15 February: St. Onesimus


Today is the feast of St. Onesimus.

1. Commemoratio beati Onesimi, quem sanctus Paulus Apostolus servum fugitivum et in vinculis utpote Christi in fide filium genuit, sicut ipse domino eius Philemoni scripsit. … The commemoration of St. Onesimus, whom, as a runaway slave, St. Paul the Apostle fathered as son of Christ in faith, as he wrote himself to his [Onesimus’s] master Philemon.


Onesimus was a slave of one Philemon of Colossae, a Christian. Onesimus stole some of his master’s money and fled to where Paul was, either in Rome or Ephesus.  Paul, who had converted Philemon, wrote him letter to reconcile the two. 

Let’s read the whole letter of Paul to Philemon.  It’s easy and profound:

1: Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved and fellow worker,
2: and Ap’phia our sister and Archip’pus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:
3: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4: I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers,
5: because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and all the saints,
6: and I pray that the sharing of your faith may promote the knowledge of all the good that is ours in Christ.
7: For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.
8: Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required,
9: yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you
— I, Paul, an ambassador and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus —
10: I appeal to you for my child, Ones’imus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment.
11: (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.)
12: I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart.
13: 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;
14: 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.
15: Perhaps this is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back for ever,
16: 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.
17: So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me.
18: If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.
19: I, Paul, write this with my own hand, I will repay it
— to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.
20: Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.
21: Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
22: At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be granted to you.
23: Ep’aphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you,
24: and so do Mark, Aristar’chus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.
25: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

"Be with your spirit"!

On Wednesday Pope Benedict spoke abuot Apphia during his audience.

Part of the story about Onesimus is that he was eventually made bishop of Ephesus and killed during the persecution of Christians by Trajan, in Rome, by decapitation.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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One Comment

  1. Jordan Potter says:

    “Part of the story about Onesimus is that he was eventually made bishop of Ephesus and killed during the persecution of Christians by Trajan, in Rome, by decapitation.”

    In his letter to the Ephesians, written circa 110 A.D., St. Ignatius of Antioch mentions “Onesimus” as the name of the Bishop of Ephesus, and praises Bishop Onesimus. It is quite possible that, as the ancient legend says, St. Onesimus of Ephesus is the same as the biblical St. Onesimus. But whether or not they are the same, it is likely that Bishop Onesimus of Ephesus succeeded St. Timothy, whom St. Paul identifies as Bishop of Ephesus. Timothy and Onesimus would almost certainly have known the Apostle St. John, and perhaps the Blessed Virgin, whom ancient tradition says lived at Ephesus in their later years.

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