The First Christian in Europe

The first Christian in Europe


Can you imagine what it would be like to receive a letter from St Paul?  Would you open it with trepidation; with reverence or with anticipation?  And then you find it says;


“I thank you every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy for all of you because of your partnership in the Gospel … Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus … that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow … I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection … I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ … Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone.  The Lord is near.”


Thus St Paul wrote from his prison cell to the little house church that he had established in Philippi.  A letter full of warmth, happiness, gratitude, affection and reassurance.  Someone must have made an impression on Paul to draw such words!  So who was this character and where did she live?


Philippi was a Macedonian City founded by Alexander the Great and now a Roman Colony – that is a community of retired soldiers – I’m picturing a Roman military equivalent of Hartrigg Oaks!


The Acts of the Apostles chapter 16 tells us of the vision that took Paul, with Silas and Timothy across the Aegean Sea – from what is now Turkey to Greece.  The transit of migrants across this sea, regularly appearing in our news feeds, reminds us only too starkly of the perils of this journey.


They came to Philippi.  There was no synagogue – usually the first port of call in any place Paul visited.  But on the Sabbath, outside the city and next to a river he found a group of women at prayer.  It was here, Acts 6 v.14 records “A woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira (in Asia Minor) a dealer in purple cloth.  The Lord had opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.”


Lydia responded; she and her household were baptised, the first recorded Christian converts in Europe.  Lydia then prevailed upon Paul and his companions to stay at her home.  She was notable in having a trade and seems to have been a woman of some means, with a house large enough to accommodate the missionaries, generous in her welcome and hospitality.  We know that the Philippian church continued to support Paul financially after he had moved on.


Their stay clearly lasted several days.  Later Paul and Silas were beaten, jailed and ejected from the City (you can read the story in Acts of the Apostles chapter 16).  However, before they left, they returned to Lydia’s home and encouraged the newly formed “House Church”.


Lydia was clearly a key player in the establishment of the church in Philippi; perhaps a natural leader.  She had been an informed, prayerful “seeker”, receptive to Paul’s proclamation of the gospel.  May we be generous in our welcome; informed, prayerful and each be ready to explain “the faith that is in us”, so that we can lead the seekers of our own community to faith.  Then we too may imitate Lydia (and Paul) as we lead our church into growth.



Ian Evans


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