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Jul 01, 2022 378 Shalom Tidings
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No Longer a Slave

Have you heard of Onesimus about whom Saint Paul wrote the shortest “book” in the Bible?

A Phrygian by birth, Onesimus was a slave to Philemon, an influential member of the Christian community. Philemon had been instructed in the faith and baptized by Saint Paul, who has become his friend and mentor. We lack definite details, but we know that the slave Onesimus had run away from his master—perhaps taking with him some wealth that wasn’t his. At some point after his escape, Onesimus meets Saint Paul in the city where Paul is imprisoned—possibly Rome or Ephesus. Because of Paul’s preaching, young Onesimus embraces Christ and becomes a beloved and indispensable member of Paul’s entourage.

Nonetheless, despite wanting to keep him as his companion in ministry, Paul sends Onesimus back to his master Philemon. But Onesimus does not go unarmed: he carries a brief, but powerful letter Paul has penned. Still a cherished part of the New Testament, The Letter of Saint Paul to Philemon presents Paul’s entreaty that Philemon forgive Onesimus and accept him as “no longer a slave, but more than a slave, a brother and beloved…”

The Letter does not tell us how Philemon responded, but tradition suggests that he did pardon Onesimus, who then returned to his faithful service of Saint Paul in Rome. We know from Paul that later Onesimus carried Paul’s Letter to the Colossians to that community. Tradition also says that, as a zealous preacher of the Gospel, Onesimus eventually succeeded Saint Timothy as Bishop of Ephesus. But his frequent and ardent preaching inflamed with the love of God attracted the attention and the anger of the authorities.

After the martyrdom of Paul, the governor of Rome seized Onesimus and exiled him to one of the islands. There too he went about preaching and baptizing, further infuriating the governor. Onesimus was then arrested and taken in chains to Rome and subjected to cruel tortures for eighteen days. His legs and thighs were broken with bludgeons and finally he was beheaded for refusing to deny his faith in Christ. It is believed that his martyrdom occurred under Emperor Domitian in the year 90.

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