Bible and Mission. Europe’s First Church

“Come to my house and stay” – Read Acts of the Apostles 15: 36–16: 15

Europe’s first church was born “by chance” and it was all feminine. The race of the Word, which started in Jerusalem, reached Judea and Samaria. After the encounter between Peter and Cornelius, some Hellenists from Cyprus and Cyrene, possibly traders, went to Antioch and immediately started evangelizing the pagans. This mixed and problematic community, the base camp of Paul’s journeys, was the cause of the “Council” of Jerusalem.

Christianity spread throughout Asia Minor where the thirst for salvation and the mystery cults, with their related search for relationship with God, facilitated the announcement of the Gospel. There were deep desires that needed only to be made explicit and directed towards Christ.

After the experience of the first journey, Paul carefully prepared the second. His companion was Barnabas and the target was the communities he had founded and the new ones he would add to them. Everything was planned: where to go, what to do, whom to collaborate with and whom to turn to. The only unknown factor was the time of permanence. Paul, however, knew that everywhere, “chains and tribulations are waiting for him” (Acts 20: 23): once a community was born, persecution sent him elsewhere.

The plan, however, didn’t work. Soon, Barnabas separated from Paul. His companion then was Silas who, “by chance”, had not gone back to Jerusalem. The target changed: Barnabas left for Cyprus with Mark; Paul and Silas went towards Derbe and Lystra in order to evangelise the Asian Province.

There they met, always “by chance”, Timothy, who joined them. They went through Phrygia and Galatia, but the Holy Spirit, we don’t know why, forbade them to preach. Then they reached Mysia in order to go to Bithynia but the Spirit of Jesus didn’t allow it. They descended to Troas, the sea door towards Greece, where a dream diverted them towards Europe, in Macedonia.

At Troas, Luke, the author of the Gospel and the Acts, also joined them. His presence, even if anonymous, was clear. Suddenly, the account changed from the third person plural “they” to “we” (cf. Acts 16: 10: “We tried to depart.”). The meetings with Silas, Timothy and Luke were destined to begin the new mission.

Evangelization is God’s work. He puts obstacles in our projects and works with the unexpected. What appears as chance is His way of travelling incognito. Not our certainties but the most upsetting novelties reveal God’s will.

The short crossing from Troas to Philippi was, in reality, the jump from Asia to Europe. Beyond the Bosporus, Paul and company met the Greek-Roman world, a cultural and religious universe different from their own.

Paul could not make use of the strategy already tested with Jews and Hellenists in Asia. He tried new approaches. It was not by chance that he started looking for Jewish people already settled in the territory – they were familiar with the local mentality. Their inculturation process had started long ago because of their zeal for spreading the Word and their intellectual curiosity.

Arriving at Philippi, the apostolic quartet went out of the city and along the river bank. It was a Saturday. For lack of something better, it was a place of prayer fit for the Jews and their ablutions. The riverside became a synagogue and the congregation was only women. The four men sat with them and spoke to them of Christ.

Among the women listeners was Lydia, a purple dye merchant from Thyatira. Listening to Paul, the Lord opened her heart. Lydia asked for baptism and “compelled” them to go to her house. The house of this hospitable woman was the first of all the churches in the West. This community, which had not been planned, was the dearest to Paul (read the Letter to the Philippians). The good seed would spread from there to the ends of the earth. (Fr. Silvano Fausti)

– (Illustration: Luis Henrique Alves Pinto)


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