Saturday, May 19, 2012

Simon, Alexander, and Rufus

In my post last Monday for the Feast of St. Mathias, the thirteenth apostle, I mentioned Simon of Cyrene, who, we learn from reading St. Mark's Gospel, was the father of Alexander and Rufus. I made the comment that it seems Simon, Alexander, and Rufus were known members of the earliest Christian community in Jerusalem. Well, this aside prompted my dear friend and brother deacon Norb, who is always educating me in reality, to convey to me that my writing about this family reminded him of a friend of his who is an African-American minister. This friend of Norb's heads up several independent pentecostal churches that are notable for the fact that they are bi-racial, which is awesome, given that Sunday morning remains one of the most segregated hours of the week in the United States.

It was this friend who let Norb know that Simon of Cyrene is held in high esteem by African-American Christians because he was from Cyrene, which is in modern-day Libya, that is, Africa. He is identified by many as a black African, along with his sons Alexander and Rufus. Of course, this has a lot of implications that can be easily unpacked.

Now, whether Simon was actually black is a matter of dispute. It is most likely that he was a Jew who had either immigrated to Jerusalem, or was in town on an extended stay for Passover. It seems to be a well-established archaeological fact that the ancient Mediterranean city of Cyrene had a large Jewish community. It is also pretty well-established that in Jesus' day the Jews of Cyrene had a synagogue in Jerusalem where they gathered for major feasts, such as Passover and Pentecost.

An ancient tradition has it that Simon's sons, Rufus and Alexander, became missionaries. One attempt at validating this tradition, given that Mark's Gospel originated from Rome, is to suggest that naming these brothers by name indicates they held some standing within the Christian community in ancient Rome. Some even hold that the "Rufus" Paul named in Romans 16:13 is Simon's son. Some also link some or all three with the "men of Cyrene" mentioned in Acts 11:20.

This brings us full-circle. Perhaps Rufus bears some resemblance to Chris Rock after all.


  1. Thank you for this article. Here's my question, Deacon: are Alexander and Rufus saints? It's sort of hard to find information on them as saints, or maybe I'm missing something.

  2. Pauli:

    Yes, Simon and his sons Alexander and Rufus are considered saints by the Church. Of course, like all saints of the earliest Church, they were not subjected to a formal canonization process, which did not exist, at least in the form we have it now, until the eighteenth century. They are venerated by the Church.


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