The Saint in Scripture
St. Philip the Deacon is one of the seven deacons first appointed by the Apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 6:1-7). After the preaching and subsequent stoning of St. Stephen the Deacon (Acts 7), Saul appears to have initiated an aggressive persecution of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1-3). All but the Apostles were “scattered” throughout the region. Philip went North to the city of Samaria (Acts 8:4-25) where he preached and healed, amazing the residents. Apparently, the miracles were so amazing that a popular magician, Simon, converted and began following Philip. The Apostles, upon hearing of the widespread acceptance of the gospel in Samaria, sent Peter and John who baptized many in the Holy Spirit.
While Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching to Samaritan villages along the way, God called Philip to head South to Gaza (Acts 8:26-40), along a wilderness road. On the road, he met an Ethiopian Eunuch, likely a Jew returning home from pilgrimage in Jerusalem. This man was also a respected counselor to Candace, the Ethiopian Queen. He was apparently reading the Prophet Isaiah out loud on his way home. God called Philip to join the Ethiopian, a lively discussion of scripture and Jesus ensued, and the Ethiopian asked to be immediately baptized in nearby water. As they left the water, the Spirit snatched Philip away to the northern city of Azotus, and he preached his way north to Caesarea, where he appears to have remained. The last scriptural reference to Philip is when he and his four unmarried daughters, each with the gift of prophecy, hosted Paul in his home as Paul and his companions traveled through Caesarea (Acts 21:7-10). Due to his consistent work of preaching as he journeyed throughout the region, Philip the Deacon is also known as Philip the Evangelist, (which is how he is identified in Acts 21:8).
Little is known of Philip’s daughters, though they are referred to as prophets not only in Acts, but by Eusebius (EH 5.17.3) who places them alongside Agabus (Acts 11:27-28; 21:10], Judas, and Silas (Acts 15:22, 27, 32). Ancient Christian tradition holds that two of his daughters remained with Philip through his old age. Their names may have been Irais and Charliline (or Mariamne), though these are names given by tradition far from their historical existence. The other two, Hermione and Eutychis (or Eutychiane or Eukhidia) travelled to and evangelized in Ephesus. According to the vita of Hermione, she suffered at the hands of the emperors Trajan and Hadrian, making her a martyr (not all martyrs die as a result of their suffering witness) of the church. She is commemorated by Orthodox and Catholics on September 4th, and is known as either Hermione of Ephesus or Hermione the Martyr. There is speculation that the recently uncovered 1600-year-old Byzantine Basilica in Ashdod Yam may have been built to bury the body of one of Philip’s Daughters.
St. Philip is commemorated on October 11th by Orthodox, Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans. The Orthodox also include Philip among the Seventy Apostles (from Luke 10:1-20) and refer to him as a Protodeacon (“first” deacon). As a member of the Seventy, he is also celebrated on January 4th as a part of the feast of the “Synaxis of the Seventy Apostles.”
Simon Bachos the Eunuch
It is worth noting the result of Philip’s listening to the Ethiopian Eunuch. As a eunuch, he was likely captured, enslaved, and castrated as a youth. His castration may have meant that he was not allowed to enter the temple in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 23:1), even as a foreigner on pilgrimage to the Holy City. His identity as an “Ethiopian” does not indicate his nation, but rather is a generic Greek term for dark-skinned Africans. He also appears to be a person of significant trust and authority, serving as counselor and treasurer for Queen Candace, a name given to all the female rulers of the region of Kush (now northern Sudan). His religious status is ambiguous. He could have been a convert to Judaism (Irenaeus, Jerome) though his castration may have precluded his full membership (modern scholars such as C.K. Barret and Justo Gonzalez), while others argued that as a dark-skinned African, he must have been a Gentile (Eusebius, Ephrem the Syrian, Martin Luther). His reading of Isaiah 53:7-8 perhaps reflects his own struggle with suffering as the result of injustice, “In his humiliation justice was denied him” (Acts 8:33; Isaiah 53:8). He is a person on the margins of gender, sexual, ethnic, and religious identities, and on the fringes of power and authority. Surely Philip’s story of the unjust persecution of Jesus, his death at the hand of civil and religious authorities, and his stunning resurrection underlay the Eunuch’s insistence on being immediately baptized in the nearest patch of water available. Once Philip disappeared, the Eunuch joyfully returned home. Legend has it that he evangelized his homeland, the Kingdom of Kush, which was conquered by Aksum in the fourth century. It is Aksum that is the ancient name for the region now known as Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church understands one of its earliest converts to Christianity to be “Simon Bachos the Eunuch” who Irenaeus of Lyons (Against the Heresies 3:12:8, circa 180 CE) identifies as the eunuch Philip met on the road to Gaza. This connection is also reflected in the works of Eusebius of Caesarea and Origen of Alexandria.