Every day, the Church commemorates a variety of saints, some ancient and some recent. If you were in a monastery, you might hear their names being commemorated in the Orthros during what is called the Synaxarion, a listing of the saints for those dates. In the long form, the Synaxarion includes the stories of the saints, but lo, we do not live in monasteries and most of our churches do not celebrate daily Orthros for us to attend. So many of us go without ever knowing the saints, and it is a shame.
Today, for example, the Church commemorates several ancient saints that are even mentioned in the Holy Scriptures. Saints Archippus, Phileomon, Apphia, and Onesimos are all addressed directly by Saint Paul. These are not just names of unknown people of history. They are soldiers of the ancient Church, who struggled for the faith. Today’s we get a glimpse of how they interacted, just a glimpse. Take a moment and read today’s reading.
PAUL, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker, and Apphia our sister and Archippos our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may promote the knowledge of all the good that is ours in Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you – I, Paul, an ambassador and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus – I appeal to you for my child, Onesimos, whose father I have become in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will. Perhaps this is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand, I will repay it – to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be granted to you. Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchos, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. – Philemon 1.1-25
Onesimos and Philemon had been at odds since Onesimos stole from Philemon, but Paul worked to reconcile them to each other. This is why he said, “Formerly he was useless to you, but now is indeed useful to you and to me.” As part of the reconciliation, St Paul offered to pay whatever Onesimos owed to Philemon. We can only imagine this was to convince Philemon of Onesimos’ sincerity. Wouldn’t it be nice if our Church leaders worked to reconcile us to each other when we have wronged one another?
We often think the lives of the saints are of no intrinsic value to our contemporary lives in America, but today’s example reveals just the opposite. I’m sure it wouldn’t take but a few minutes to conjure up a few names of people we have wronged, or who have wronged us. Maybe we even wrote them off, as it seems Philemon may have done at one point in regard to Onesimos.
Thankfully, they were reconciled, and so can we be with those in our lives. It only takes love as St Paul said, “For I have derived much joy and comfort from your live, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.” Does our love refresh the Church? I can if we allow it to. Maybe today’s reading can inspire some ‘love-inspired’ reconciliation in our lives. It could even inspire others to reconcile as it did in the ancient Church.