Brief commentary on the 5th Eothinon(=Matins Gospel lection, Luke 24:12-35)

3 January 2023

The fifth Eothinon (=matins gospel lection) records a very touching incident, when the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ appeared to two people, as they were walking from Jerusalem to the neighboring village of Emmaus (a distance of 10 km), on the evening of the first Pascha (=Easter) Sunday. One of them is named as Cleopas, while the second remains anonymous. The Orthodox tradition, however, as expressed in the corresponding fifth Doxastikon (=Proper), recognizes him as the author of the text, the Evangelist Luke.

Who were these two, and why is their presence in this incident significant? The answers are again given by the Orthodox tradition, based as it is on the scriptural texts.

Let’s start with Luke, who tradition says died at the age of 84 in Boeotia, Greece. He was born in Antioch and was a proselyte of Syrian origin, that is, a pagan Greek on his way to embracing Judaism. His presence in Jerusalem can be interpreted in the context of his desire to get to know Judaism better. He wrote the Gospel that bears his name around 85 AD, and the Acts of the Apostles a little later, around 90 AD. The name of Luke is mentioned in the letter to the Colossians (62 AD), in which he is described as a physician, a member of the retinue of St. Paul, not belonging to the circumcision. A little later, Luke is also mentioned in the letter to Philemon (59 AD), as one of the associates of the Apostle Paul, as well as later in the second letter to Timothy (65 AD), as one of the few who had remained with the Apostle Paul until the latter’s martyrdom. These texts show that Luke was an eyewitness to the activities of the Apostle Paul. If in addition we take into account that Saint Epiphanius includes Luke among the Seventy Apostles, then we conclude that Luke was also an eyewitness of the actions of Jesus Christ himself. The Orthodox tradition emphasizes Luke’s warm, personal relationship with the Mother of God, especially after the Lord’s Resurrection, and attributes to him the painting of the Icon of the Hodegetria (=The Guide). Luke’s respect for the Virgin Mary is pervasive in his Gospel, in which he apparently included what the Virgin had preserved in her heart. We conclude, therefore, that Luke, being in Jerusalem, lived near the family of the Lord and was connected with the relatives of Jesus Christ, who probably continued his initiation into Judaism.

One of the most respected and elderly relatives of the Lord was Cleopas. He was a younger half-brother of Joseph the Betrothed, apparently from a second marriage of their father, Jacob, who is mentioned in the genealogy of the Evangelist Matthew. The important position held by Cleopas in the circle of the Lord is also evident from the testimony of Eusebius of Caesarea that Cleopas’ son, Simon (the Zealot), was appointed as successor of James the Just as bishop of Jerusalem, after the latter’s martyrdom in 62 AD. Cleopas’ wife, Mary, was present next to the Virgin Mary at Jesus’ Crucifixion. According to one Orthodox tradition, Mary was the daughter of Joachim, father of the Mother of God, when Joachim fathered a child with the wife of his deceased childless brother, according to the directive from the Book of Leviticus. That is why the Evangelist John mentions Mary of Clopas as the sister of his (Jesus’) mother. We can estimate that Mary of Clopas was born around 37 BC, so she was 69 years old at the time of the Crucifixion, while the Virgin Mary was 52, compared to Mary Magdalene, who would have been about 23 years old. I also estimate that Cleopas was 10 years older than his wife, so on the road to Emmaus he would have been about 79 years old. For Luke, I estimate that he was born around 9 AD (since he probably died before John the Evangelist, in AD 93 and AD 100, respectively). So at Emmaus, Luke was 24 years old.

An octogenarian, then, is accompanied (probably because of age) by a twenty-five-year-old young man, as he insists on going to tend his fields, and along the way, the older man finds the opportunity to teach the younger one about the prophecies that – unfortunately – were probably frustrated by the inglorious death on the cross of the expected Messiah. At stake is the faith of both of these men, which has been shaken to the point of causing them painful sadness and gloom. At this critical turning point in their personal history, the Lord intervenes, and along with theirs, he quells the turmoil in the souls of countless shaken believers since then. To him be the glory forever. Amen.