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Among My Souvenirs

Stories of the road

A Woman of Means

Lydia of Thyatira

She doesn’t play a big role, and neither can we historically validate her, but none-the-less Lydia was a force to be reckoned with, a powerful story remembered in the hearts of the early Christian movement. The Apostle Paul encounters her near the city of Philippi when he and Silas went out to the river and met a group of women in prayer.

More likely these women were “God-fearers” gentiles who were deeply devote but were not Jewish. Many of the early Christian converts were from this group of people, rather than large numbers of Jews. The conversion and baptism of Lydia was the first by Paul on European soil.

Our story opens in the Book of Acts:

“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 worshiper 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 16:13 -15.

Several things we can know about Lydia – since she oversaw a household, she was probably well to do and her word was law as once she received the word of God and was baptized, her entire household was baptized too. And several verses latter we learn she owned a house and rather emphatically invites Paul and Silas to stay. Thyatira is a city located today in modern Turkey. The purple cloth was a red-purple, a specialty of the area.

Curiously, in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Lydia is never mentioned. Devotion to Lydia is greater in the Orthodox Church than in the Roman Catholic Church, and this is evident by the myriad of icons depicting this woman. The Orthodox Churches have given her the title of “Equal to the Apostles,” which signifies her importance and level of holiness.

There is a church located in Philippi built in St. Lydia’s honor. A modern baptistery is located on the traditional site where Lydia was baptized by St. Paul near Philippi as well.

So many passages of history make even greater impact when we experience them first hand. Come down to the river to pray. We prayed, we sang and felt Lydia’s presence as we read her story.