In today’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles, we see two main themes: Satan’s cunning in how he deceives people, and the wondrous protection that God provides to the faithful who are devoted to Him.
St. Paul the Apostle and his partner Silas are in Philippi of Macedonia, proclaiming the Gospel and gathering the first believers in Christ. While there, something strange happened: Whenever they went to prayer, a certain slave girl would follow them. She was possessed by a spirit of divination, and would make money for her masters through fortune-telling. She would run after the Apostle crying out: “These men are servants of God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation” (verse 17). This was not a declaration of faith, but an underhanded way the evil spirit through the slave girl attempted to increase his own influence among the people, using the preaching of the Apostles as some sort of “demonstration” of his power. St. Paul, the inspired Apostle of God realized this, and he became very annoyed. So the next time he heard the slave girl behind him, he stopped, “turned and said to the spirit: ̒ I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.ʼ And the spirit came out that very hour” (verse 18). As a result, the unfortunate slave girl was no longer able to be a fortune teller for the greed of her masters.
Sadly, while the Lord and His Church have condemned the act of fortune-telling, magic and other such tools of the devil (which were prevalent in society before the time of Christ), there are still Christians who in moments of trouble continue to seek out such activities. The holy Fathers of the Church consider the Christian who does this (instead of turning to Christ), as one who has rejected Christ. There are Church canons issued by the Ecumenical Councils barring anyone who engages in such practices from receiving Holy Communion. It is our responsibility to enlighten our brothers and sisters about the seriousness of such things, so that they may not have any dealings with the evil one.
Following this incident, the reading continues: “When the masters of the slave girl saw that, along with the evil spirit their hope also of profit from her fortune-telling work was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities” (verse 19). They incited the crowd against them with false accusations and caused a disturbance, which caught the attention of the city magistrates. They ordered that the Apostles be mistreated, beaten with rods and then thrown into jail.
The chief jailer, following orders, had the feet of the Apostles fastened in stocks that were used for dangerous criminals, so that they would be unable to escape. After all of this, one would expect to hear sounds of pain and anguish coming from their mouths throughout the night. But what we see is the exact opposite! “At midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God” (verse 25). No doubt their hearts were filled with the same joy that the other Apostles had felt after being beaten by the Sanhedrin, where “they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing they were counted worthy to suffer maltreatment for Christ’s name” (Acts 5:41). Jesus had already said that, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the prevalence of God’s will … Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for far greater will be your reward” (see Matthew 5:10&12).
Let us never forget these words of the Lord, or the example of the holy Apostles when we are despised on account of being Christians, and abused by those who oppose us. St. Peter the Apostle emphasizes particularly this point: “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (I Peter 4:16).
My dear brothers and sisters, God does not abandon His devoted people, as He did not abandon St. Paul and Silas when they were wounded and in prison. A great earthquake hit, and the foundations of the prison were shaken, as we heard in today’s reading. The chains of the Apostles were loosed. The jailer’s whole view towards them changed. He took them into his home, washed and treated their wounds, and gave them food. He came to believe in Christ, receiving the word of God from them, and then finally baptism not only for himself, but his whole family.
When we firmly entrust our life to Christ, we can feel certain that our Lord and God, who is full of love, will give us His powerful protection!