The word of the day is “fellow.” We might get the impression that all the credit for Paul’s work among the Gentiles was his alone. Likewise, when we think of the lives of the saints, we do not consider those with whom they lived and worked. But today, in our reading of Romans 16:1-16, we find that St. Paul closes his letter by sending greetings to a surprising number of associates and friends. If we take the beginnings and endings of Paul’s letters into account, we find that he labored with a large network of fellow helpers and supporters. In fact, he was the head of a missionary team of faithful leaders and helpers. Today we will talk about two of his closest co-workers. And we will reflect on all those who contributed to the life and growth of the church as well as our own spiritual lives.
Paul’s Letters Give Evidence of His Co-Workers
In today’s reading, Paul sends greetings from Corinth to a surprising number of members of the Roman church. We do not know why he knowns is acquainted with so many of them (OSB comment on Romans ). Yet some he calls “fellow workers” and “beloved.”
Among the associates the apostle mentioned were his endearing friends, Priscilla and Aquila (Romans 16:3-5). Paul first met them when he came to Corinth from Athens. There he stayed with them and joined them in the trade of tentmaking (Acts 18:3). They became so close that when St. Paul left Corinth for Ephesus, they went with him (Acts 18:18).
The couple had come to Corinth from Rome because Emperor Claudius had expelled some Jews from the city in 46 A.D. We know that sometime around 55 A.D., they were in Ephesus because St. Paul mentioned them when he wrote 1 Corinthians about that time (1 Corinthians 18:19).
Incidental Information About Paul’s Partners
Now, we find that somewhere around 56 A.D., they were back in Rome. According to St. Paul, both in Ephesus and Rome, they hosted a church in their home—what we now call “House-Churches.” St. Paul’s relationship with this couple was exceptionally close. He calls them “fellow workers in Christ” (Romans 16:3) and says that they “risked their necks for my life.” He says that he and “all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks for them” (Romans 16:4).
We do not know much about what Pricilla and Aquila did to support St. Paul and the Gospel except that they were beloved friends. We do know that besides providing a place for believers to meet, they were instrumental in the Christian instruction of a powerful preacher named Apollos (Acts 18:26). They are representatives of countless of faithful followers of Christ who, through the centuries, have dedicated their lives to the church. They inspire us to give thanks to God for those who have personally nurtured and supported us in the faith.
We might forget that Paul did not travel on his missionary journeys alone. The apostle describes the dangers and difficulties of travel in his time: “in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren (OSB 2 Corinthians 11:26). Paul would have been foolhardy to journey in these conditions. But he had faithful companions who shared the hardships and hazards of his travels and also the persecution of Paul’s opponents.
But in the book of Acts and the letters of Paul, the apostle is the focus. His companions are mentioned together with Paul and do not have their own individuality. However, Paul could not have journeyed from place to place nor accomplished his work without these co-workers, who were Barnabas and Silas.
Church Tradition Offers More Knowledge of Paul’s Companions
Church tradition fills in our knowledge of these co-workers. After Barnabas separated from Paul, he went to Cyprus. He then traveled to Italy and founded the episcopal see of Milan. He returned to Cyprus, where he was martyred (Apostle Barnabas). On the other hand, Silas was consecrated bishop of Corinth and performed many miracles and signs there (Apostle Silas).
Apostle Barnabas of the Seventy. “The Lives of the Saints.” OCA Website.
Apostle Silas of the Seventy. “The Lives of the Saints.” OCA Website.