The second day of our pilgrimage was really the beginning. Every journey has to start somewhere and ours began by praying outside of the church of St Nicholas, close to the column at which Paul is said to have tied his boat. But he wasn’t going to be spending much time in the place where he had landed. Instead, as we then did, he headed inland and to the important city of Philippi named after King Philip of Macedonia who had made it the city that it was, large and prosperous and influential. But what it didn’t have was a large community of Jews.
So when the sabbath came and Paul and his companions, Silas and Luke, were looking for a place to worship they headed out of town and found a group of women, led by a wealthy businesswoman, who were worshipping by a river.They worshipped with them and Paul told them about Jesus Christ and Lydia, the leader of the group and her friends were baptised in the water of that river.
The story is recorded in Acts 16.
On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us. (Acts 16.12b-15)
Paul had arrived in mainland Europe; this was the first time that the Gospel of Jesus Christ had been preached in Europe and it was to women and the first person to be baptised from Europe was a woman. After the resurrection the first witness and apostle of the risen Lord Jesus, was a woman. There is a similarity and significance here.
We gathered by the river, not some little gentle stream but a fast flowing river, a noisy flow of living water and there we celebrated the Eucharist and renewed our baptismal promises. We did this celebrating the fact that this is a significant place for the european church, where the first conversion, the first baptism occured. And the beautiful church near the river commemorates this.Lydia’s baptismal site is just outside of the remains of Philippi. That is a very impressive site, extensive and very well preserved. We walked to the place where Paul’s imprisonment is remembered, to the agora where it may well have been that he preached and to a number of the churches that were subsequently built by the Christian community that developed there. All is now in ruins but you can easily see remains of the splendour and significance of the place. Paul was such a thorn in the side of the authorities that after he had been released from prison (Acts 16.16-39) they asked him to leave and Acts then records
After leaving the prison they went to Lydia’s home; and when they had seen and encouraged the brothers and sisters there, they departed. (Acts 16.40)
We can only suppose that Lydia’s home had become the first domus ecclesia, the first house church, in Europe. It was a beginning in this place of beginning and Paul and his companions nurtured this community even as they left on their travels.
It was a wonderful visit. Lydia should be much more prominently celebrated than she is. She is the proto-Christian of Europe; our mother of the church from which we have sprung, and her hearth and home provided the beginnings of the church to which we belong. Why is she overlooked? Could it be another example when the place of women in the life of the church has been conveniently forgotten?
and for all the women
who heard the Good News
and responded in love
Lord, we give you
thanks and praise.