, provoked the wrath of her master. They seized Paul and Silas and forcibly led them to the city square before the town officials. The apostles were arrested. The judges did not ask much about their status, but sentenced them summarily to be “beaten with rods”. Lector, Expedi Virgas, ad Verbera (untie the rods, flog the prisoners). Wounded and bleeding, in pain and affliction, they were thrown in jail. And we continuously complain about our old model car, about our old furniture, and because our church’s carpet is not wall to wall.
Paul was bound in prison, but free in Christ. Here is the real freedom; to be in jail, and to feel free in Christ. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. The prisoners listened to them”. This may have been their prayer:
“When the Lord brought back the captivity of Sion, We became like men comoforted. Then was our mouth filled with gladness: And our tongues with joy. Then shall they say among the Gentiles, The Lord hath done great things for them” (Psalm 125:1).
A great earthquake occurred after the prayer. Sometimes God makes a storm His messenger, or an angel, or fire; but this night an earthquake was the herald of His will. The prison was dissolved. The doors were opened. The chains fell from the apostles’ hands. The guard of the prison was ready to commit suicide, but Paul stopped him saying, “Don’t injure yourself, we are all here”. The jailer understood that this sign was great and beyond the limits of rational reasoning and natural laws. He asked advice for his salvation, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Only the hardened and the corrupted see the signs of God and refuse to comprehend them and refuse to come to realise themselves and to repent. The answer Paul gave him is the same one he gives us, “Commit yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ, and you and your family will be saved”. Salvation is not a matter of time, but is the internal intention of the man. Salvation is already “prepared” and awaits any man. Before his baptism the jailer washed the wounds of the apostles. He was then baptised with his family and afterwards provided the apostles with a good meal. “And the whole family rejoiced”. The door of salvation remains open. O man what do you expect?