03 August 2011

3 August - Saint Lydia

Gardening: Sow cabbage seed on the first Wednesday after 29 July.  The reason for this was not given, but we wouldn't want to fly in the face of tradition, would we?

Today we commemorate Saint Lydia of Thyatira, often called Lydia Purpuraria (purple seller), dealer in purple cloth, Saint Paul's first convert, and the first Christian convert in Europe (1st century).

Not a bad resume.

Her whole story in scripture is found in Acts 16:13-40.  Paul and Silas, having been sent by the Holy Spirit to preach in Macedonia, had gone out of the city of Philippi a little ways where there was a women's prayer meeting being held by the river.

And upon the sabbath day, we went forth without the gate by a river side, where it seemed that there was prayer; and sitting down, we spoke to the women that were assembled.  And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, one that worshipped God, did hear: whose heart the Lord opened to attend to those things which were said by Paul.  And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying: If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us. Acts 16:13-15

Accused by some local businessmen, Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into prison.  After they were released, they went back to Lydia's house and having seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.

Thyatira (now the Turkish city of Akhisar) was a Greek center of dyeing and the dyed cloth trade.  Lydia seems to have been a sales-agent assigned to Philippi for a company back home which dealt in purple dye or purple cloth, both of which were high money-makers.  It is likely that she had a spacious domicile suitable for conducting business deals and housing guests at need; it became a meeting place for Christians in Philippi.  While she is not mentioned again, it was to the church which started in her house, that Paul wrote his Epistle to the Philippians.

Despite all of this, she is not well known in the Latin Church.  No medieval legends grew up around her, artwork of her is mostly confined to the Eastern Church, and she is missing from Reverend Butler's Lives of the Saints

As a businesswoman, she is one of my patron saints.  However, she is not, as one would think, the patron of businesswomen - that honor has inexplicably gone to Saint Margaret Clitherow (died 1586), the daughter of a wax-chandler and the wife of a wealthy butcher, but not in trade herself.  Lydia is the patron of dyers.

Caveat: You may read that she is "Equal to the Apostles".  This is a title bestowed  by the Orthodox Church on those saints whose work in spreading the faith is comparable to the original apostles.  Orthodox Christians know what it means and what such an honor entails.  There are a lot of saints, both men and women, who have that title.  It has nothing whatever to do with women's ordination.  Don't even go there.