The first reading for today’s daily Mass is from St. Paul to the citizens of Thessaloniki (Thessalonica in English). The original name of the city was Θεσσαλονίκη Thessaloníkē. It was named after princess Thessalonike of Macedon, the half sister of Alexander the Great, whose name means “Thessalian victory” honoring the Macedonian victory at the Battle of Crocus Field (the bloodiest battle recorded in Ancient Greek history; 353/352 BCE). The victorious forces were under the reign of Philip II of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great. The city has its own history, but today is the second-largest city in Greece, with over 1 million inhabitants in its metropolitan area, and the capital of Greek Macedonia.
As such it was a natural stop on St. Paul’s second missionary trip (technically his first mission since St. Barnabas was leader of the earlier sojourn). Paul chose Silvanus (Silas) as his traveling companion. Soon afterwards he took Timothy along with him (Acts 16:1–3) and in about 50 AD, he arrived in Greece for the first time.His first stops were in Philippi and Thessalonica. It did not go that well, attracting persecution from Jews and Gentiles alike. He moved on to Beroea, but detractors from Thessalonica followed and Paul hurriedly left for Athens (Acts 16:11–17:15). Silvanus and Timothy remained behind for a while. Paul soon sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to strengthen that community in its trials (1 Thes 3:1–5). Timothy and Silvanus finally returned to Paul when he reached Corinth (Acts 18:1–18), probably in the early summer of A.D. 51. Timothy’s return with a report on conditions at Thessalonica served as the occasion for Paul’s first letter (1 Thes 3:6–8). It is considered to be the oldest/first of the letters of St. Paul that are preserved in Sacred Scripture.
St. Paul is often noted for his theological writings on justification, redemption, salvation, and more – but most of St. Paul’s epistles are pastoral in nature, rather than theological. In an online introduction to this letter, it is written:
The first (1 Thes 1:2–3:13) is a set of three sections of thanksgiving connected by two apologiae (defenses) dealing, respectively, with the missionaries’ previous conduct and their current concerns. Paul’s thankful optimism regarding the Thessalonians’ spiritual welfare is tempered by his insistence on their recognition of the selfless love shown by the missionaries. In an age of itinerant peddlers of new religions, Paul found it necessary to emphasize not only the content of his gospel but also his manner of presenting it, for both attested to God’s grace as freely bestowed and powerfully effected.
The second part of the letter (1 Thes 4:1–5:25) is specifically hortatory or parenetic. The superabundant love for which Paul has just prayed (1 Thes 3:12–13) is to be shown practically by living out the norms of conduct that he has communicated to them. Specific “imperatives” of Christian life, principles for acting morally, stem from the “indicative” of one’s relationship to God through Christ by the sending of the holy Spirit. Thus, moral conduct is the practical, personal expression of one’s Christian faith, love, and hope.