St Matthew

St Matthew

Matthew, a tax collector, possibly for Herod Antipas, and originally named Levi, was recruited by Jesus and became one of the Apostles.  He was born in Galilee, which at the time wasn't part of the Roman province Idaea or Judea. Matthew collected taxes for the Romans and became, like his colleagues, fairly despised.  Tax collectors were not paid.  They paid to the government a set amount, and whatever they collected above this was their payment.  Therefore, it was in their interest to collect as much as they could, to get as rich as they could.  Similarly, prefects such as Pontius Pilate were required to remit a certain sum to Rome and whatever they could collect over and above this was profit. It is obvious why Matthew was an outcast. 

Matthew would have had to be literate in both Aramaic and Greek to do his job, so he must have been a literate intelligent man. In what today is Algamor, Jesus called Matthew and joined him for a meal.  Ever critical of Jesus, the Scribes and Pharisees took Jesus to task for eating with Matthew as he was deemed by his profession to be automatically a sinner and outcast. Jesus was crushing in His reply by saying He didn't come to call the righteous but sinners. 

Scholarly opinion is divided as to whether Matthew was the author of the gospel named after him.   What is known is that Matthew, a witness to the ascension, travelled far afield to proselytise and it could well be that some, if not all, of his gospel was written by him, or at least one of his followers. He is said to have died in Ethiopia under the edict of Fulvian, who had him burnt alive, though other sources would have us believe he was stoned to death or beheaded.

St Luke

St Luke

Luke is probably an abbreviated version of the name Lucanus, a name unknown before the 1st Century. Luke was a probably a Greek Gentile and not a born Jew, although he had a wide knowledge of the Septuagint either as a Jewish proselyte, or after he became Christian.  Luke came from the city of Antioch in Syria, which at the time was heavily under the influence of Greek thought. He is believed to have been a physician (i.e. not a surgeon but one that prescribed medicine) and was widely travelled, quite possibly working as a doctor aboard ships.  He was a bachelor and a disciple of Paul.  It might have been the case that at some point he had a residence in Troas, though this is not clear. As a doctor, like Matthew, he would have been an intelligent and literate man.  It's commonly held that he was the author of the gospel that bears his name and also the Acts of the Apostles, and he probably had a hand in some of the authorship of Hebrews, but in truth this cannot be conclusively concluded.  The earliest manuscript copy of the gospel can be dated to AD200 and it is the attribution attached to this that has designated Luke to be the author. After the death of Paul, he is believed to have travelled to Italy, Dalmatia, Macedonia, and other regions. 

He is believed to have died at 74 or 84 in Thebes, in the region of Boeotia, Greece. It is believed he was tortured then hanged from an olive tree.

St John Theologian & Prochor

Saints John the Theologian and St Prochor

St John the Theologian refers to the Apostle John, writer of the fourth gospel. The youngest of the apostles and possibly closest to Jesus. His parental attribution is said to be Salome his mother (who, tradition has, was one of those who  arrived with myrrh to anoint Jesus after the crucifixion) and Zebedee, a fisherman. A James was his younger brother. There was an especially close relationship between John and Jesus which is acknowledged often in the gospels. One can only speculate why Jesus referred to the pair collectively as "Boanerges" (translated "sons of thunder") but fiery tempers seems to be the obvious one.
He is often thought to be to be the same John who is referred to as John the Evangelist and John of Patmos. Tradition indeed ascribes John as being the author of one gospel, three epistles and the book of Revelation, however, since as early as AD 600 there have been doubts that the same person wrote all five documents with John the Elder being thought of as the author of two of the epistles and the Revelation being considered as the work of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Modern scholars, upon examination of the style, grammar and vocabulary, strongly suggest that the three Johns mentioned above are in fact three different people. The dating of the gospel has received much attention, from it being written between AD 65-85, to maybe being written as late as Ad 90-100.

Tradition is divided as to whether he died in Jerusalem or on Patmos, but, however the dominant theory is that he ended his days exiled by Diocletian on the island of Patmos around AD 90-95, where it is said he received the series of visions set out in the Book of Revelation. 

St Prochor is believed to be the name of a pupil and companion, who, it is said, spent much of his time writing down what John needed him to record and assisting him in his infirmity.

Ikon above the Royal Doors

Ikon above the Royal Doors

Along the top of the ikon screen in our church are a series of Ikons that depict scenes from the life of Christ and of his mother. This particular ikon, in the centre of the row, depicts not an event, however, but Jesus in the company of figures who hold special significance in the New Testament narrative. Jesus is the central figure and is shown seated on a throne holding the words I AM. This term is first seen in Exodus when we read "and God said to Moses, I AM that I AM, and He said, This will you say to the Children of Israel, I AM has sent me to you"  וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֱלֹהִים֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה וַיֹּ֗אמֶר כֹּ֤ה תֹאמַר֙ לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה שְׁלָחַ֥נִי אֲלֵיכֶֽם׃.     The key point of this ikon is it emphasises the link to Jesus being the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets, the promise to the people of Israel. The people depicted who surround Him, from left to right, Saint Peter, the Archangel Michael, Mary the Mother of God, John the Forerunner and Baptist, the Archangel Gabriel, and St.Paul.

St Peter and Paul

Saints Peter and Paul

Peter and Paul are central to the spread of Christianity after Jesus death and resurrection.

Peter was the son of Jona and was born in Bethsaida in Galillee, (where also St Philip lived) he was an apostle alongside his brother Andrew and is remembered as the first bishop of Rome.  By the time he met Jesus he was married and living with his wife and mother in law in Capernaum. He was a wealthy man who owned his own boat. He was influenced by the message of John the Baptist and was thus ripe for when Jesus called him. Subsequent to the Ascension Peter returned to Jerusalem and became a prominent character in the community of Jesus' followers, taking the lead in spreading the message. In time he left to spread the message further afield, most particularly in Lydda, Joppa and Caesarea before returning to Jerusalem.  There he resumed his position at the head of the Christian community till the arrival of the first Herod Agrippa AD 42-44. Herod set about a persecution of Christians and laid Peter in prison intent upon his execution. Peter escaped and left the area, leaving the Jerusalem community in the hands of James, but little is known where exactly he went. In the second year of the reign of Emperor Claudius he went to Rome and overthrew Simon Magus to hold the Bishops position till his death under Emperor Nero The date of his death by martyrdom isn't known, but various scholars have narrowed it down to AD 64-68. The place of his death is said to be the site of the Neronian Gardens where now the Vatican stands. Emperor Nero was a particularly sadistic executioner, and these gardens were is particular playground of cruelty.  Tradition holds that Peter died by upside down crucifixion. Peter wrote two epistles, and the Gospel of Mark is also ascribed to him (Mark was his disciple and interpreter).  

Paul is so well known, it is almost redundant to say more.  He was what would now be termed a Turk, being born in Tarsus, and was, before his conversion, an enthusiastic Pharisee devoted to the destruction of Christianity. He was born in Tarsus in Cilicia, of pious Jewish parents. He was named Saul as he was a descendant of the Tribe of Benjamin in memory of the first King of the Jews. As a young man he studied in Jerusalem under Gamaliel His trade was that of making tents, or rather, making the mohair from which tents were made. 

He was active and determined to persecute those preaching Christianity, and he is believed to have cheerfully and helpfully acted as cloakroom attendant so that those who wanted to stone Stephen to death could do so unimpaired.  He dragged people from their homes who he believed to be Christian and had them tortured and killed. His conversion however, was dramatic and sudden and he became as zealous a follower of Jesus as he had been an opponent.

He was responsible for much of the development of Christianity in and around the Mediterranean Basin. After the death of Jesus, both Paul and James took the dominant role in influencing what was to become Christianity. James adhered fairly closely to the Judaic traditions in his thinking, whereas Paul had different ideas. Through his influence, he relaxed the Judaic expression of Christianity and made it easier for Gentiles to be welcomed into this new religion.  James took the line that to follow Jesus, being a devout Jew, automatically meant that believers should believe what Jesus believed and to stick to the way of life that Jesus embraced.  There was lack of enthusiasm among Gentiles to the full extent of this message, particularly to circumcision, which is where Paul's message succeeded.  Paul saw that to sell the message of what was later called Christianity, those spreading the message had to take a less rigid line on certain things.  As such his influence on Christian thinking and attracting believers cannot be underestimated. He died as a martyr in Rome around AD 62-64.

He remained faithful and observant to the Torah throughout his life, taking to a Mikvah after he converted and stating that Gentiles should obey the commandments set out in the Torah. He continued to make Jewish sacrifices in the Temple throughout his ministry and continued to keep the Jewish Festivals. So rather than turning his face from his tradition of Judaism towards Christianity, he continued living the Jewish life and sought Gentiles and fellow Jews to follow the example of Jesus, who Himself was a Jew and Who besought people to obey the commandments.

The Feast day of both saints is marked on June 29th

Synaxis of the 12 Apostles

Synaxis of the Twelve Apostles

This ikon presents the twelve apostles. Peter, Andrew, James (son of Zebedee) John, Phillip, Bartholomew, James (son of Alphaeus) Thomas, Matthew, Simon, Mark, Thaddeus and Paul who replaced Judas in ikonographic portrayal.

Of the apostles, Peter, Andrew, James, John, and possibly Philip were commercial fishermen. Much has been said of these that Jesus chose "poor fishermen", but this isn't borne out by archeology. Far from being poor, it is quite probable that Peter, Andrew, James and John were in fact wealthy men. To be a commercial fisherman in 1st Century Israel meant that they would have had at least one boat, possibly more, and each boat would have needed an employed crew of at least nine. Archeology has determined that commercial fishing boats were large vessels crewed by eight oarsmen. This meant that they would have been navigated by one other and possibly had yet others to work the catch. This makes Peter, Andrew, James and John well off business men with a social status far higher than many have attributed to them. This explanation at least accounts where much of the money came from which Jesus and the disciples needed to conduct their mission.

In the same vein, Jesus, being a carpenter and the son of a carpenter, was also far from being a poor man. Carpenters in the First Century were the engineers of society. It were carpenters who built and repaired houses, synagogues, bridges etc. These were skilled people and far from just making the odd door or bowl, Jesus and Joseph would have been able to command a good income from their work.

Neither Jesus nor the apostles were a ragged rough rag-tag & bob-tailed crew of "rude mechanicals" as many would have us believe. Their social status was pretty high amongst their contemporaries, Middle Class even, and this was necessary because Jesus need to have people around Him to whom other people would pay attention. 

The author of Mark's gospel (quite possibly Peter) describes how Jesus called 'Levi the son of Alphaeus' to His side, and he is described as a tax collector. After this entry Levi is never heard of again, and no explanation is given why he disappears. The same writer later introduces Matthew and James as being both sons of Alphaeus, though it isn't clear if this is the same Alphaeus or not. The author of Matthew's gospel makes the point that Matthew was also a tax collector, which seems dubious but does resolve "a little difficulty" leaving the rest of us to assume Levi and Matthew were one and the same. Tax Collectors, though they held a social status within the hierarchy of the Roman State, were however despised by their own people. The reason for this is simple. Rome decided how much money they wanted from the Tax Collectors and left it up to these individuals themselves how they collected it and how much they took from the people. If they extracted more than Rome wanted they could keep the surplus. Rome wasn't interested if there was a little corruption going on, just as long as they got the money they decided was their due.

Simon the Zealot belonged to a group of political activists and agitators who were intent upon inciting the Israelites into open and bloody revolt against the Romans. The Zealots were a small but vocal group who alongside the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Essenes, (of which it is fairly certain that much of Jesus thinking was influenced by the Essenes) formed the main groups which influenced Jewish society at the time. The most violent of the Zealots were called the Sicarii, who not only were violent towards Romans, but also fellow Jews whom they believed were collaborators. In time they were to take a leading role in the AD 66 Jewish Revolt which, for four years, held power over Jerusalem till Titus Flavius retook the city and destroyed the Temple. We are not told what qualities Simon had that attracted Jesus to invite Simon into his inner circle, but there is plenty of scope for speculation, but whatever the reason behind it we can be sure it wasn't an arbitrary whim.

St Andrew

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.


Archangel Gabriel

Archangel Gabriel

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.

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