April: Sosipater — You are there!

Saints with Funny Names

Erastus, Olympus, Rhodion, Sosipater, Quartus and Tertius ("Menologion of Basil II"). Photo: Public Domain
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St. Sosipater (aka Sopater) is mentioned twice in the Bible and both times he comes across as, well, boring. But stick with me because boring people often have exciting friends and therein lies our story. We first read his name in the Book of Acts:

Sopater, the son of Pyrrhus, from Beroea, accompanied [Paul], as did Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus from Asia who went on ahead and waited for us at Troas. (Acts 20:4–5)

It’s about as thrilling as reading a telephone book.

To appreciate Sosipater, don’t think about him. Be him. See things through his eyes. Step into his sandals.

It’s the first century A.D. The disciples of Jesus are traveling all over the known world spreading the Good News. All things are as they were then, except … you are there!

You are about to witness what is possibly the most awkward miracle of all time. You’ve safely arrived in Troas. It is Sunday so you gather in an upper room with your fellow saints with funny names as Paul presides over the Breaking of the Bread. He gets carried away and gives a marathon sermon.

On the first day of the week when we gathered to break bread, Paul spoke to them because he was going to leave on the next day, and he kept on speaking until midnight. (Acts 20:7)

Most of the disciples love it but the kids can’t take it. You know how hard it is to stay awake for Midnight Mass. You see one of them in your peripheral vision, a lad named Eutychus, propped up against a window sill. His head sinks lower and lower; suddenly he jerks it back, jarred awake by the sound of his own snoring. He leans back and tries to make himself more comfortable against the stone. Suddenly, everyone hears a sickening thud. Where’s Eutychus? Alas, he is on the pavement below. Dead.

Paul feels terrible about it. I mean it was sort of his fault. “Paul talked on and on” (Acts 20:9). He never should have stopped attending that support group for compulsive talkers, On and on Anon.

“Paul,” his sponsor had warned him, “One of these days you are going to bore someone to death.” Paul does what any apostle would, he raises the boy from the dead. And then he went on talking.

Then he returned upstairs, broke the bread, and ate; after a long conversation that lasted until daybreak, he departed. (Acts 20:11)

Sosipater also appears in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Imagine being him, walking by seeing Paul composing it.

“What are you writing?”

“A letter to the Romans.”

“Oh, tell them I said hi.”

Timothy, my co-worker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my relatives. (Romans 16:21)

Scholars say Sosipater was not a cousin; simply a fellow Jew. He and Jason (the nerd with the two syllable name) are believed to have been among the 72 disciples of Our Lord. Since they were Jews, this makes sense.

After this the Lord appointed seventy[-two]others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. (Luke 10:1)

Sosipater, boring?

“Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” (Luke 10:17)

Everyone is so excited. This is what you’ve been waiting for. You can’t get over the things you have seen. The multiplication of food? The crowds went wild for that. People are acting like groupies. They won’t leave Jesus alone. Oh my goodness, here he comes, walking on water. What next?

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (John 6:53)

You hear the disciples murmuring. “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” (John 6:60). How could they doubt? They were there with you. They should trust!

As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. (John 6:66)

Not you. You are faithful. You are ready to do all.

You and Jason travel to the Greek island of Corfu to preach the Gospel. There you build a church dedicated to St. Stephen. How long has it been since he died? Seems like yesterday. It’s hard to believe now that it was Paul, who was called Saul back then, who helped bring about his death.

You always said it had to be the prayers of Stephen that converted Paul and stopped him from killing Christians — at least on purpose. You and Jason find the whole story inspirational. Never does it cross your mind that naming a church after Stephen will distract everybody from Jesus. How silly.

The governor of the island throws you and Jason into prison. You’re locked up with seven gangstas. Gangstas! The prison type, not just the type who dress like them and try to be cool. You and Jason influence them and they become Christians. The governor then has them all boiled in pitch — not for being gangstas but for being Christians.

His daughter, Cercyra, hears about it and becomes a Christian, too. He grounds her, in prison. She refuses to give up her faith. He sets fire to the prison. She miraculously survives. Her story goes viral. The governor can’t build jails fast enough for all the Christians. He kills his daughter and chases them off the island. While in pursuit, his ship sinks. The new governor takes the name Sebastian. You know what that means. It means that you and Jason are free. There is so much more work to be done.

You will work together for many years to come and someday share a feast day, April 28 (sometimes 29). People will discuss which date is right. People will wonder whether you are two people or just one with two slightly different names. Either way people will think of you as just another boring saint on the list of funny names.

But you will know the truth because you were there!

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