|Homily Feast of St Philip|
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen; glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
Today we heard, ‘43 The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me.”’ Which is both a hopeful image and a puzzling one, for usually we think of the verse “seek and ye shall find”…in other words, we usually think of people seeking the Lord, not the other way around. However we are given a clue in two things that show us that what was happening when Philip was called to follow Christ. First, we are told that Philip (as well as Peter and Andrew) is from the village of Bethsaida. The name of this village means the “House of the hunters” (or some interpretations say Fishermen) which some Church Fathers see as significant. It is a sign signifying the character of St. Philip (as well as Peter and Andrew) as a man who sought the truth of his faith. He was a hunter for that truth (and later he would be a hunter or fisher of men). The second signifier about Philip was what he himself said to Nathanael, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets wrote…” which indicates that he was one who was well-versed in the Scriptures and was one who sought to know the Lord. Indeed, in the Synaxarion, the Lives of the Saints, it is recorded that St. Philip “meditated on the Law and the Prophets day and night, making little of worldly cares, and remaining a virgin all his life.” So from this we see that Philip was indeed someone who was seeking the Lord with his whole being… and this is why the Lord sought him out as well. Remember the Parable of the Prodigal Son…when we take a few steps toward the Lord, he runs to us, for indeed He too has been seeking and waiting for us to turn to Him.
Because of this zeal for the Lord, because of his great yearning for Him, when he heard the words of Jesus, he followed instantly needing no convincing and showing no hesitation. How is it that he followed instantly just upon hearing the voice of the Lord? Blessed Theophylact tells us concerning the sound of the Lord’s voice, “In the worthy, its sound straightway enkindled a burning love for Christ. As Cleopas and the other disciple of the road to Emmaus said: Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way?” The sound of his savior’s voice, “Follow me” resonated within his heart and told Philip that what he sought, had found him.
What does he do then immediately after resolving to follow the Lord? He goes to gather others and bring them into the love of Christ as well. This sequence of events shows us something very important about the virtues that must exist in the Life in Christ. The Venerable Bede, an 8th century Anglo-Saxon commentator on the Scriptures, identifies these virtues as devout faith, charity (or love) and works. For as he says, “without faith it is impossible to please God, faith without works is vain, and faith works by love.” Ven. Bede demonstrates that Philip shows his faith by believing the Lord, by following Him immediately he shows his love for Him whom he recognized and finally he showed his love for his neighbor in his works by bringing Nathanael the Good News. One will note that Bede included love for neighbor as part of the good works that Philip performed when he sought to share the Gospel. Indeed this very Sunday we will hear the question asked by a zealous lawyer, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, what is written in the law? How readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.” We are taught then to love our neighbor as ourselves. The next question that arises is “Who is our neighbor?” and we are told one of the more famous parables, but that will be addressed shortly.
We see in Philip his faith in the Lord, his love of the Lord and his good works and love of neighbor in his immediately preaching the Gospel….but it is important to note how he preached it. Here we come to a crucial element of Philip’s character. Though well-educated and knowledgeable about the Scriptures, Philip does not argue or pull out a pamphlet or a tract (though there is a time and place for these) when faced with Nathanael’s questions; he said simply, “Come and see.” Philip had met the Lord and knew Him and thus could bring others to Him as well. His knowledge was of the heart, though, not solely an intellectual knowledge and acknowledgment of the Lord. In these cases the strongest form of teaching is initiation into the same kind of knowledge.
In the 17th chapter of John’s Gospel we hear the Lord Jesus Christ tell us in His prayer to the Father, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Salvation is knowing God the Father….note that it is not knowing about God, but it is knowing Him, and it is through Christ that we come to know the Father. Philip at another point is bold to say to Christ, “Show us the Father…” and the Lord gently chides him and says that to have seen the Son is to see the Father. So we see that to know Christ is to know the Father (and the Holy Spirit). The Lord Jesus is our means of entering into communion with the Holy Trinity.
When Philip said “come and see” he was giving us the best means of evangelization we could ever possess. We are shown that we do not need to brow-beat someone into believing by long arguments. We are to bring them to Christ Himself. “Come and see.” This is the invitation that we all are called to offer to our neighbor and we will be reminded this Sunday that everyone is our neighbor when we hear the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Venerable Bede was known to say often that a preacher must teach by “word and example.” So it is with us all. When we say “Come and see” hopefully what the outsider, our neighbor, will see if they come to us, is Christ.
If we say to others “Come and see,” if we did this, what would the people see? “People will know that you are my disciples by the love you show for one another.” our Lord tells us. Will they see that love? I quoted John 17:3 which states that eternal life is knowing God and Jesus Christ, but the whole of chapter 17 is about unity with God and unity within the Church. Will those to whom we say, “come and see”….and this is what we are called to do….will they see the unity of the Gospel, or will they see just another church or denomination like any other that they can go to on any given Sunday? Will they come to our Church and feel the presence of the Lord burning in their hearts?
If we know God, if we know Christ (not just about him) we can introduce him to others. If we do not know Him, we won’t be able to. I cannot introduce you to Tiger Woods. I don’t know him. I know some things about him, but that is not the same thing. If we are also beginners on the path, and we all are, we can introduce others to the Church Fathers who do know Him and who can guide us by their writings and teachings on prayer and Scriptural interpretations into our own meeting with Christ. We also, if we are open to it, can meet the Lord in the Sacraments, the vehicles of His uncreated energies, His grace.
To follow the Lord is to learn to know Him (and the learning will never be exhausted). The Venerable Bede wrote in his commentary on today’s Gospel, “How does one follow the Lord? Imitate Him…insofar as human weakness allows.” He writes, “One follows the Lord if, by showing oneself to be a companion of his sufferings, one painstakingly longs to attain communion in his resurrection and ascension.” By suffering with Him in our fasts and self-denial (take up your cross and follow me), we draw near to Him. The Apostle Paul wrote in his epistle for today that we should imitate him, “For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you, imitate me.” This may seem to contradict what Venerable Bede said when he told us to imitate Christ, but it does not because in a later chapter of this Epistle, St. Paul elaborates and writes, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ….” So to imitate Paul is to imitate Christ. With the Apostles we too can embrace our suffering so that we can embrace Christ who suffered so much more for us….but if we suffer with Christ we will also rise with Christ, we will also ascend with Him. If we unite ourselves to Christ by following Him and partaking of the mysteries, if we rise with Him and ascend with Him, then when we say “Come and see,” we will truly be calling others to eternal life and we will fulfill the Gospel’s commandments. This is why we were created: to be in communion with our Lord, to be one with Him. If we do not yet know Him be assured that we can and will if we persevere.
This is our greatest challenge. In this country we are all missionaries for the Orthodox Church. We are tiny islands in a sea of other faiths. We might be a big island with 1000 members or we may just be a small flock of 30 souls, but we are all missionaries here, and the first person that we are called to convert is our self. When we get up in the morning and look at ourselves in the mirror, we can say to ourselves, “Come and see…” and dedicate that day to the Lord, to meeting the Lord everywhere we go and in everything we do.
2009 Fr. Philip Kontos