How, in the first 3 centuries Anno Domino, did Christianity spread? How did the knowledge of Jesus Christ pass from twelve of His followers and their families and friends to people all around the Mediterranean and beyond? How – despite sporadic and then systematic persecution – did an estimated 10% of the population of the vast Roman Empire become Christian in those three centuries? Who were the people who made this happen?
This is a question we should be asking in our post-Christian day and we should seek diligently for the answer so that we may once again make use of whatever ways were effective in first-century Palestine or 2nd- and 3rd-century Gaul and Britain.
The Apostles of our Lord had been the “giants” of the faith. They had heard Jesus’ teachings first-hand and witnessed his miracles, they had suffered through his Crucifixion, rejoiced at his Resurrection, and then received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. They were the “front-line soldiers” who carried the Good News out into the world. They taught and inspired others to follow their examples and it is those followers of The Way who continued to change the world.
The Roman Martyrology, which lists numerous saints who witnessed to the truth of Christianity in ages past, provides the names of those whose work resulted in this phenomenal growth. At St. Gregory’s, the list for the following day is read at Vespers each Saturday evening, so that we hear something about the life and death (often a martyr’s death) of these pioneers of the faith. Very little is known about many of these early saints – sometimes only their names, “written in the Book of Life” [Phil. 4:3] – but the Church in some part of the world or other revered that person as one who embodied the love of Christ and who shared it with others, using whatever skills and circumstances available to them. In the Martyrology readings for the month of October, we encounter a number of saints who belonged to that generation which carried the Church forward after the passing of the Apostles.
On October 4, Ss. Crispus and Caius: In I Corinthians [1:14], we learn that St. Paul baptized Ss. Crispus and Caius, and in the Book of Acts [18:8] that Crispus had been the ruler of the synagogue in Corinth. Caius provided hospitality for St. Paul at his home in Corinth where St. Paul wrote his letter to the Romans [16:23]. This is also the feast day of St. Hierotheus, a lawyer in Corinth who was baptized by St. Paul around the year 53 and who may have become a bishop, using his rhetorical skills as a lawyer for evangelization before dying a martyr’s death.
On October 6, St. Sagar: All we know of him is that he was a disciple of St. Paul who became the Bishop of Laodicea (in modern-day Turkey) and that he was martyred.
On October 8, Ss. Marcellus and Apuleius: As seekers for the truth, these men were first followers of Simon the Magician, who performed “miracles” in the public square and sought fame. (The story of the magus is told in Acts 8.) When the two heard the teaching of St. Peter, they recognized what they had been seeking and became converts to Christianity; they were later martyred for their faith.
On October 11, Ss Zenais and Philomilla: These sisters are identified as relatives of St Paul living in his hometown of Tarsus, but nothing else is known of their lives. Like so many others, they were brought into the Church by one of their kinfolk and continued to tell others about Christ.
On October 12, St. Carpus: Carpus was one of the Seventy, a group sent out by our Lord (in pairs) to precede Him on his journeys and to help prepare people for the Savior. St. Luke records Christ’s admonition to potential followers: “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” [Luke 9:62] The Seventy were followers who never looked back but made a full and complete commitment to their Lord. St. Carpus is mentioned by St. Paul in his second letter to Timothy [4:13] because Paul had left a cloak (or a liturgical vestment) and some books at his home in Troas (Macedonia) and asked Timothy to bring them to him.
On October 22, St. Mary Salome: Salome was one of the women who brought myrrh and other spices to the tomb for anointing the body of Jesus and discovered the empty tomb. Holy Tradition identifies her as the daughter of Joseph and his first wife, who married Zebedee and whose sons were James and John, Apostles of the Lord. Salome had been closely involved in Christ’s ministry, no doubt helping behind the scenes with domestic necessities. Even when most of the Apostles ran away in fear at the time of the Crucifixion, she and the other women remained, keeping watch and providing comfort to the Theotokos.
On October 25, St. Fronto: This saint’s life is not recorded in Holy Scripture but the Tradition of the Church is that he was baptized by St. Peter and accompanied him to the Christian communities at Antioch and Rome. He was later ordained by St. Peter to be the first Bishop of Perigueux, an ancient city in Gaul, and to work for the conversion of the local people.
On October 31, Ss. Ampliatus, Urban, Narcissus and Stachys: These saints are thought to have been among the Seventy, appointed by Christ himself. They were obviously active in the missionary work of the Apostles. St. Paul calls Ampliatus “my beloved in the Lord”, Urban “our fellow worker in Christ” , he says that Narcissus’ household is “in the Lord” and calls Stachys “my beloved” [Romans 16:8-11]. According to Tradition, St. Stachys was ordained by St. Andrew the Apostle to be the first Bishop of Byzantium, Ampliatus as Bishop of Lydda, and Urban Bishop of Macedonia. Narcissus was ordained to be Bishop of Athens by the Apostle Philip.
Could we do what these people did? Could we leave behind the cares of this world and follow Christ completely? Could we even face death rather than deny Christ? These people did not begin life as saints. But they heard the Truth from those who had been closest to Jesus, they determined to lead Christ-like lives – and they “put their hands to the plow” and never looked back. In doing so, they changed the world.
These saints did not write Gospels and they did not help to articulate the great theological questions, but they changed the world. Many continued to live and work in the world as they had before, but they resisted the immorality prevalent in the society around them. They offered the love and kindness of God to those around them, even when ridiculed and criticized. When given the opportunity, they offered the life-changing teachings of Christ and those who accepted the responsibility of the priesthood and episcopate offered the life-giving sacraments to those who would follow Christ. Whatever their stations in life and the talents and skills they possessed, they worked to increase the Church. May God help us to do the same, and may all the saints pray for us.