9.LYDIA AND THE CHURCH IN PHILIPPI
In Troas, Paul heard in a vision the appeal of a Macedonian: ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us!’ Immediately he sailed for Greece, stopping in Philippi, a commercial centre and Roman colony inhabited by veterans and Latin peasants, where Judaism showed Greek influences.
The house of Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, who was baptised with all her family and hosted the missionaries for their entire stay, fast became the centre of one of Paul’s most faithful communities, providing him with both affection and material support. (2 Cor 11:8) It was with her that Paul wished to celebrate Easter some years later, before his definitive departure from that region of the Aegean Sea.
Paul was soon accused of proselytism by the local authorities. In those days there was not a clear distinction between Christianity and Judaism, even if the Jews enjoyed a privileged status. For the first time therefore, Paul was put in prison with Silas. At midnight, while they were busy praying and singing, an earthquake set the prisoners free and their jailer, seeing the prison door open, was about to kill himself. But Paul shouted ‘We are all here,’ whereupon the jailer was baptised with all his family. Paul demanded to be let out, not in secret but ‘triumphantly’ by laying claim to his Roman citizenship and then returned to Lydia’s house.
10.THESSALONICA: A PLACE OF FAMILY DEVOTION
This time Paul angered the Jews when he went, according to his usual habit, to the synagogue and explained ‘during three Sabbaths’ the Scriptures which proved that Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. He was accused of fomenting trouble against the laws of the Emperor so his brothers organised his departure for Berea. But he was pursued there by the Jews from Thessalonica and once again forced to flee across the sea towards Athens where Silas and Timothy joined him.
Shortly afterwards the community in Thessalonica received the first two letters from Paul: they display all the fervour and the worries of a young Church.
At Jason’s house in Thessalonica, just as at Lydia’s house in Philippi, religion and worship was based at the family home and the social or business relationships that revolved around it.
In the capital of the Greek world, where people came from all over the Roman empire to study, Paul encountered the Greek culture and ‘he was greatly upset when he noticed how full of idols the city was.’ He preached as much in the synagogue as in the public squares, until he came to the Areopagus, provoking the curiosity of intellectuals, Epicureans and Stoics, but little interest in the Christian faith. ‘I found an altar on which is written: To an Unknown God. That which you worship then, even though you do not know it, is what I now proclaim to you.’ (Paul does not quote this episode. Rather, this kind of phrase suggests the preaching of the first missionaries in the Greek Church at the end of the 1st century faced with the pagan gods influenced by Stoicism. The absence of any mention of the cross or salvation makes it unlikely that Paul ever pronounced these words.)