Imagine receiving a letter from God. Wouldn't you be curious to read it? Wouldn't you look forward to opening the envelope? Wouldn't your heart be hammering from anxiousness? In fact, God did send us a letter. He wrote it using the hands of the prophets and the apostles. It's the Holy Scripture! God talks to us through its pages. It's called “God-inspired”, meaning that it was inspired by God.
An Ethiopian dignitary was holding that book while returning to Gaza from his pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. He was the Treasurer for the Queen of Ethiopians, an official position which is similar to a Minister of Finance in today's terms. This dignitary didn't believe in the “gods” that people worshiped in his country. He had heard about the God of Jews, the only true God. He felt a great desire for learning as much as he could about Him! But how could that be? He was informed about a book in which you can read about that God or, more accurately, God Himself speaks through this book.
The Ethiopian had done everything he could to find and acquire that book. He was so happy when he succeeded! He was finally holding God's words in his hands! He started reading it, indulging in each word.
He even took the book with him on his journey. He couldn't be parted from it, not even for one day. The more he read the more he loved it. In his eyes it was more valuable than his Queen's entire gold! Of course, he couldn't understand everything, so he had a lot of questions. Nevertheless, he kept on reading carefully.
Sitting in his luxurious carriage, he was absorbed in reading his favourite book. He was studying the words of the prophet Isaiah; "Like a sheep, he was led to be slaughtered...For the sins of my people I was led to death". (see Is 53:7-8). What did those divine words mean? He wished he found someone who could explain them to him! So absorbed was he that he didn't notice that a stranger had been walking alongside his carriage. The stranger was Philip the deacon. God had sent him to fulfill the Ethiopian's wish.
Philip heard the dignitary reading out loud Isaiah's words and asked:
- "Do you understand what you are reading?"
The dignitary answered politely:
- "How can I, unless I have someone explain them to me? Please, if you know the meaning of these words, get on my carriage."
Immediately Philip sat beside him.
- "Who is the prophet talking about? Himself or someone else?" the Ethiopian asked.
- "He is talking about Jesus Christ, the savior of the world."
Philip started narrating the story of Jesus; His birth, His teaching, His miracles, His crucifixion, His resurrection, His ascension to heaven and the Pentecost. He explained the prophecies. He also recounted the events in Jerusalem a few days before. It was like the Ethiopian had read the whole Holy Scripture, the Old and the New Testament in a few hours. What a journey! What a great gift had God sent to him! The eyes of his soul were enlightened! His heart leapt with joy when he heard that whoever gets baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity becomes God's child.
- "There is water here!", he pointed to the small river which they were passing by. "What prevents me from getting baptized?"
- "Do you believe wholeheartedly?"
- "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God!"
- "Then you can be baptized."
There, in the peace of the wilderness, where only the sound of the flowing river could be heard, Philip baptized the rich dignitary in the name of the Holy Trinity. There are no words to describe the Ethiopian's joy! As soon as the baptism was completed the Holy Spirit seized Philip and transferred him miraculously to another city named Azotus in order for him to preach the Gospel. The Ethiopian continued his journey. He was a new person now; the former heathen became the true God's child! This wondrous event is celebrated annually on the 27th of August.
The Holy Scripture is God's letter
God sent Philip to explain Isaiah’s words to the Ethiopian. But he also sends His people to us so as to explain His divine words; the priests and the preachers who teach the Gospel every Sunday during the orthodox liturgy. There is also the Sunday school, where the Gospel is explained to children and teenagers. All these are gifts from God so that we can learn about the divine truths.
The question that remains is whether we have the same desire as the Ethiopian. He longed to learn about God. He looked for and bought His book. He read it with interest and love. He couldn't help reading it every day. Although he wasn't able to understand everything, he sought the answers to his questions when he met a man of God. Do we feel the same longing?
Some people are like thirsty deer, which run to the wellspring and gulp the crystal-clear water. They try to learn more about God. Τhere are some children who wish like the Ethiopian to get this book. They keep it in their room, in their bookcase, on their desk or on a table beside their bed. They don't let a day pass without reading it. What's more, they ask Christian adults when they have questions or when they can't understand something.
Indeed, blessed are the children who love and read the Letter of God daily. They have a great progress in their life (see 1 Tim 4:16). Now I will narrate a true story of a little boy who was changed by the Holy Scripture. His name was Vasilis and he lived in a small village in Corinthia, Greece. He gave his new teacher a hard time at school. Everyone was always complaining about the little troublemaker. One day he snatched the ball of his classmates and ruined their game, at another time he smudged someone's notebook. He hit some children, he made fun of others, he swore... His parents didn't know how to handle the situation and his siblings were fed up with him.
Since the first month of the new school year, during the religious education lesson, the teacher talked to her class about the Holy Bible. Soon all her students bought a copy of the New Testament and started reading it eagerly. They even competed on who would manage to read it faster. Vasilis bought a copy, too. He read it carefully and he even could remember whole extracts by heart. He was the first to answer the teacher's questions on the subject. The more he was reading the more his behavior was changing. Before the end of that year everyone was talking proudly about “another” Vasilis. He didn’t swear anymore and he wasn’t naughty. He was amiable to everyone. His little sister wrote about him in her essay with the subject “My family’’: “I have a saint for a brother, Vasilis”.
Indeed, the letter of God has a unique power; to change our heart and attitude. There are plenty of good books that inform us. There are books which unfortunately deform us, meaning that they influence negatively our personality. The Holy Bible is the only book that can transform us. In other words, it helps us develop our virtues and correct our flaws. A fearsome person can become a saint, like the coal which can turn into a diamond.
A good book informs,
a bad book deforms,
the Holy Bible transforms!