Friday, July 10, 2015


St. Onesimus

Feast day: February 16

Death: 68 OR 90

Martyr and former slave. He is mentioned in St. Paul's Letter to Philemon as the slave of Philemon in Colossae, Phrygia, who ran away. Paul met Onesimus while the former was in a Roman prison, and Paul baptized the slave and came to consider him his own son. Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon with the epistle, asking Philemon to accept him "no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man in the Lord. So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me. And if he has done you any injustice or owes you anything, charge it to me". In Paul's Letter to the Colossians, Onesimus is again mentioned as accompanying Tychicus, the bearer of the letter. The pre-1970 Roman Martyrology incorrectly identifies Onesimus with the bishop of Ephesus who followed St. Timothy as bishop of Ephesus and who was stoned to death in Rome.

Onesimus, meaning 'helpful' or 'profitable,' was a run-away slave who is the subject of Saint Paul's shortest letter. Onesimus had been in the service of Philemon, to whom Paul addresses the missive. Philemon, a leading citizen of Colossae, Phrygia, was an intimate friend of Paul; indeed, the letter could only have been written to one with whom he was on the closest terms of friendship. Probably he was one of Saint Paul's converts. He was obviously a rich man, of high and generous character
and given to hospitality, for Saint Paul asks him to prepare a lodging for him, and he had a church in his home.

Behind the letter lies a painful story. Onesimus had run away from Philemon and over a matter of money. We can only conjecture that he had been dishonest or had been under suspicion,

Onesimus had been in disgrace and had run away. He had then come under the influence of Saint Paul, now an old man, and had served him in his imprisonment. He had confessed his fault and been converted, for Saint Paul says he begat him in Christ, and he had become a true son of the Gospel. Indeed, he had found him so profitable and helpful that he would like to keep him permanently with him, but was constrained by a sense of duty, and by his regard for Philemon, to return him.

Saint Paul was thus faced with the difficult task of writing this delicate letter. He makes no attempt to condone the fault; on the contrary, he lays open the whole matter. "Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord. So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me"

 Evidently, Onesimus went back to Philemon and, no longer in disgrace, was accepted as a brother, because in Colossians (4:7-9) Paul mentions Onesimus with Tychichus as the bearer of the epistle to the Colossians.

 The further story of Onesimus is unknown, though Saint Jerome said that Onesimus became a preacher of the Word and later a bishop, though probably not the Bishop Onesimus of Ephesus who was the third successor to Timothy, showed hospitality to Saint Ignatius of Antioch, and was stoned to death in Rome, as stated in the Roman Martyrology. The Apostolic Constitutions account Onesimus as bishop of Berea in Macedonia, and his former master Philemon, bishop of Colossae. Some sources say Onesimus preached in Spain and suffered martyrdom

 Saint Onesimus is pictured at the time of his martyrdom: He is a bishop being stoned to death .

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