Pope John Paul II seemed to have a special desire to recognize married couples who lived saintly lives. He strove to have some of these holy couples canonized, likely so they could serve as role models for living married couples. It was John Paul II who paved the way for the parents of St. Thérèse to be beatified and hopefully soon canonized. There are a few married couples from the Bible, actually, who are already official saints, and although they lived 2000 years ago, they can still inspire and encourage married couples of today.
Mary and Joseph
Mary and Joseph are probably the best known married couple saints in the Bible. Their story is familiar to many. Mary miraculously conceived the Christ child through the power of the Holy Spirit, and Joseph, although a little overwhelmed at first, married her and then took good care of the small family.
By reading the early chapters of Matthew and Luke’s Gospels, we can get a good feel for this couple. Words like trusting, peaceful, and devout might come to mind. Mary and Joseph seemed to lean heavily on God and each other. When situations were confusing ― like having a child on the way before marriage, or not being able to find a room in a distant town, or being advised through dreams to travel to distant places, or feeling the anxiety of losing their son in Jerusalem following a crowded Passover Feast ― Mary and Joseph impressively blended in a large dose of trust in God.
It is believed that Joseph may have died before Mary, for there is no mention of him during the adult years of Christ. Jesus asking His beloved disciple to take care of Mary as He hung from the cross also points to Joseph no longer being alive. While a living married couple, however, Mary and Joseph did all God asked them to. The pair give inspiration to hold an absolute faith in God, despite hardships and puzzling circumstances. Mary has several feast days assigned to her and Joseph has a few, however, January 1 for Mary and March 19 for Joseph are probably the most recognized.
Zechariah and Elizabeth
Zechariah and Elizabeth were a devout Jewish couple whose story offers a bit of a bridge from the Old Testament to the New. Zechariah was a priest and happened to be burning incense at the Temple in Jerusalem when his life was lightly touched by Christianity. Amazingly, he was visited by the angel Gabriel who announced that Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were soon to become parents of a baby boy who would grow to be a great man.
Because of their ages, Zechariah was incredulous ― even though the message came from an angel. The Lord chose to be stern with Zechariah over this doubt and struck him speechless for several months. The miraculous event soon came to pass; Elizabeth conceived and then gave birth to a baby boy whom she named John. Taken aback, neighbors and relatives almost insisted that the baby be named after his father. To this, the speechless Zechariah took a tablet and wrote, “John is his name.” At that moment, Zechariah regained his ability to talk.
The mysterious circumstances surrounding this small family astonished all in the hill country of Judea. The spirit of God remained with this child of Elizabeth and Zechariah. When he grew to adulthood, he retreated to the desert and helped many Israelites prepare for the Messiah, and became known as “John the Baptist.” Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story can give a unique hope ― that even if situations seem impossible, or even if we question God’s abilities ― if we just patiently step back and let God work in our lives, all will work out in the end. The memorial for this holy couple is celebrated on September 23.
Cleopas and Mary of Clopas
Whether or not these two biblical characters were actually married is debatable, however, many claim they were. Some say that the difference in the spelling of their names is feasibly due to two different authors using two different variations, several decades later. Luke used “Cleopas” and John wrote “Clopas.”
Cleopas and Mary of Clopas seemingly have two separate stories. Mary of Clopas is considered to be one of the Galilean women who traveled with Jesus and the apostles, offering support in their ministry. She is believed to be the Mary mentioned in the Gospels who had sons named James and Joseph (or Joses, another possible spelling variation) as well as the lady sometimes identified as “the other Mary.” She was present at Christ’s crucifixion and burial and went to help anoint His body on the first Easter morning. Mary of Clopas and her Galilean friends saw the empty tomb and angel(s) and then ran to tell the disbelieving apostles what had happened.
The only biblical narrative that includes Cleopas (CLAY-o-pas) tells of a journey he made on the day of Christ’s resurrection. He and a friend were walking towards Emmaus (about seven miles from Jerusalem) when they met up with, yet did not recognize the risen Christ. Cleopas and his friend walked with the inexplicably unrecognizable Jesus and told Him about the crucifixion that had occurred a few days prior. Later when the threesome stopped to eat, the eyes and hearts of Cleopas and his friend suddenly opened and understood. They then knew that it was the risen Lord who had traveled with them. At that moment, Jesus vanished. It has been suggested (and insisted by many) that this friend of Cleopas was actually his wife ― who is feasibly Mary the wife of Clopas.
Unfortunately, it seems there is no way to prove or disproved their relationship. Husband and wife or not, their stories are profound and admirable. The feast day of Mary of Clopas is April 24 and her possible husband, Cleopas has a September 25 memorial.
Aquila and Priscilla
Learning about Aquila (AC-quil-a) and Priscilla is a bit like going on a scavenger hunt. They are referred to seven times within the New Testament, however the references are a bit scattered about and need to be connected thoughtfully. Aquila and Priscilla were among many Jews who Emperor Claudius had expelled from Rome in the 40’s A.D. After leaving Rome, Aquila and Priscilla landed in Corinth (just west of Athens) where they ultimately met Paul who was in the midst of his second missionary journey (A.D. 50-52). This nice couple let Paul stay at their home while he evangelized in Corinth. It is unclear whether Aquila and Pricilla had already accepted Christianity before meeting Paul, or if they learned of the faith from him. Spending so much time with the apostle, however, surely enhanced their devotion.
After a while, the threesome set sail across the Aegean Sea, to Ephesus in Asia Minor (Turkey). Paul stayed in Ephesus only a short time, while Aquila and Priscilla remained there. The couple strove to encourage the growth of Christianity among the Ephesians and even allowed their house in Ephesus to be used as a church. One time Aquila and Priscilla gave gentle direction to a man named Apollos, a wonderful speaker who had embraced the message of Christ. Apollos apparently appreciated the couple’s guidance, and with a refined understanding of Christianity, he continued preaching with zeal.
Paul returned to Ephesus at about A.D. 53 and during this visit found himself in trouble. The silversmiths of the city were furious over losing sales on their statues of a popular mythical goddess (Artemis) due to so many Ephesians embracing Christianity. The silversmiths began a riotous protest, hoping to destroy Paul’s works. Some un-named disciples, however, “protected” Paul from the furious crowd. It has been asserted that these un-named disciples may have been Aquila and Priscilla.
It appears that sometime near A.D. 56-58, Aquila and Prisca (PRIS-ka ― a nickname Paul had for Priscilla) were back in Rome, for towards the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans, he extended a greeting to the couple. He also mentioned how the couple had once “risked their necks” for him (a possible reference to the silversmith riot in Ephesus). By A.D. 67, Aquila and Prisca were back in Ephesus, likely offering assistance to the pastor of the city’s Christians, Saint Timothy. Traditions state that Aquila and Prisca were ultimately martyred. They share July 8 as a feast day.
Philemon and Apphia
While Aquila and Priscilla lived in various locations making it difficult to trace down the elements of their lives, Philemon (fi-LEE-mun) and Apphia seemed to have held still. Their names are mentioned only once in the Bible, however one of Paul’s letters was written specifically to them. This couple (presumed by most to be a married couple) lived in Colossae, a small city about 100 miles east of Ephesus.
It seems that Paul had never actually visited Colossae, but had converted a man named Epaphras who in turn founded the church in Colossae and possibly taught the ways of Christ to Philemon and Apphia. This couple somehow got to know Paul on a personal basis, perhaps through Epaphras.
The biblical book commonly called “Philemon” was actually a letter addressed to three people: Philemon, Apphia and Archippus (possibly their son.) The main focus of the letter concerned a slave of theirs, Onesimus, who had run away from the couple’s home and somehow met up with an imprisoned Paul. It appears that Paul spent time with this slave and then sent him back to his owners ― with a letter asking Philemon and Apphia to forgive their slave and to regard him as a Christian brother.
Paul also indicated in the letter that he hoped to visit, and asked the couple to prepare a room for him. We can also learn from the letter that Philemon and Apphia offered their house to be used as a church for the Christians of Colossae. Philemon and Apphia’s brief story is packed with challenge. Although slavery is not as acceptable now as it was then, the story of this holy couple challenges us to consider how we treat those who seem to us to be of a lesser social status? Do we ignore and disdain them? Or do we accept and include them?
Traditions assert that this Catholic couple was martyred (possibly beheaded) and November 22 became their feast day. The ruins of Colossae are still largely buried, however, perhaps someday the ancient city will be unearthed and some inspired archaeologists will discover the house church of this Christ-loving couple.
For Further Study
Mary & Joseph
Zechariah & Elizabeth
Cleopas & Mary of Cl[e]opas
John 19: 25
Mark 15: 40
Matthew 27: 61
Aquila & Priscilla
Acts 18:1-4, 18-19, 26
1 Corinth. 16:19
2 Timothy 4:19
Philemon & Apphia