I didn’t always have the name “Silas.” In fact, for the first 25 years of my life, I wasn’t even aware that there was a saint by the name of Silas. The only Silases I knew of were George Elliot’s Silas Marner and Dan Brown’s menacing monk in the DaVinci Code.
However, as I was preparing to make my first vows as a Benedictine monk in 2004, I was faced with the challenge of discerning three names to present to the abbot, one of which he would choose to be my religious name. I had settled on my first choice, but was completely undecided about choices two and three. A week or so before I had to present my selections, I came across the website of an Anglican parish in London: Saint Silas the Martyr. I was struck by two things. First, I’d never heard of Saint Silas and, second, I really liked the name.
And so I began to study and quickly realized that this “Saint” Silas was the Silas who traveled with Paul in the Acts of the Apostles. But there was much more to his story.
During the Council of Jerusalem (ca. 48), during which the Apostles and leaders of the Church in Jerusalem made significant decisions about what it would mean to welcome Gentile converts into the Church, Silas was one of two “leaders among the brothers” and “prophets” selected to take the Apostles’ ruling to the Gentile Christians converted by Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:22-33/34).
A short time later, Paul and Barnabas parted ways over an unnamed disagreement and Silas became Paul’s missionary companion (Acts 15:40). During a visit to Philippi, Silas and Paul were imprisoned together after being accused of causing a disturbance in the city. Stripped, beaten, and chained together, they were miraculously freed from prison by an earthquake as they sang psalms and hymns (Acts 16:16-40). After baptizing their converted jailor and his entire household, they stayed with Saint Lydia before travelling to Beroea (Acts 17:10-12). A short time later, Paul travelled to Athens and Silas and Timothy eventually reconnected with him in Corinth (Acts 18:5). It was from Corinth that Paul wrote his letters to the Thessalonians, and in these he referred to Silas under his Roman name, Silvanus (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1, and 2 Corinthians 1:19).
While little else is known of the life of Saint Silas, he is mentioned again by Saint Peter (1 Peter 5:12), who calls Silas/Silvanus “a brother I know I can trust.” As one account of the life of Saint Silas recalls, “Overall, Silas was a distinguished early Christian missionary, held in high esteem by both Saint Peter and Saint Paul.” More recently, the great Scripture scholar, Father Raymond Brown, S.S., has proposed that Silas might have been the author of the Letter to the Hebrews.
Later traditions relate that he died in Macedonia and he is remembered as having been an early bishop of the Church in Corinth. There is no record of any relics of Saint Silas having survived the centuries, although the traditional location of his imprisonment in Philippi has been preserved. The commemoration of Saint Silas is celebrated on July 13.
Saint Silas is an example of those many saints who have quietly and humbly lived out their vocations of service and mission. In truth, even the “super-saints” like Paul, Francis of Assisi, Oscar Romero, and Teresa of Calcutta were no different. Those whom history has singled out for special recognition were no holier or heroic than their lesser-known heavenly compatriots and that’s good news for the rest of us. After all, we’re all called to holiness—to become saints—and that isn’t something that requires extraordinary acts. Instead, our sanctification will be achieved when we are able to orient our lives to doing God’s will in large and small ways and through our prayer and service of others.
Saint Silas reminds us, however, that none of us is called to live out our vocation in isolation. While he wasn’t the great missionary Saint Paul was, we don’t that know Saint Paul could’ve been as successful in his mission if he hadn’t had the assistance of Silas, Barnabas, Timothy, Prisca and Aquila, Lydia, and so many others. And this is an important lesson for us as believers: we need others to help us, challenge us, and, sometimes, push us along on our spiritual journey.
Pope Benedict summarized this very well in his General Audience of January 31, 2007: "Paul does not act as a “soloist,” on his own, but together with these collaborators in the “we” of the Church. This “I” of Paul is not an isolated “I” but an “I” in the “we” of the Church, in the “we” of apostolic faith. And later, [Silas] is mentioned in the Frist Letter of Peter… Thus we also see the communion of the Apostles. [Silas] serves Paul and he serves Peter, because the Church is one and the missionary proclamation is one."
When I submitted my choices to the abbot, Silas was my second choice. However, I will be eternally grateful that he selected that to be my name. And so, as I celebrate my holy patron on July 13, consider asking Saint Silas and all those nameless, forgotten saints, to help foster a collaborative missionary spirit as you try to live God’s will for your life and share the Good News with those around you.
A Prayer in Honor of Saint Silas +Just and merciful God, in every generation you raise up prophets, teachers and witnesses to summon the world to honor and praise your holy Name: We thank you for sending Saint Silas, whose gifts built up your Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. Grant that we too may be living stones built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men)
This reflection was originally written for Mayslake Ministries and published on their website on July 12, 2015.