By Rev. GEORGE MASTRANTONIS
The Chosen Originators
Jesus Christ endowed His Church with Himself and His divine Message. He handed it down to His disciples, who constituted His Church. Jesus Christ selected from among them Twelve Apostles to carry on with authority His Gospel, and He sent them to preach it and to baptize converts all over the world:
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28: 19-20).
The Apostles kept their mission with integrity and faithfulness. They dedicated their lives to it; they injected the new faith in the’ true God into society to heal its infirmities.
The Apostles organized the converts into groups called Churches. To these Churches the Apostles handed down the treasure of the new Gospel, their eyewitness account of the Word as they actually saw it take place, preserving it forever through the Church. This is the Gospel – the Tradition in the broad sense of the word – which we cherish today. Taking the Truth from the Apostles, the Orthodox Church is an “Apostolic” Church; it has its roots in the apostolic ministry and succession, the apostolic faith and creed, and the apostolic word and scriptures by which the Apostles and their immediate successors defended the Orthodox Faith and kept it undefiled against heresies and persecutions.
But who are these blessed Apostles who were chosen to hand down the new Gospel and establish the Church to which we belong today? Who empowered them to preach the Gospel and disregard all the threats which endangered and, in the end, took their lives? Who are these mighty personalities who were the instrumental figures behind the worldwide movement which has changed the pace of life of men thereafter?
Sometimes the voice of the past is the clearest and most vivid guide for the minds and hearts of men of today, taking them out of the confused values of this life. Sometimes the lives and deeds of men of the past are unforgettable and stand as lightposts to illuminate the road for a future achievement. They stand as unshakable rocks on which the waves of disappointment of life lose their force and disappear. The Apostles of Christ are both the rocks and the lightposts for our life. To them, our ancestors in the Christian heritage and faith, this pamphlet is humbly dedicated, that both the writer and the reader might imitate their devotion and work and appreciate their convictions in Christ, “in Whom they lived and moved and had their being” (Acts 17: 28).
ORIGIN AND DEFINITION
The only sources on the subject of the Twelve Apostles are the four Gospels and the first chapter of the Acts, describing the relationship between Jesus and His Apostles duringHisministry on earth. Although the Apostles are the ultimate authors of the Gospels they do not appear prominently in them; they are never magnified in them. The Gospels refer to them only because Jesus Himself was occupied with them, teaching and training them to understand His origin and mission, in order to transmit to others correctly His personality, His Gospel and His deeds.
Whenever they appeared later in their ministry, they spoke with authority and determination on behalf of the Lord Who sent them to present His Gospel to the world. They never usurp or appropriate for themselves the new teachings. It is true that the Gospel took some human aspects of their individual personalities. But these aspects were such that they showed their understanding and limitation of the words and deeds of their Lord; a reflection of the good news in their own simple and humble life. The Apostles are both the preachers and the examples of the New Creation.
The Greek word “apostle” conveys to us the meaning of messenger, delegate, envoy or collector of tribute paid to the temple service. In the Gospels the Twelve were simply to be Christ’s envoys. As Jesus was sent by His Father, so the Apostles were sent by Jesus. Jesus Christ used contemporary terms for “apostle” and gave it His own content and interpretation stressing the idea of being “sent,” which means that an Apostle is a man with a mission throughout his entire life.
Jesus Christ Himself gave the title “Apostle” to the Twelve in Luke 6:13 and Mark 3:14, “whom he also named apostles.” The term “apostle” (“apostolos” in Greek; a derivative from “apostellein”, meaning “to send”) signifies a special mission. An apostle is the commissioner of the person who sent him. Therefore, the term apostle is more definite than the term messenger (in Greek “angelos”). The apostle does not merely transmit a message, but he works to put it into practice among the recipients, both to let them understand it aright and to apply its contents in their faith and life.
Jesus “Called” His Apostles
The First Approach
Some of the Twelve Apostles were disciples of the Forerunner of Christ, John the Baptist. They were acquainted with the Scripture and the expectations of their master. When John the Baptist was “looking upon Jesus as he walked, he said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God”‘ (John 1:36). Andrew, one of John’s disciples, with another, “heard him speak, and they followed Jesus” (v. 37). They followed him without asking!
Thus the Apostolic Church began. The took of their own to find out-to discover the truth for themselves. They persisted, and “came and saw where he (Jesus) dwelt, and abode with him that day” (v. 39).
They had a long audience with Jesus. What did they discuss? We do not know. What we do know is that they came out of this sanctuary with, a definite faith in Him. He was the One they were expecting. Andrew felt the impulse to express his belief to others. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah”, which means Christ, and “he brought him to Jesus” (v. 42). St. Andrew’s act stands as an example for every disciple and apostle thereafter. First, the pure desire to seek the Truth; second, acquaintance with revelation and obedience to it; third, acceptance and conviction of the Truth, and then a full confession and proclamation of the faith. These acts make the Church a growing and moving entity.
After Andrew and Peter and John, “one of the two”, Jesus found Phillip in Galilee, and called him to His crew; Phillip not only followed Him, but stated his conviction to Nathanial, we have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote … come and see” (John 1:45, 46), and Nathanial saw Him and believed in Him: “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel,” he exclaimed in words to be echoed by millions in the generations to come.
One day passed and five promising people were His devoted companions. Christ was no longer alone – except at His agony, and on the Cross.
Demand and Dedication
After the acquaintance of Jesus with His first disciples both in Judea and in Galilee, a recess took place. The center of His ministry had to be selected. After the imprisonment of John the Baptist, Jesus stated in Galilee that the city of Capernaum would be the center of His expedient strategy. The inhabitants of that city were Jewish people, and its position was more suitable to command Galilee.
Walking along the shore of the “sea of Galilee”, which actually is a lake, Jesus met again the two brothers, Simon and Andrew, who were casting their nets. He commanded them now to follow Him and become fishers of men. At the same time and place Jesus found James and his brother John, fishers at the shore of the sea of Galilee. He called them to follow Him. All obeyed instantly (Mark 1:16-20). Jesus called Matthew, Levi, in the same way (Mark 2:16; Matt. 9:9) in Capernaum. He was a collector of taxes, probably of the customhouse of this city. Matthew left this position, bade farewell to his fellow officials and followed the Lord. What a challenge for us today – for the merchants and the white collar workers! They left work and home, pleasures and habits; they discarded the dreams of their youth and on the ruins built firmly a new fortress of defense and appeal. They demonstrated that an immutable conviction in the living God can move mountains.
What was the intention for calling these disciples? They were to capture men instead of fish, once they had passed through a period of training. He did not send them immediately on a special mission. The disciples were to take intensive training in divine attitudes, in the new interpretation of the Scriptures and in obedience to the Lord. They were invited to meet the new standards of moral life and to grow in courage to spread the Gospel and nourish its growth in mankind. The loyal Eleven have proven themselves worthy of the Mission. They have changed the orbit of the world in the name of Jesus.
The Choice and Installation
Jesus attracted many disciples. He knew them all, but He also knew that not all would be capable of being fishers of men. He had determined to make a formal selection of a definite number from the body of His disciples (Mk. 3:13; Lk. 6:13). It was one of the crucial moments for the destiny of His mission. Even for human activities the founders of a organization look carefully for co-workers of integrity and the capability to promote their ideals. The farsightedness of leadership is in being able to select capable men to accomplish the mission, rather than attempting the work alone, regardless of the wonders one man may be capable of. A good leader is not afraid of co-workers, but is very careful I selecting them. Jesus Christ spent one night praying to His Father for the right choice (Lk. 6:12). He sought specific guidance in this critical hour of His life. His choice would affect the future mission, and the world.
For this reason:
“He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called unto Him His disciples. And of them He chose twelve, whom also He named apostles: Simon (whom he also named Peter) and Andrew, his brother; James and John, Phillip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon called Zelotes, Judas the brother of James and Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor” (Lk. 6:12-16).
In the New Testament there are four lists of the Apostles, in Matt. 10:2-4; Mk. 3:16-19; Lk. 6:14-16 and in Acts 1:13. The arrangement of names in these lists are made in three steps, with changes occurring in each step. Peter appears first and Judas last. There is no primacy of Peter in the sense of jurisdiction or authority over his fellow Apostles. Such an authority Peter never received and never exercised. “His position is that of the foremost among equals; a position due not to any formal or official appointment, but to the ardor and force of his nature.” (Hastings)
What was our Lord’s aim in selecting His special group? St. Mark states that the purpose was that they might be with Him so He might send them forth to proclaim the approach of the Kingdom of God, and so He could endow them with the power to heal and to exercise. St. Mark (3:14,15) records:
“He ordained twelve that they should be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach and to have power to heal sickness and to cast out devils.”
But the Lord’s aim was more than that. It is described by Him on the eve of His death. He expected them to be His envoys on earth. Their supreme duty was to bear witness to Him; to teach the world how He lived, what He said, what He wrought. Jesus prayed for them: “As Thou hast sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world” (John 1 7, 18).
The Apostles were God-fearing people. Only a religious tie bound them to Jesus. Their integrity, justice and mercy cannot be denied. They were diligent, honest and pious people, and above all dedicated to the Lord and to His command. They were not men of high education, but neither were they illiterate. Most of them spoke Aramaic and Greek. They were educated in the knowledge of. God in synagogues, and they managed a discipline of high standards.
Four of them were fishermen, one was a collector of taxes and the rest belonged to the general working classes. They were not of rank or distinction. They worked to sustain themselves. The Gospels do not present them as men of genius, or original thinkers. All of them were young men about the same age as our Lord or younger. They were men of different background, temperament and habits. They had in common their devotion to Jesus and their pious life. They came together under the same roof to learn and to obey.
The Apostles accompanied the Lord from place to place. They heard all His preaching and admonition, His private advice to the people and His ambitions. They witnessed the healing of people and learned the causes of sickness and the power of the evil spirits. They learned not only in the clinic of preaching and pastoral work. The Twelve formed a Jesus Christ was the head. They had a common purse and one was appointed treasurer. The sources of their supplies came from their own property and gifts, especially the generosity of several women who accompanied them on some of their journeys (Lk. 8:2-3).
They were together for living and training. First of all they were training in the personality of Jesus. His presence was an education in itself. His acts and words in everyday life, in dealing with the depressed and humble, meeting the sinners, protecting the underprivileged and encouraging people of the rank an file – all these things were an education to them. They saw Him preaching and praying, healing infirmities and restoring broken hearts. Again they were aware of the Master’s acts against dry customs and aware of the Sabbath, circumcision, foods and times of prayer. They learned much from the Sermon on the Mount, from the parables and statements such as, “God is spirit – and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
A second phase of their Apostle’s training involved the miracles performed by Jesus. The Messiah was expected to work miracles, but the actual performance of the miracles kept the Apostles astounded. The nature of these works was beyond explanation then and still is today. The Apostles bore witness to many miracles – the catch of fish (Lk. 3:1-7), the stilling of the storm (Mk. 4:39), walking on the sea (John 6:16) and many others. They learned, too, that the miracles were made nor only for the sake of the miracles, but also as a sign of conviction and faith, and a lesson of moral uprightness, as in the case of the fig tree.
Finally, the Apostles were trained in Jesus’ teaching. For them He was the Teacher. He spoke with confidence.
Christ “Sent” His Apostles
The Apostles spent less than three years with their Master. He called them “that they might be with Him” (Mk. 3:14) to be trained and educated, and then “that He might send them forth to preach” the Gospel and minister unto the people. Their work between these two stages is in agreement. It has been changed only in the stages of advancement. But what a change! From pupils they became teachers; from followers of Christ, they became leaders, bringing people to Christ. They started as disciples and in three years advanced as Apostles. Their visible Guide, their Lord, became the Invisible One, “The Spirit of Jesus” (Acts 1:6, 7), always present as He was before.
Jesus Christ selected them after devoting one night in prayer for their ministry. After their training, Jesus prayed for them and their future, even up to a few moments before His arrest. The prayer was recorded by one of His Apostles. He empowered them with the Holy Spirit on the day of the Pentecost The mighty Spirit as “tongues of fire” descended on the Apostles and transfigured their doubts and fears and attitudes in such a marvelous way that they became heralds of the new mission.
Their chief duty was to bear witness to the Savior Jesus Christ, His life, teaching, and atoning work, and especially to bear witness to Christ’s resurrection, “a witness to his resurrection”, “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” “And with great power the Apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 1:22; 4:2,33).
The influence of their witness and testimony was enormous. They simply stated what they knew. There was no doubt in their minds as to the certainty of their knowledge. St. John, in finishing his Gospel, sealed it thus: “This is the disciple who bears witness to these things” (21:24); and in starting his first Epistle he states firmly:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled, of the Word of life … That which we have seen and heard we declare unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1-3).
The ministry of the Apostles was guided and blessed, and they were aware of this. They felt the presence of Christ and the companionship of the Holy Spirit in every step and turn of their work. Also, they were aware of their appointment. They were not presenting themselves, but were representing the Lord as Prophet, Priest and King, with authority and effectiveness. They appointed their successors and thus established the special priesthood of the Church. In the Orthodox Church there is no ordination of deacon, priest and bishop without referring to the Apostles through the lists of names of predecessors. Thus, the Apostolic succession is very important not only for the teaching of the Church, but also for its sanctification. It is accepted in the Orthodox Church that the bishops of the Church are the successors to the Apostles.
The Orthodox Church upholds the Creed in which, for centuries, the beliefs of the Orthodox Faith have been stated. In the ninth article of the Creed the Church is defined as “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” One for its unique Lord; holy for its sanctification; catholic as preserving for all (“katholou”) the whole truth, and apostolic through its establishment by the Apostles, whereby Scripture and Tradition refers to the Apostles and, through them, to Christ. The Church is the bulwark of the Truth because the Apostles who established the Church trained and appointed its “Proestos” (religious leaders) and bequeathed to it the oral and written teachings. The Apostles exercised in worship and prayer, in preaching and pastoral work, the New Testament of the Lord. By them and through them the believers of the Church, in the past and the present, rejoice in learning the atoning truth and will of the living God.
The personal life of the Apostles is not very well known. For some of them we know nothing except names. But their work remains for generations to come. It was their intention to carry on the Lord’s work and will, rather than their own. From the fruits of their work we visualize their character and intentions.
Following is a biographical note in brief on each of the Apostles. The names are taken from the list according to St. Luke 6:12f.
Short Biographies of the Twelve
Born in Bethsaida in Galilee, be was a fisherman and was named by Jesus Christ “Cephas” (in Greek, Peter), and called to be a fisher of men, an Apostle. In all lists of the Twelve he is named first, and belonged to the inner group of Apostles. He was present at the Transfiguration and at the Agony of Christ. When he professed his belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Lord promised that “Thou art Peter and on this rock will I build My Church”, meaning on the rock of faith in the Savior. Peter’s confession of faith was soon followed by a sharp rebuke, from the Lord. Peter said that he would never leave his Lord, and was answered by the prediction of his triple denial, which later took place. Later, Peter made reparation for his triple denial by a triple protestation of love.
After the Ascension, Peter took the leadership of the Apostles. He spoke on the day of Pentecost and was the first to perform a miracle in the name of Jesus. He accepted Cornelius for baptism and thus opened the Church to the Gentiles. His authority is evident at the Apostles’ Council at Jerusalem, although Paul rebuked him for giving in to the demands of the Jewish Christians to disassociate himself from the Gentiles.
Peter is the founder of the Church in Antioch. He probably went to Rome and was crucified head downward during the reign of Nero (54-68).
A disciple of John the Baptist, Andrew heard him refer to Jesus as the Lamb of God. Andrew asked for an audience and saw Jesus for a day, then proclaimed, “We have found the Messiah,” in itself a creed and confession for the Christian faith. He brought his brother, Simon-Peter, to Christ. Although not one of the inner circle, he played the first role in several events which are recorded. Eusebius in his Church History states that Andrew later went to Scythia. According to tradition he was martyred at Patras, Greece, crucified on an X-shaped cross, which since has become known as St. Andrew’s Cross. He is regarded as being connected with the writing of St. John’s Gospel. According to tradition, he is the founder of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
James (The Greater)
He was the son of Zebedee. He, with his elder brother John and with Peter, constituted the privileged group – the inner circle of the disciples. James was present at the Transfiguration and the Agony in Gethsemane. His zeal was ardent and he and his brother were named by the Lord “Boanerges”, which means “sons of thunder”. James was beheaded by Herod Agrippa I in A. D. 44, the first of the Twelve to suffer martyrdom. A theory that he preached in Spain is counter to the tradition of the Church and the Epistle to the Romans, 15:20 and 24, which concur that he did not leave Jerusalem. According to an old Spanish tradition, the body of St. James was transferred to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, where St. James was one of the most revered Spanish saints during the Middle Ages.
He was one of the inner circle with Peter and James. The son of Zebedee, he and his brother James were named the “sons of thunder”. John is the author of the fourth Gospel, the Book of Revelation and three Catholic Epistles. He was imprisoned with Peter and later appeared in the Sanhedrin. John also was sent with Peter to Samaria, where they prayed that the converts might receive the Holy Spirit. In Jerusalem, he was present at the Council of the Apostles. John was “one of the two” with Andrew who first had an audience with the Lord, He was the one “whom Jesus loved” and who reclined on his bosom at the Mystic Supper.
Jesus from His cross entrusted His mother to John at the foot of the cross. He was the one who ran with Peter to the tomb on the morning of the resurrection, and who recognized the Risen Lord at the Sea of Tiberius, where our Lord spoke to him the words that he would not die (John 21:7).
According to tradition, he went to Asia Minor and settled in Ephesus. Later he was exiled to Patmos, an island.
He is the Apostle from Bethsaida who obeyed the call of Jesus and led Nathaneal to Christ. At the feeding of the 5,000 people, Jesus said to Phillip to buy bread, and Phillip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” Phillip on another occasion asked Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father” and Jesus retorted, “Yet you do not know me Phillip?” Phillip the Apostle should not be confused with Phillip, one of the seven Deacons. The Apostle Phillip preached the Gospel in Asia and suffered crucifixion, according to tradition.
His name is patronymic, meaning “son of Tolmai”. Sometimes he is identified with Nathaneal whom Phillip led to Christ. According to the historian Eusebius, when Pantainus of Alexandria visited India between 150 and 200 A. D., he found there the Gospel according to Matthew left behind by Bartholomew one of the Apostles. According to tradition, Bartholomew was flayed to death at Albanapolis in Armenia.
He was the evangelist who was a Jew and a tax-collector referred to as Levi before he was called by Christ, Whom be followed. He is the author of the First Gospel. In his genealogy of Jesus Christ, he emphasizes the Lord’s human nature and origin. Therefore, in Christian symbolism, Matthew has been represented by the figure of man (cf Rev 4:7). The icon of Matthew in the Orthodox Church is to be found in one of the four triangles which are formed by the arches connected to the dome of the Church.
He was called the Twin. On the way to Bethany He offered to die with Jesus. He interrupted the last discourse of Jesus with the question “We know not whither thou goest; how know we the way?”. Thomas doubted the resurrection of Christ unless he were to touch the wounds of the Risen Lord, but later confessed his faith in Him: “My Lord and My God” – the first to confess so explicitly the Lord’s divinity.
According to tradition, Thomas evangelized the Parthians. The Syrian Christians of Malabar called themselves “Christians of St. Thomas” and claimed they were evangelized by the Apostle Thomas, who was martyred and buried at Mylapore near Madras.
James (The Lesser)
He was the son of Alphaeus. Was he the Lord’s relative? This is doubted. Was he James the younger (or the “lesser”, Matt. 15:40)? There are insufficient reasons to establish this either. Nothing is known of him.
He was called Cananaean and Zealot, two terms of the same Hebrew word. According to the Apocryphal “Passion of Simon and Jude”, both of them preached and underwent martyrdom in Persia. In the New Testament, Simon, one of the brethren of the Lord, was identified with Simon the Apostle. There were many others bearing the same name in the New Testament.
He is the Apostle referred to in the Gospel as “Judas of James”, “Judas not the Iscariot”. He also is known as Thaddaeus or Lebbacus. Jude was the brother of James (or the son of James RV), the “brethren of the Lord” – the Lord’s relative. Jude is the author of the Epistle of Jude. The Apocryphal “Passion of Simon and Jude” depicted them in Persia where they preached and underwent martyrdom.
A selected Apostle, one of the Twelve, he betrayed Christ to the Jewish Sanhedrin – the supreme council and highest court of justice in Jerusalem – and kissed the Lord at the time of the arrest. He later committed suicide. The title “Iscariot”, meaning in the Hebrew “man of Kerioth”, a place in South Palestine, implies that Judas was from Judea. He was the only one from there, whereas the other Apostles were from Galilee. After his suicide the Apostles elected Matthias to replace him as one of the Twelve Apostles.
New Covenant Apostles Handed Down
The Church of Jesus Christ started in Bethlehem with His birth in the manger it was sanctioned in His presence with angels and shepherds worshipping Him. The Church was developed and enriched through Christ’s efforts in Palestine, and was established with His Cross on Golgotha. Finally, after the resurrection of its Lord, the Church flourished in the upper room in Jerusalem with “tongues of fire” of the Holy Spirit guiding the Apostles in triumph. Thus Jesus Christ, the Founder and Lord of the new sacred society, bequeathed his precious endowment to His Church and made it the treasurer of salvation and eternal freedom. The Church of Christ, to which saints and sinners belong, constitutes His Sacred Body forever. It is, indeed, the realm of His Covenant, which the Apostles received from Christ and handed down to us. What is this Covenant? The Lord’s new will of life was wrought by Himself and handed down to all generations for all time. It contains the long-awaited reconciliation between God and man. It is the new covenant through the mercies of God, and empowered by His Son-the incarnate Logos. What is the content Of this covenant, and who is the warrantor who secures its riches to its heirs? Christ and His Gospel are the answer to both questions. In Him man is destined to live anew, crossing again into Eden, the Kingdom of Heaven. This is the New Covenant which the Apostles received and handed down.
The new covenant is “good news of a great joy”. Its title was given by the angel proclaiming in Luke 2:10,11 that “to you is born … a Savior … Christ the Lord,” in Bethlehem at the incarnation of the Logos. The contents of this covenant were endorsed in Christ’s baptism with His Father’s statement, “Thou art my beloved Son” (3:22). Indeed, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). John the Baptist bore witness to Him, and in his admiration for Him proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God.”
The signature on this covenant was placed by Christ’s new order of Love at His mystic supper – the new testament – and ratified by His Cross and His last words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Lastly, the eternal seal was placed on this covenant by His triumphal resurrection, assuring the victory and joy of life.
This covenant was heralded by the First-called Apostle Andrew in his conviction and exclamation that “we have found the Messiah,” and his brother Peter’s confession, “Thou art the Christ.” His believers and devoted followers are destined to cover the globe in all centuries. His reign is everlasting.
This mighty covenant of reconciliation – the New Testament and Will – was handed down to the Church and entrusted to the hands of the eyewitnesses, the Apostles of Christ. They proclaimed the Orthodox faith in the True God and organized the new divine society in local Churches for men to believe and worship the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, One living Triune God. The Apostles are the first golden links in our inherited Faith, which we today so dearly proclaim. The Lord sent them and the faithful accepted and honor them.
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