The First Reading tells us that the scattered Jews who settled in Syrian Antioch “began to speak to the Greeks as well.”
One might wonder who those Greeks in Syria might have been. Of course, the answer is that for the four centuries after Alexander the Great conquered all the Middle East, Greek had become the common language for every country from Egypt to Persia. The city of Antioch, ninety miles north of Jerusalem, had been founded by Alexander’s General Seleucus, and it was an extension of Greece.
For us Christians, that extension of Grecian language and thought is of more than geographical importance. The Grecian mindset was of immeasurable value in allowing Christianity to take root.
From the time of Socrates, Greece had been prepared to welcome Christianity. Standing alone in a world given over to the worship of innumerable idols, Socrates gave himself completely over to the pursuit of truth, feeling that pursuit to be our biggest obligation in life.
His pursuit of truth led him to the conviction that there is only one Supreme Being. The nation of Greece, for the three hundred years between Homer and Socrates had honored Homer’s gods of Olympus. It had passed a law that made the denial of the existence of those gods a treasonous offence punishable by death.
Socrates at seventy in 399 B.C. accepted that death sentence, rather than reject the truth that there is only one God. In obedience to the law that condemned him, Socrates drank hemlock and died. Greece’s hero Socrates opened the way for Christianity to be welcomed in Greece.