This article is about the biblical figure. For other uses, see Onesimus (disambiguation).
Saint Onesimus

Painting depicting death of Onesimus, from the Menologion of Basil II (c. 1000 AD)
Holy Disciple Onesimus
Bishop of Byzantium
Died c. AD 68
Rome (then Roman province)
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Feast February 15 or 16, or November 22 (Gregorian calendar), February 28 (Julian calendar)

Saint Onesimus (Greek: Ὀνήσιμος Onēsimos, meaning "useful"; died c. 68 AD, according to Orthodox tradition),[1] also called Onesimus of Byzantium and The Holy Apostle Onesimus in some Eastern Orthodox churches, was a slave to Philemon of Colossae, a man of Christian faith. He may be the same Onesimus named by Ignatius of Antioch as Bishop in Ephesus.

In Scripture

The name "Onesimus" appears in two New Testament epistles—in Colossians 4 and in Philemon. In Colossians 4:9[2] a person of this name is identified as a Christian accompanying Tychicus to visit the Christians in Colossae; nothing else is stated about him in this context. He may well be the freed Onesimus from the Epistle to Philemon.

The Epistle to Philemon was written by Paul the Apostle to the slave-master Philemon concerning a runaway slave called Onesimus. This slave found his way to the site of Paul's imprisonment (most probably Rome or Caesarea)[3] to escape punishment for a theft of which he was accused.[4] After hearing the Gospel from Paul, Onesimus converted to Christianity. Paul, having earlier converted Philemon to Christianity, sought to reconcile the two by writing the letter to Philemon which today exists in the New Testament.[5]). The letter reads (in part):

I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. For this is perhaps why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
Paul of Tarsus to Philemon, Epistle to Philemon 1:10–16 (ESV)

In tradition

Although it is doubted by authorities such as Joseph Fitzmyer,[6] it may be the case that this Onesimus was the same one consecrated a bishop by the Apostles and who accepted the episcopal throne in Ephesus[7] following Saint Timothy. During the reign of Roman emperor Domitian and the persecution of Trajan, Onesimus was imprisoned in Rome and may have been martyred by stoning (although some sources claim that he was beheaded). However, since the reign of Domitian was from 81 A.D. to 96 A.D., then Onesimus' death would have to fall within these years and not 68 A.D. as stated above.[8][9]

In liturgy

Onesimus is regarded as a saint by many Christian denominations. The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod commemorates him and Philemon on February 15.[10]

Eastern Churches remember Onesimus on 15 February and 22 November.[11]

The traditional Western commemoration of Onesimus is on 16 February.[12] But in the 2004 edition of the Roman Martyrology, Onesimus is listed under 15 February with the Latin name Onésimus. There, he is described as "[a] runaway slave, whom the apostle Paul received to the faith of Christ while in prison, regarding him as a son of whom he had become father, as he himself wrote to Philemon, Onesimus's master".[13] The date is designated the "commemoration of blessed Onesimus", indicating that it is not regarded as his date of death, and suggesting that his rank in the Catholic Church may be Blessed rather than Saint.

See also


  1. "Onesimus". Ecumenic Patriarchate of Constantinople. Retrieved Apr 2, 2011.
  2. Christian Bible: Colossians 4:9
  3. 'The Letter to Philemon', Joseph A. Fitzmyer S.J., paragraph 5, pages 869-870 The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1989, Geoffrey Chapman
  4. Saint Onesimus at SQPN website
  5. Christian Bible: Philemon verses 19-16
  6. Fitzmyer paragraph 4
  7. The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians
  9. The Holy Apostle Onesimus - Serbian Orthodox Calendar
  10. Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. Lutheran Worship. Concordia Publishing House, 1982, updated by the same church's Lutheran Service Book. Concordia Publishing House, 2006.
  11. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd edition, E. A. Livingstone, 2000, Oxford University Press, p. 414.
  12. Livingstone (2000), p. 414
  13. Martyrologium Romanum, 2004, Vatican Press (Typis Vaticanis), p. 150.
Titles of the Great Christian Church
Preceded by
Stachys the Apostle
Bishop of Byzantium
Succeeded by
Polycarpus I of Byzantium
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