Christ is risen!
The word of the day is “Samaria .” The Lord can take evil and use it for good. Today in our reading of Acts 8:5-17, we find that fierce persecution has scattered the first believers. One of them, the Deacon Philip, went to Samaria, and as he went, he preached the Gospel. In response, the Samaritans eagerly “received the Word of God” (OSB vs.14). Thus, what seemed to be a setback for the early church advanced its mission. Today we consider how God uses the worst in our lives for the best.
The stoning of Stephen was a crisis for the growing Christian movement. Immediately after it, we read, “At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was in Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1). No longer would believers be able to gather safely and preach openly in the Holy City. All, except the apostles, fled, and the believers were dispersed throughout Judea and Samaria. It must have seemed that evil had destroyed the community of believers.
Meant for Evil but Used for Good
Yet recall what Joseph said to his brothers who had sold him into slavery, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (OSB Genesis 50:20). Likewise, the Almighty used the oppression of the church for His higher purpose.
You see, the Lord had commissioned the apostles to be His witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (OSB Acts 1:8). But so far, the proclamation of the Gospel had not reached beyond the walls of the Jewish capitol.
The Church Breaks Out of the Walls of Jerusalem
The challenges of preaching, healing, teaching new members, leading the community, and administrating the church’s affairs seemed enough for the new movement. The believers had to be pushed out of this limited situation if they were to bring the word of salvation to the world.
Thus, Philip’s preaching in Samaria widened the circle of the church’s mission. Now the Lord’s Word that the apostles would be witnesses to all Judea and Samaria was fulfilled. This achievement was a remarkable breakthrough because of the past restrictions against Jews dealing with Samaritans. Now in the new age of the Resurrection, Luke does not even mention these barriers. Instead, the historian reports that the Samaritans enthusiastically heard the message about “the Kingdom and the Name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12). And miracles of healing and exorcism confirmed their faith.
The Reception of the Samaritans into the Church
Eventually, the apostles in Jerusalem heard about these wonders. Peter and John hurried to Samaria to sanction what was happening (OSB vs. 14). And the believers in Samaria who had already been baptized were received into the church by the laying on of hands and the reception of the Holy Spirt (OSB vs. 15-17). This action avoided the creation of an independent church in Samaria. The Samaritans were united to the one catholic and apostolic church.
Generally, we prefer routines rather than challenges. At times, it takes a crisis for us to leave our comfort zone and enter a new phase of obedience to the Lord. Sometimes, it takes a circumstance that we do not choose for us to take the next steps on the way of the cross. One of these events is the scourge of the Covid-19 virus.
When our comfort is disturbed, we should remember that the Almighty can use anything we face for His glory and our good. We pray in the St. Basil’s Liturgy, “Preserve the good in goodness, and make the evil be good” (St-Tikhon’s 1984, 146). By this prayer, we acknowledge that the Lord is sovereign, and He works in and through all things to actualize His will.
Thus, in this time of trial, as in all times of adversity, we seek to understand the divine purpose for our testing. Yet the Lord may not reveal the reason to us, at least not until we are ready to receive it. Instead, we must intensify our prayers for the faith to trust that God will make something good out of what seems to be bad for us and something for our benefit out of what seems to be harmful to us.
St-Tikhon’s. 1984. Service Books of the Orthodox Church. Third ed. South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press.