February 15, 2022

The Life and Passion of the Holy Apostle Onesimus, One of the Seventy (St. Justin Popovich)

St. Onesimus the Apostle (Feast Day - February 15)

 By St. Justin Popovich

In the Phrygian city of Colossae was a distinguished nobleman named Philemon. He believed in Christ, and later was honored with the episcopal rank. He would also be included among the Holy Seventy Apostles. Before his apostleship, Philemon had a slave named Onesimus. He sinned against his master and, fearing punishment, fled from him and traveled to Rome. In Rome he found the Holy Apostle Paul in chains, and heard a holy sermon from him. And having learned the holy faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, he was baptized by the apostle, and served him in Rome with Saint Tychicus. His service to the apostle was also of great benefit.

Then, sending Saint Tychicus with his Epistle to the Colossians, the Holy Apostle Paul sent with him Saint Onesimus, as it is written at the end of the Epistle: "Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here" (Col. 4:7-9). The apostle wrote this through Tychicus, and through Onesimus he wrote a separate Epistle to Philemon, asking him to forgive Onesimus' sin, and to receive him not as a slave, but as a beloved brother, even as himself - the Apostle Paul. The Apostle calls him his son in his Epistle. He writes to Philemon: "I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him — who is my very heart — back to you" (Phil. 10-12). Philemon did this with joy: he not only received him kindly, but also gave him freedom, and sent him back to Rome to the Holy Apostle Paul, to serve him there. For this is what Saint Paul himself wanted, as he writes about Philemon: "I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary" (Phil. 13-14).

And the Holy Apostle Onesimus remained in Rome, serving the holy apostles until their death. And they appointed him bishop to preach the gospel. And after their death, he left Rome, and toured the cities and countries, preaching Christ in Spain, in Carpetania, in Colossae, in Patras. Then, after Saint Timothy and Saint John the Theologian, he received the episcopal throne in Ephesus. We see this from the epistle of Saint Ignatius the God-bearer, which he wrote to the Ephesians from Smyrna, when they took him from Antioch to Rome to throw him to the beasts. There, in Smyrna, he was met by Saint Onesimus with several Ephesians. And Saint Ignatius writes to the Ephesians as follows: "I received, therefore, your whole multitude in the name of God, through Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love, and your bishop in the flesh, whom I pray you by Jesus Christ to love, and that you would all seek to be like him. And blessed be He who has granted unto you, being worthy, to obtain such an excellent bishop." And writing from Smyrna to his Antiochians, Saint Ignatius says: "Onesimus, the shepherd of Ephesus, greets you."

It can be seen from this that Saint Onesimus, having visited many countries and cities, sat on the episcopal throne in Ephesus as an old man. And since he was shepherding the Church of God there for a while, he would be captured by the pagans and taken to Rome. He would be taken to court before Judge Tertullus.

Judge Tertullus asked him: "Who are you?"

Onesimus answered: "I am a Christian."

The judge asked him: "What rank are you?"

Onesimus answered: "Once I was a slave of one man, and now I am a slave of a gentle Lord - our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

The judge asked: "What is the reason you passed to another master?"

Onesimus answered: "Knowledge of the truth, and hatred of idolatry."

The judge asked: "For how much were you sold to the new master?"

Onesimus answered: "The Son of God, Jesus Christ, who redeemed me with his precious blood from destruction, translated me into incorruptibility. As it is written in our Scriptures: 'It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the vain way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (1 Peter 1:18-19).

The judge asked: "What does your Scripture call 'vain way of life'?"

Onesimus answered: "Vanity is: adultery, which prepares eternal fire for passionate sinners for short-term bodily pleasure; avarice, because of injustice done others; sorcery, which is from demons, and is the root of every attack and trap; pride, which raises ones self above others with arrogance; envy, which taught Cain fratricide and many others; gossip and unbridled language, which like a cloud pours ridicule on everyone; hypocrisy and lies, the enemy of truth and the friend of the devil, with which he bound and seduced Eve; anger, accursed inventor and instigator of war and murder; drunkenness, which is a companion to incontinence, and a sister to lust and a mother to obscene words, deprived of good thoughts, and rude in nature and words. All this constitutes a vain life. After all the above, the source and mother of such a vain life is your service to idols. For the service of idols is the basis of fornication, the teacher of paganism, the blindness of the mind, the builder of lustful irritation; worship of idols fights against the Lord of all and everything, and strives to destroy true worship; it is the leader of death, the servant of the devil, the food of the wicked, the adversary of virtue, the evader of incorruption, the preacher of your pernicious law, the companion of bloodshed, the prince of hatred; it hunts the simple with a web of paganism; it is the intimate mediator of darkness and gloom; it is alien to light grace; it shackles its supporters in shackles of shameful deeds; it is a hateful blasphemer, who teaches ambition; it shames the seated elders, ordering them to play the trumpet of the priest's trumpet; it destroys virginal chastity; it celebrates its holidays with iron and sword; it sheds the blood of animals, and thus shows the filth of its shamelessness; it exposes human bodies in the middle of the city; it also exposes women; it offers its victims of murder and adultery, and various forms of idolatry shatter human minds like ships; it orders its priests to eat poisonous snakes; it persuades people to eat other people's gods; it slaughters the ox, and offers the sacrifice to the ox, offers the sheep to the sheep, and equates god and cattle; and a man offers a sacrifice to a man, hewn out of stone or wood, and instead of health he commits murder, sacrificing soulless beings to soulless things. But why talk so much? Idolatry in great blindness and ignorance plunges people into hell. Seeing in wicked and pagan idolatry such a vain life, which distort the Scriptures, I fled from it as from a turbulent sea, and took refuge in a good haven: in a just and holy life, which is holy faith in the one true God, and in love towards the neighbor. And I advise you, O Tertullas, to fulfill the law of love of neighbor: to love your neighbor as yourself. In that way, you, like me, will know the truth, and leave temporary vanity and everything in this world. Because it all passes like a dream and a shadow. And soon you will approach the Creator of all, God, and you will be saved by coming to true reason. For God does not rejoice in the death of those who anger Him, but rejoices in their conversion and repentance, and forgives their past sins."

Judge Tertullus said: "Are you not afraid of suffering, not only do you not agree to worship the gods, but you also want to drag us into your delusion?"

Saint Onesimus answered: "Your sufferings cannot frighten me, even if they were the worst, because I, comforted by the hope of future treasures and strengthened by the power of my Christ, will endure everything that you will prepare for me."

Then the judge ordered Saint Onesimus to be thrown into the most terrible dungeon. And Saint Onesimus spent eighteen days in it, sitting in it as in a bright paradise and in a cool place, and rejoicing in the Lord his God. The faithful came to him and celebrated his suffering, and strengthened him in his struggle. And the saint preached the word of God to the unbelievers present, and guided them on the path of knowing the truth.

After eighteen days, Judge Tertullus showed mercy, and did not sentence him to death, but expelled him from the city, and sent him into captivity in Putiol. And the Holy Apostle Onesimus did not stop preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of Christ there and leading many to eternal life. Upon learning of this, Tertullus arrested him again, and brought him bound to court. When he examined him and saw that he was steadfast in the faith, he ordered him to be spread on the ground, and beaten without mercy with four sticks. And beating him mercilessly for a long time, he broke his knees and many other bones. He finally had his head cut off. Thus Saint Onesimus died in the year 109. And a woman of the royal family, a Christian by faith, took his holy body, placed it in a silver casket, and commemorated it, gaining in her prayers the remembrance of the Lord in the Kingdom of Heaven, which we too may receive in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory forever. Amen.

From The Lives of the Saints. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.