|Sts. Archippus, Appia (Apphia), and Philemon|
Tomorrow, Thursday of the thirty-second week in Ordinary Time, the Church reads from the Letter of St. Paul to Philemon. This is the shortest of St. Paul’s letters, and is nearly the shortest book of the Bible. With a mere 445 words, only the second and third Letters of St. John are shorter.
Yet, as the Apostle was inspired by the Holy Spirit to send Philemon this Letter, we do well to consider the life and identity of this saint.
Philemon’s identity from the Letter
St. Paul identifies Philemon as our beloved and fellow labourer (1) who seems to be the head of the church which meets in his house. Further, we know that he was wealthy enough to possess slaves, namely Onesimus concerning whom St. Paul writes.
While it is true that the Apostle is led to challenge Philemon to accept Onesimus not as a slave but as a brother in Christ, we must not neglect to mention the praises which St. Paul directs toward this man.
The Apostle lauds his charity and faith which he has in the Lord Jesus, and toward all the saints (5), indeed St. Paul even states, I have great joy and consolation in thy charity, because the bowels of the saints have been refreshed in thee, brother (7).
St. Paul was not the type of man to engage in useless flattery, nor would he ever be a liar. Thus, we must conclude that Philemon was truly a holy and devout man, filled with charity, and a great consolation to the Apostle.
Philemon was surely the dear and intimate friend of St. Paul – If therefore thou count me a partner, receive him as myself (17) and Yea, brother. May I enjoy thee in the Lord. Refresh my bowels in the Lord (20). Further, it is likely that Philemon was converted to the true faith by St. Paul himself, hence the Apostle writes – thou owest me thy own self (19).
Probable conclusions from the Letter
Further, we may conclude that Philemon was married to the Appia whom St. Paul mentions as his dearest sister in the second verse. It is likely, also, that Archippus the fellow soldier is their son.
Given that he is called a “fellow laborer” and is presented as the head of a house-church, it would certainly seem that Philemon was a bishop.
That Philemon was in some way tied to the city of Colossae seems likely, as Archippus (whom St. Paul addresses together with Philemon) is mentioned as a member of the church of the Colossians (cf. Colossians 4:17).
It is held that Philemon worked zealously for the spread of the Gospel, perhaps first in Ephesus and later in Colossae. He seems to have been the Bishop of Colossae (a fact attested to by the Apostolic Constitutions). In some Christian traditions he is even called an apostle, after the fashion by which Barnabas and others are called apostles.
Tradition holds that he was indeed married to Appia, and that Archippus was there son.
He seems to have been martyred, together with his wife, son, and former slave, at Colossae during the first general persecution of Nero.
The feast of St. Philemon is kept on November 22nd.
St. Philemon, Pray for us!