I commend unto you Phoebe - As the apostle had not been at Rome previously to his writing this epistle, he could not have had a personal acquaintance with those members of the Church there to whom he sends these friendly salutations. It is likely that many of them were his own converts, who, in different parts of Asia Minor and Greece, had heard him preach the Gospel, and afterwards became settlers at Rome.
Phoebe is here termed a servant, διακονον , a deaconess of the Church at Cenchrea. There were deaconesses in the primitive Church, whose business it was to attend the female converts at baptism; to instruct the catechumens, or persons who were candidates for baptism; to visit the sick, and those who were in prison, and, in short, perform those religious offices for the female part of the Church which could not with propriety be performed by men. They were chosen in general out of the most experienced of the Church, and were ordinarily widows, who had borne children. Some ancient constitutions required them to be forty, others fifty, and others sixty years of age. It is evident that they were ordained to their office by the imposition of the hands of the bishop; and the form of prayer used on the occasion is extant in the apostolical constitutions. In the tenth or eleventh century the order became extinct in the Latin Church, but continued in the Greek Church till the end of the twelfth century. See Broughton's Dictionary, article deaconess.
Cenchrea was a sea-port on the east side of the isthmus which joined the Morea to Greece, as the Lechaeum was the sea-port on the west side of the same isthmus. These were the only two havens and towns of any note, next to Corinth, that belonged to this territory. As the Lechaeum opened the road to the Ionian sea, so Cenchrea opened the road to the Aegean; and both were so advantageously situated for commerce that they were very rich. These two places are now usually denominated the Gulf of Lepanto, and the Gulf of Ingia or Egina. It was on the isthmus, between these two ports, which was about six miles wide, that the Isthmian games were celebrated; to which St. Paul makes such frequent allusions.