We see the image of a man who experienced a tremendous SPIRITUAL and SOCIAL transformation. ONESIMUS was the personal slave of a distinguished citizen of Colossae named Philemon in the days of the early Church. After stealing from his master’s treasury, it is said that Onesimus fled to Rome. It was in this ancient capital of the Empire that his life would be changed forever!
While in Rome, Onesimus first heard about Jesus Christ through the preaching of the Apostle Paul, who was imprisoned there. Soon he was baptized into Christianity and became a companion of the famous “Apostle to the Gentiles.”
Knowing of Onesimus’ background, Paul was faced with a moral dilemma. He himself preached that “… in Christ, there is neither slave nor free man.” (Gal 3:28) According to Roman law, however, Onesimus still belonged to Philemon! Scriptures tell us that St. Paul sent Onesimus back to Colossae with a special letter to Philemon, which would later become a part of the canonical books of the New Testament. In his epistle, Paul urges Philemon to receive Onesimus with forgiveness as a brother of in the Lord. “Perhaps he departed for awhile for this purpose,” Paul writes, “that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave – A beloved brother.” Deeply moved by Paul’s words, Philemon gave freedom to his former slave.
According to Church tradition, Onesimus later became Bishop of Ephesus. He suffered martyrdom in Rome, like his mentor St. Paul, in 109AD.
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