LYDIA AND THE CHURCH OF PHILIPPI
In Troas, during a vision Paul heard a Macedonian imploring him: “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). Immediately, he sailed towards Greece and stopped in Philippi, a commercial city and Roman colony populated by veterans and Latin peasants, where Hellenism had a great influence upon Judaism.
The house of Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, who asked to be baptized together with her whole household and used to invite missionaries over during their stay, became the centre of a community. It quickly formed and became one of the communities most faithful to Paul, by offering him the affection and material supplies of its members (2 Cor. 11:8). Some years later, before his definitive departure from the region of the Aegean Sea, he desired to celebrate Easter with this particular community.
The local authorities soon accused Paul of proselytism. At that time, Christianity and Judaism were not yet so distinct, even if Judaism enjoyed a privileged status. For the very first time, Paul, together with Silas, was imprisoned. At midnight, while they were praying and singing hymns to God, an earthquake irrupted freeing all the prisoners; the jailer, seeing the doors open, was about to kill himself thinking that the prisoners had escaped (cf. Acts 16:25-27). Paul shouted out to him “We are all here” (Acts 16:28). The jailer asked to be baptized along with his family. Paul claimed that he was a Roman citizen and thus had to be released not secretly but “in triumph”, before going back to Lydia’s house.
THESSALONICA: A PLACE OF FAMILY WORSHIP
At that time, when Paul went to the Synagogue as he was accustomed to doing and explained for three consecutive days that according to the Scriptures “the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead” (Acts 17:2-3), the Jews opposed him. The accusation that he was stirring up turmoil against the imperial law moved his brothers to plan his departure for Beroea. But when the Jews of Thessalonica discovered Paul’s whereabouts and the fact that he was preaching the word of God in Beroea also, they went and persecuted him there as well. Therefore, Paul had to once again escape by sea all the way to Athens, where he would later be joined by Silas and Timothy. Shortly thereafter, the community of Thessalonica would receive the first two Letters of Paul which bear witness to the fervor and restlessness of a young Church.
In Thessalonica, the Christian community’s place of worship and religion was the home, that is, the family with all that it entailed at the time: social relations and work. In particular it gathered in Jason’s home just as the Church of Philippi met at Lydia’s.
ATHENS, THE IDOLS
In the capital of Hellenism, where one would come to study from all over the Roman Empire, Paul encountered the Greek culture, “exasperated at the sight of the city full of idols” (Acts 17:16). He preached both in the Synagogue and in the public square – even at the Aeropagus – thus provoking the curiosity of intellectuals, “Epicurean and Stoic philosophers”, but few of them adhered to the Christian faith. “I even discovered an altar inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God’. What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23). (Paul never mentioned this episode. This kind of speech recalls rather the preaching of the first missionaries in the Hellenic churches at the end of the first century to some pagans influenced by Stoicism. The absence of any hints to the Cross and salvation causes one to doubt that Paul ever said these words).