The Apostles4 July 2022
The Lord’s twelve disciples who abandoned everything and followed him throughout his public ministry until the Ascension are called apostles. After the descent of the Holy Spirit, they became preachers and witnesses of faith in Christ, for the redemption of humanity from sin. They thus contributed to the expansion of the Kingdom of God on earth.
This holy and honored name was given to his disciples by the Lord himself, when he spent the night praying on the mountain. ‘When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles’ (Luke, 6, 13).
The Evangelists Matthew, Mark and John use the term ‘the Twelve’ more frequently, whereas Luke and Paul tend towards ‘Apostles’. ‘Apostles’ later came to be used in a broader sense, and others, apart from the Twelve (the seventy) were also called apostles, as were their associates.
There are four lists of the twelve apostles, at Matthew 10, 2; Mark 3, 13; Luke 6, 14; and Acts 1, 13. These lists agree only on the first and the last, Peter and Judas Iscariot. The lack of agreement in the lists is due to the fact that it was usual for Jews to have two names. Some of the Evangelists used the first and others preferred the second.
At the selection of his disciples as apostles, Christ stopped at the number twelve because, just as the twelve sons of Jacob are considered the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel, that is, the whole of Judaism, so these first twelve disciples of the Lord became the spiritual leaders of the new Israel, Christianity. The number was also chosen because of the twelve little bells on the lower part of the garment of the High-Priest Aaron which sounded when he entered the Tabernacle. These denoted the twelve apostles who would ‘sound’ by preaching the Gospel of redemption to the whole of the known world. This is why Hosea prophesied that twelve oak trees would accompany God when he appeared on earth [‘And he gave an omen that the Lord would arrive upon the earth if the oak of Shiloh were to be splintered from itself and become twelve oaks’. Codex Marchalianus].
Apart from the twelve, the Lord also chose the seventy who followed him periodically. They were sent to prepare the ground in places where he would be going to teach (Luke 3, 1). This number corresponds to the seventy elders whom Moses, on God’s instruction, selected as his assistants. This demonstrates that the examples of the Old Testament are in agreement with those of the New.
Among the twelve apostles, the Lord had three, Peter, James and John, who formed the circle closest to him and who were the only ones to be present at certain exceptional events (the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter, the Transfiguration, the prayer in Gethsemane). The first because he loved Christ ‘fiercely’. The third because he was loved ‘fiercely’ by Christ. And the second because he was able to drink the same chalice of death as Christ did.
The twelve apostles chosen by Christ to be initiated into the mysteries of the Kingdom of God and to continue his own work later, had no education and didn’t come from the higher echelons of Jewish society. They all came from Galilee, which was poor and culturally backward, with the exception of Judas Iscariot, who was from Judea. They were normal people who worked for a living, as fishermen or tax-collectors but with genuine religious interests and with faith in the God of Israel and in the Messianic traditions. The sons of Zebedee were relatively well-off, both because they owned their own boat and because they were acquainted with the High Priests in Jerusalem. Their outward appearance gave the impression that they were ‘unschooled, ordinary’ people. But they all had apostolicity: they were eye-witnesses to Christ and followed him (which was external testimony before other people); and they had a call from above and a mission (internal recognition of apostolicity). All this means that the authority of the apostles and their activity in the Church were founded on God himself. So they continued the work of their Teacher, constantly on the move from town to town and ordaining worthy successors.
It’s our duty as Christians to honor and exalt these luminaries of the world, preachers of veneration and dispellers of delusions.
The first apostle is Peter, the chief of the apostles, who had formerly been called Simon. He was a married fisherman, uneducated, the brother of Andrew the first-called. He was the son of Jonah and hailed from Bethsaida.
The Lord praised this apostle and called him Peter, because his faith was the rock on which the Lord decided to build the Church: ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah… you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it’ (Matth. 16, 17, 18).
He preached the Gospel first in Judea and Antioch, thereafter in Asia Minor, before ending up in Rome. Because he defeated Simon the Magus in a supernatural manner, he was crucified upside down by the Emperor Nero. He himself had requested this and thus gained the imperishable crown of martyrdom, sometime between the years 66 and 69. He left two catholic [universal] epistles to the Church of Christ.
The second was Andrew, the first-called and Peter’s brother. He had formerly been a disciple of John the Baptist, whom he left in order to follow Christ. He also recruited his brother saying: ‘We’ve found the Messiah’. He’s considered the founder of the Church of Constantinople. He preached the Gospel all along the coast of the Black Sea, in Bithynia, and Byzantium. Later, via Thrace and Macedonia, he reached Achaia. He performed many miracles in Patra and, because so many people came to believe in Christ, the city’s proconsul, Aigeatis, had Christ’s apostle nailed upside down to a cross, on which he gave up his spirit. Many years later, his relics were taken to the church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople.
The third apostle was James, the son of Zebedee, the brother of John the Theologian and Evangelist. He was the third of the three apostles who were with the Lord when he prayed and were also present at his Transfiguration.
He preached the Gospel throughout Judea. Because of his great boldness, Herod Agrippa had him put to death by the sword in 44 A.D. and he thus became the second martyr for the faith after Stephen (43 A.D.).
The fourth is John the Evangelist and Theologian, the brother of James. He was the disciple whom Jesus loved ‘fiercely’ and was also the one who reclined against Jesus’ chest [at the Last Supper]. John has the most epithets: apostle, evangelist, theologian, disciple of love, beloved disciple, bosom disciple, celibate, and son of thunder.
He preached the Gospel in Asia Minor. He was exiled to Patmos and he brought a host of unbelievers to the Christian faith. When he returned to Ephesus, he went to his rest in peace (at about 95 years of age). Earlier he left us his Gospel, three catholic epistles and the Revelation.
The fifth apostle of Christ was Philip, from Bethsaida in Galilee and therefore from the same place of origin as Peter and Andrew. He it was who told Nathanael ‘We’ve found him of whom Moses and the Prophets wrote: Jesus, the son of Joseph, from Nazareth’ (John 1, 46). He preached the Gospel in Asia Minor (Lydia and Mysia) as well as in Jerusalem, together with Bartholomew (Nathanael), and also with his sister, Mariamne. He died on a tree in Ierapolis, having been nailed to it through the ankles. Because of an earthquake which accompanied his death, his companions were allowed to go free.
The sixth was Bartholomew or Nathanael. He was a friend of Philip who told him about Christ, as mentioned above. As he approached Christ for the first time, the Lord said: ‘Behold, truly an Israelite in whom there is no guile’ (John 1, 48).
He preached the Gospel to the Hindus, and gave them the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. He was crucified, however, by unbelievers in the town of Urbanoupolis, where he gave up his spirit and received the crown of martyrdom.
The seventh apostle was Thomas, also known as Didymus [both Thomas and Didymus mean ‘twin’, in Aramaic and Greek respectively]. He’s the apostle about whose disbelief the Lord said ‘Don’t doubt, but believe’ (John 20, 27). Then, when he touched Jesus, he exclaimed: ‘My Lord and my God’ (ibid. 28).
He preached the Gospel of Christ to the Parthians, Medes, Persians and Hindus. Because Thomas had baptized the son of one of the kings of the latter, he was imprisoned and finally condemned to death. Soldiers pierced him repeatedly with their spears.
The eighth was Matthew the Tax-Collector, the brother of James, son of Alphaeus. He followed Jesus after abandoning his position. After serving a banquet for Christ, he became an apostle and evangelist. He wrote his Gospel in Aramaic*, eight years after Pentecost and it was later translated into Greek.
He preached the Gospel to the Parthians and Medes, whose Church he founded after performing many miracles among them. In the end he was burned to death by unbelievers.
The ninth is James the son of Alphaeus, the brother of Levi, that is Matthew. He’s also known as James the Less, in order to distinguish him from James the Great, the brother of Saint John, and also from Saint James, the brother of our Lord.
It isn’t certain where he preached the Gospel. It’s recorded that he preached to the Gentiles and was named the ‘divine seed’. Because of his preaching and his chastisement of ignorant peoples, he was hanged on a cross and surrendered his soul to God.
The tenth apostle was Simon the Canaanite, or Zealot, from Cana in Galilee. Simon belonged to the faction of the Zealots and he retained this nomenclature as an apostle (as did Matthew the Tax-Collector).
He preached the Gospel of Christ in Mauritania and in Africa in general. In the end, he suffered martyrdom on the cross.
Eleventh was Jude, son of James, whom Matthew calls Lebbaeus or Thaddaeus. Jude, not to be confused with Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, was the brother of James, the brother of our Lord and therefore the son of Joseph the betrothed. So in this sense he was a ‘brother’ of the Lord. Lebbaeus means courageous and Thaddaeus means ‘of generous spirit’ (in Aramaic). He was the author of the catholic epistle of Jude.
He preached the Gospel in Mesopotamia and enlightened the gentiles living there. He also went to Edessa where he healed the local governor. In the end, he was hanged and shot through with arrows.
The twelfth of Christ’s apostles was Matthias, who took the place of the Judas the betrayer. After the Lord’s ascension, the disciples chose two from the seventy. They prayed and cast lots. The lot fell upon Matthias and he was numbered with the other eleven apostles (Acts 1, 24, 26).
He preached the Gospel of Christ in Ethiopia and, having undergone many torments at the hands of unbelievers, he surrendered his soul into the hands of God.
The above all-praised apostles, the twelve and those belonging to the wider circle of the seventy, together with the devout myrrh-bearers and the faithful women who followed Christ were 120 in number (Acts 1, 15). We should be aware that they weren’t baptized with water, but that they were baptized ‘in the Holy Spirit’, on the day of Pentecost.
In the first place, Saint John the Evangelist says that Jesus didn’t baptize, but that his disciples did. (John 4, 2). Secondly, when preaching about Jesus, John the Baptist declared: ‘I baptize you in water, but he will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire’ (Luke 3, 16). Christ confirmed this when he said: ‘Whereas John baptized in water, you will be baptized shortly in the Holy Spirit’. This promise of the Lord’s came true on the day of Pentecost: ‘Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven… They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2, 2-4). This is why they had no need of any other baptism. This is confirmed by Saint Gregory Palamas, when he says that the upper room into which the Holy Spirit descended became a font in which all the apostles, and everyone else there, were baptized. Saint John Chrysostom also states that the apostles were baptized by the baptism of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
*Although there are still some adherents to this theory, the consensus among modern scholars is that he actually wrote it in Greek, which he must have known in order to function as a tax-collector. It certainly reads like Greek, without any obvious ‘translation difficulties’. Besides, he inserts Aramaic words which he then explains in Greek, which would not have been necessary had he written in Aramaic.