St Andrew the Apostle.
Andrew was a fisherman by trade, born in Bethsaida. His brother was Simon Peter and at the time they met Jesus they were living together in Capernaum. Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist (known in Orthodoxy as John the Forerunner) but when Andrew met Jesus he left John to follow Jesus, and convinced He was the Messiah, introduced his brother to Jesus.
After Pentecost it is believed Andrew set off on his travels which took him over many miles. He is believed to have preached in Skythia, along the coast of the Black Sea and the Dnieper River to Kiev. From there he travelled to Novgorod, where tradition holds, he established the See of Byzantium (Constantinople) installing Stachys as it's first bishop. His influence spread to Thrace, Peloponnese, Greece and Epirus increasing the number of Christians and clergy. He also travelled to Georgia from Ajara via Atsquiri and established a church there, and in Kiev legend says he prophesied 'that the city would have many gold domed churches'.
Andrew ended his days in Patra in Achaea on the northern coast of the Peloponnese in AD 62. Andrew succeeded in convincing the family of the ruling Proconsul, one Ageates by name, of the Christian message. The Proconsul himself was however enraged by this and ordered Andrew's death. Thus he was tied to a cross in the saltire form, as an X shape, where he was tortured to death. Death by crucifixion would not have taken place as the conditions necessary for such a death don't exist in the saltire design.
No Christmas would be complete without the story of Archangel Gabriel turning up 9 months beforehand to tell Mary she would be pregnant. Angels are deemed to be Messengers of God, (El being the component in both Michael and Gabriel that refers to Elhoim. In Jewish scripture God is referred to in various ways, the two most common being Elhoim and YHWH. When used, YHWH refers to the God of the Covenant - between God and the people of Israel - and Elohim is used when the meaning is God of Creation). In the pantheon of angels Michael and Gabriel are at the zenith. Gabriel ( גַּבְרִיאֵל ) appears only twice in the scriptures, once in Daniel and again in Luke. Daniel doesn't explicitly refer to Gabriel as an angel but in the visionary sense a messenger, whereas the story of the Annunciation places Gabriel in bodily form. Tradition over the years has developed Gabriel and Michael into figures far greater than those found in the scriptures.
Archangel Michael ( מִיכָאֵל ) has an elevated place in the hierarchy of the Christian tradition of angels. As with Archangel Gabriel, a messenger, the name Michael meaning in Hebrew 'Who is like God', and in Jewish literature and tradition Michael also occupies a special place. Daniel has a visionary experience of Michael and in the book of Revelation Michael appears there. It was St Basil who elevated Michael to the position of ARCHangel, and early Orthodox tradition ascribes him "Archistrategos", or "Supreme Commander of the Heavenly Hosts". Orthodoxy recognises that God extends His activity to the world by means of which we have no idea, and in the Liturgy we attend to this idea in the use of the term "Bodiless Powers". Shakespeare alluded to such things when he placed into Hamlet the words "There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy".
Both Matthew and Luke were writing predominantly for a Jewish readership, and in Judaism, your credibility was determined by who your ancestors were. Luke was keen to demonstrate to his Jewish audience that the Messiah had arrived, and with this in mind he laid down a demonstration that Jesus was a direct descendant of David.
David was born in Bethlehem, the youngest of eight sons of Jesse and great grandson of Boaz and Ruth. He is believed to have been born around 1085 BC and died in his 70th year in 1155 BC (though other theories put it all 30-50 years later). He was the second king of the two kingdoms (Judea and Israel) united in monarchy and whose reign over Judea took him from 1055 - 1047 BC, and over both kingdoms from 1047 - 1015 BC. He was a passionate man who sometimes got life catastrophically wrong. He was intent upon claiming the kingdom of Israel and ridding the land of the plague of Philistines making Israel an independent state for the first time. Early in his rule he captured the Jebusite city of Jerusalem and organised the arrival there from Cariathiarim the Ark of the Covenant, making Jerusalem the centre of Jewish worship and its political centre. It still is.
When he became King it is said by some sources that there were 339,600 men under his command. At the census 1,300,000 were enumerated capable of bearing arms. A standing army, consisting of twelve corps, each 24,000 men, took turns in serving for a month at a time as the Jerusalem garrison. The administration of his palace and his kingdom demanded a large retinue of servants and officials. David exercised the office of judge, though Levites were later appointed for this purpose, as well as other minor officials.
After the Ark had been brought to Jerusalem, David undertook the organization of religious worship. He wrote many of the psalms to be used during worship, and the sacred functions of the liturgy were entrusted to 24,000 Levites; 6,000 of these were scribes and judges, 4000 were porters, and 4000 singers. He arranged the various parts of the ritual, allotting to each section its tasks. The priests were divided into twenty-four families; the musicians into twenty-four choirs. Preparatory to building a proper temple (it was held in a tent during David's reign) David began to acquire treasures and materials, and describing to his son Solomon a plan for the building and all its details.
He is shown as a just monarch and prophet with a talent for writing, capable of being a warrior king when called upon. Strategically he was either very lucky or very clever.
Luke had to take great pains therefore, to establish that Jesus was a direct descendant of David, which is why the gospel opens with the chronology it does. What isn't clear though, according to some commentators, is why, if the expected Messiah had to come down the Davidic line did Luke draw the line down the maternal route ending at Mary, instead of drawing it down the paternal line ending at Joseph. During the Diaspora while Romans were killing as many Jewish men as they could, it was established that the blood line should come down maternally so the Jewish nation wasn't wiped out, but in awaiting the Messiah it was the paternal line that mattered. According to ancient Jewish tribal law, the Messiah must come from the Tribe of David down the paternal line. Joseph was of the Davidic line, not Mary, and as Joseph was only betrothed to Mary and not united in marriage, Jesus wasn't actually at the time of His birth (following the tradition of the story of the virgin birth) from the Davidic line because He wasn't related to Joseph. The only way that Jesus could have come from the Line of David is if Jospeh and Mary were married, not betrothed, at the time.
Luke would also have known that to his audience, the Messiah (Maschiach Heb.) means 'Anointed', and that this was different from 'Saviour' (Moshiah Heb.) and that the Anointed One was to be a political leader descended from King David, well versed in the Law and the Prophets, devout, and be a charismatic leader. Characteristics which are easily argued that Jesus had.
St Anastasia of Sirmium
Little fact is known of this woman, except she died during Diocletian's persecution of the church. Stories emerged of her several centuries after her death, and their reliability cannot be relied upon to be accurate. Popular legend would state that Anastasia was the daughter of Praetextatus, a Roman vir illustris, and had Chrysogonus for a teacher. Early in the persecution of Diocletian, the Emperor summoned Chrysogonus to Aquileia, where he was martyred. Anastasia, having gone from Aquileia to Sirmium to visit Christians there, was beheaded on the island of Palmira on Christmas day. The dates of her birth and death are not recorded.
St Paraskeva of Iconium
There are three Orthodox saints going by the name Paraskeva. Outside Orthodoxy Paraskeva isn't widely known, but within Orthodoxy the Paraskevas are very important saints. This ikon is of paraskeva of Iconium. According to tradition, she was the daughter of a pious wealthy family who named her "Friday" (Paraskeva is Friday in Greek) after Good Friday. After her parents died she gave away all her wealth to the benefit of the poor, and set out on the stump to preach Christianity to anyone who would listen. In time she became an enthusiastic evangelical and was summoned to Emperor Antonius Pius. There follows a rather doubtful and dubious account of a lengthy and brutal interrogation where she was thrown in a vat of boiling oil and pitch, to which she responded without pain nor physical injury. She threw some of the pitch into the eyes of the Emperor and blinded him, and then healed him. This was enough to persuade Antonius to end the persecution of Christians. Continuing her missionary work she was thrown by one Governor Asclepius into close proximity with a "serpent". Paraskeva made the sign of the Cross over it and it died, whereupon Asclepius was also converted to Christianity. She either died, as did many others, under the Diocletian persecution, or she died by beheading under Tarasios, a city ruler.
History seems uncertain whether there were more than one Paraskeva. There are arguments that Paraskeva is an amalgamation of several people, and arguments she was one figure. To settle the matter attempts have erred on the side there were more than one and other Paraskevas have featured in Christian history, but irrespective of the true answer to this question her personality and strength of character was such that after her death she attracted a huge following.
She is invoked by those with diseased cattle, and those who are ill themselves.
St Anthony the Great
Born in 251, St Anthony is deemed to be the Father of All Monks, was a prominent Egyptian Desert Father. His biography helped spread the practice of monasticism in the West.
He was born in Coma the son of wealthy landowning parents, who died when he was 18 leaving him to look after his sister. Soon after however, he abandoned this life and placed his sister into the care of nuns, sold and gave away all he had, and went under the tutelage of the harsh ascetic life of monks. He headed out to the Nitrian Desert 59 miles west of Alexandria where he stayed for 13 years. Plagued by the devil his temptations are portrayed throughout the various periods of Christian art. After falling ill and being restored by the villagers who brought him food, he retreated further to a cell set within a more remote mountain near Crocodoplis for a further 20 years.
After failing to become a martyr under persecution, he retreated once again to his cell on the mountain, and over time he attracted hundreds of followers. On the spot of his cell stands the Monastery of St Anthony the Great. His remains are believed to to have been removed to Alexandria in 361 and eventually found their way to St Antoine de Dauphine
St Sophia surrounded by Saints Faith Hope and Charity
Believed to have been born in Italy in the 1st Century, Sophia named her three daughters after the virtues mentioned by Paul (1 Cor. 13:1) Pistis, Elpis, and Agape (Faith, Hope and Love or Charity). In AD 137 when Faith was 12, Hope 10 and Love 9 they were martyred by Hadrian (AD 117 - 138). In an attempt to persuade them to renounce Christianity, Roman soldiers removed the daughters starting from the eldest to the youngest and tortured them individually till they died from the torture. Sophia was then allowed to bury her daughters and remained by their graves till, three days later, she herself died from grief.
It is uncertain whether this is legend or a true account of four people who lived. There are two separate accounts of this telling set in two separate places at two separate times, but it is entirely credible that there were eight people who met death in such a way, so common were their names and so common was Christian death and torture at that time.
The son of a tribal chieftain, Columba was given the name Crimthann when he was baptised shortly after his birth in Gartan, County Donegal. When he was a boy, he was so often found praying in the town church that his friends called him Colm Cille (Dove of the Church) and it was as Colm, or its Latin form Columba, that he was known for the rest of his life.
As a young man, Columba was strongly influenced by one of his teachers, Finian of Clonard, and asked to be ordained a priest. When a prince cousin gave him some land at Derry, he decided to start a monastery. Because of his love of nature, Columba refused to build the church facing east, as was the custom; he wanted to spare the lives of as many oak trees as he could. His foundation of another monastery at Durrow 7 years later was the beginning of an extraordinary decade during which he travelled through Northern Ireland teaching about Christianity and founded some 30 monasteries.
Columba's strong personality and forceful preaching aroused considerable antagonism. He was accused in 563 of starting a war between two Irish tribes and was sentenced by the high king never to see Ireland again, to spend the rest of his life in exile. With 12 companions he sailed from the shores he loved, and settled on the island of Iona off the coast of Scotland. The monks made occasional visits to the Scottish mainland, where they preached the faith. Soon their community had 150 members.
In 575 Columba was persuaded to visit Ireland to mediate in a dispute between the high king and the league of poets. Insisting on remaining faithful to the terms of his exile - that he never see Ireland again - he travelled blindfolded. Although his sympathies were with the poets, his reputation was respected by everyone. He spoke to the assembled nobles and clergy with such force and authority that the king was persuaded to reverse his original decree, and the hostility between the two parties was calmed.
According to Bede, Alban began life as a pagan in a settlement called Verulamium. Living at the time of persecution for Christians, he found himself giving shelter to an escaping priest. He was so moved by the example of the priest, that he received baptism. When soldiers arrived seeking to execute the priest, Alban put on the priest's cloak resulting in him being beheaded when he refused under torture to deny his faith. While being led to execution, various watery miracles were alleged to have taken place. We are not told how and why the original executioner chose Christianity at this point, but we are told that the man who replaced him became blind. While some of this story may well be legendary rather than historically accurate, he is recognised as the first British Martyr. The exact year of his death is unknown.
St John Chrysostom
John was born in AD349 in Antioch to Greco-Syrian parents. His father, a high ranking military man, died soon after his birth and he was raised by his mother, Anthusa. Between the ages of 19 and 24 he was baptised and then tonsured as Reader. John's education began with Libanius who taught him rhetoric and Greek language and literature. He then went on to study theology under Diodore of Tarsus. When he was just 26 he became a hermit and took the life of an aescetic committing to memory the bible and choosing the harshest of physical mental and spiritual disciplines. Subsequently, he permanently damaged his stomach and kidneys forcing his return to Antioch.
When he was 32 he was ordained Deacon and five years later was Priested. Over the next 12 years he he grew in popularity, partly because of his preaching in the Cathedral and his writing. He emphasised charitable giving, spoke out against corruption and abuse, especially by the wealthy, established a number of hospitals in Constantinople and urged support for the needs of the poor. His sermons were direct and simple so the less educated could follow him. He wrote, "Do you wish to honour the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad. He who said: "This is my body" is the same who said: "You saw me hungry and you gave me no food", and "Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me"... What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother is dying of hunger? Start by satisfying his hunger and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well".
When he was 48 he was made Archbishop of Constantinople. When he was told of his appointment he chose to leave Antioch in secret for fear that his departure would cause civil disorder. As Archbishop he wasn't popular with the wealthy and the clergy because he refused to host lavish social occasions when there was so much poverty. He started a programme of clergy reform which included ordering visiting preachers to return to their parishes whom they were meant to be serving without paying them while they were in the city. The Patriarch of Alexandria, Theophilus, sought to bring Constantinople under his jurisdiction and had opposed John's appointment accusing him of being a tad too keen to Origen's influence. John also made an enemy of Aelia Eudoxia, who was the wife of the Emporor Arcadius, who didn't take too kindly to the way John denounced extravagance, not least in the way women dressed.
When he was 54 his enemies held a meeting, the Synod of The Oak, to bring John down resulting in him being deposed and banished, but such was his popularity this was overturned almost immediately by Arcadius. John didn't wait long to have his revenge and denounced dedication ceremonies to a silver statue of Eudoxia near his cathedral. This time he was banished to the Armenian Caucasus where he sought help from Pope Innocent I, Verius Bishop of Milan, and Chromatius Bishop of Aquileia. Pope Innocent lent his support and protested at John's banishment sending a delegation to Constantinople but they never arrived. He was further exiled when he was 58 to Pityus in modern Georgia, but he too never arrived dying on the way at Cormanus in Pontus 14th September AD 407.
John's influence on the church is (not was) immense. He harmonised the liturgical life of the church, and it is said that he laid down one of the two chief liturgies used by the church (the other being that of St Basil) and his Paschal sermon is used every year.
In our community, the ikons of St John Chrysostom and St Basil are placed at the entrance to the Royal Doors marking the fact that they both are said to have authored two of the most important liturgies used by the Orthodox church.
St Basil of Caesarea
St Basil of Caesarea and St John Chrysostom are often pictured as a pair because together they are known in Orthodoxy as the authors of two of the most important liturgies used in Orthodox churches. He was born AD 329 or 330 into a wealthy devout Christian family who lived in what is now Turkey. Shortly after he was born the family moved into his grandmothers house, where he was taught by both his father and grandmother. His father died when he was a teenager around AD 350 and Basil moved back to Caesarea to complete his formal education. It was at this time that he became close to Gregory and the pair were lifetime friends and together the two moved to Athens to receive further education. Basil left Athens in AD 356 to travel to Egypt and Syria before returning home to take up a teaching post. Then he met a charismatic bishop Eustathius of Sebaste (Armenia) who brought Basil to a Christian faith. Basil decided that he wanted to devote his life to God, and after some years travelling further and learning theology, in AD 358 he started a monastery and in time he began writing. Gregory joined him and they wrote together for a while before Gregory returned to his roots. It was these works that formed the foundation of Orthodox monastic life. By AD 362 he was made deacon to be made priest two years later. Gregory and Basil came together again to fight heresy at a crucial point in the theological development of the church. He became known as a rigid and fierce adherent of orthodox theology, opposing heresy and deviations from the strict Christian line at every level and every opportunity. On June 14th AD 371 Basil was made bishop. As bishop he continued to fight heresy on the wider level and did much to help the poor at the local level. He died of liver disease January 1st AD 379.
Saint Patrick was a Romano-British, Christian missionary who is generally recognized as the patron saint of Ireland. Two authentic letters from him survive, from which come the only generally accepted details of his life.
In 387 he was born at Kilpatrick near Dumbarton in Scotland to Calphurnius and Conchessa. Calphurnius belonged to a high ranking Roman family. Conchessa was related to St Martin of Tours. When he was about 16, he was captured from his home by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to what is now Ballymena in Ireland, where he lived for six years looking after sheep and learning Gaelic before escaping and returning to his family. After becoming a cleric, he returned to Ireland as an ordained bishop in the north and west of the island, but little is known about the places where he worked. By the seventh century, he had come to be revered as the patron saint of Ireland. His life would appear to be well documented, but it is difficult to tease apart what actually happened from what later writers have added as romantic gloss. Much of what is said to have happened is patent fiction to add weight to the figure of Patrick, in the same way that much of what is reported to happen to modern celebrities as reported by the media is fiction. Plus ca change?
The dates of Patrick's life cannot be fixed with certainty but it is generally accepted that he was active as a missionary in Ireland during the second half of the fifth century. He died at Saul, Downpatrick in Ireland between 460 and 490. St Patrick's Day is observed on March 17, the date of his death.
Little is known about his early life except it is safe to assume he was English in origin and at some point was ordained, went to Rome and was ordained Bishop and his episcopal see was established at Whithorn and named after another Bishop, St Martin. The first we hear of Ninian is from the writer Bede who reports that the southern Picts came across him and took kindly to is preaching.
Ninian also founded a monastery at Whithorn which, in time, became famous as a monastic school within a century of his death. Though his success with the Picts was noted, by the time Patrick turned up this success had withered on the vine and died, for Patrick describes the Picts as "apostates", and further evidence that they abandoned Christianity is provided by Columba and Kentigern. There are no substantial contemporary accounts of Ninian, but Bede was pretty rigorous so it's likely that he lived and isn't a fabled character, but other attributions of Ninian were written long after his death and are therefore unreliable.
We are not told how he died, we can reasonably assume from natural causes, but he died about AD 432. His body was interred at Whithorn.