(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press.Today's saint, St. Philip, comes from Volume 4 of the series.)
Saint Philip the Apostle
St. Philip was born in a remote corner of the Holy Land, in a tiny village named Bethsaida. This village is also the birthplace of St. Peter and St. Andrew as well. Philip, like the other apostles of Christ, was assigned by the drawing of lots an area to which he would preach the word of Christ. To him fell the uninviting western area of the continent of Asia, or Asia Minor, as it has been called. He assumed this responsibility with a confidence and humility born of the blessings of the Lord. He was more than ably assisted in this holy work not only by his devout sister Miriam, but by apostle Bartholomew as well. Their efforts were assured success when the Lord chose to make St. Philip an instrument of miraculous powers.
He traversed the length and breadth of Asia Minor tirelessly preaching and doing good work. He then returned for a time to Greece, where, like St. Paul before him, he preached before throngs of Greeks in Athens. Then he brought countless numbers of Hellenes into the Christian fold with the assistance of Bartholomew and Miriam. St. Philip’s return to Asia was hastened by reports of a strange Phrygian cult which had been introduced to the superstitious and illiterate populace and which was in direct conflict with Christian doctrine and practice. A snake of awesome size was being worshipped as a god, but with greater reverence than a whole herd of sacred cows, as in India. The colossal viper was said to be invincible, a notion which vanished when St. Philip strode up to the creature and placed his hand on it, causing it to perish on the spot. This display brought the populace back to its senses and by thousands the Phrygians were baptized into Christianity.
To say that this caused the pagan fanatics considerable consternation would be quite an understatement.
The holy trio of Philip, Bartholomew and Miriam were tried and condemned. The servants of God were sentenced to be crucified. The death sentence was carried out with dispatch and the holy three were nailed to wooden crosses. No sooner had this been done than the sky darkened and the earth trembled violently from a rumbling earthquake. This phenomenon struck terror into the hearts of those responsible, who immediately sought to appease the wrath of God by taking the intended victims down from their crosses.
The frightened pagans who were caused to change their minds out of fear and bring down the holy trio from their crosses were well aware of the Phrygian serpent, but that only served to add confusion to their fear after a profusely-bleeding St. Philip died. Probably the first to be nailed to the cross and the last to be removed, the Apostle Philip was beyond help and, since it was his will to die, there was no miracle forthcoming to save him. As John Donne was to say centuries later, “I shall not live until I see God, and when I have seen Him I shall never die.” Philip undoubtedly was aware of this and was as anxious to die as most are anxious to live. It is preferred to believe that the Lord called him to His side, since it is He who decides what the hour of death shall be. St. Philip was not weary of his travails and certainly missionary work helped tremendously in laying the foundation of the Church of the new faith, along with his fellow disciples and their associates, but for whom Christianity might have expired. His sister and St. Bartholomew had been spared, but it was God’s will that they do so. St. Philip, another brave disciple destined to be dwarfed by St. Peter, as well as the mighty apostle Paul, had thrust himself into the Christian cause with equal vigor and devotion, and is as revered as any of his companions in Christ by the Greek Orthodox Church.
Miriam and Bartholomew survived, but as though he had willed his own demise so that his death might be on the heads of his enemies, St. Philip did not. His dying gaze rendered the throng powerless and he bled to death on November 14 with his last breath praising the Lord.
Image from Wikimedia.