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St. Andrew the First-Called Apostle

His Grace Bishop Anthony has initiated a series of spiritual meditations on the Holy Apostles. The reflection by Fr. Andrew Kishler of St. George Orthodox Church, Spring Valley, IL, is the second in the series.

Few saints are as prominent in our Eastern Orthodox tradition as St. Andrew the Apostle. Various early traditions recount his missionary travels throughout Eastern Europe: what is now Greece, Romania, Ukraine, and Russia. Our "first among equals," the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, is known as the successor of St. Andrew. Indeed, St. Andrew is dear to the hearts and minds of many Orthodox Christians worldwide.

But before he became the patron saint of some of the most prominent Orthodox nations and sees, who was he? He appears in all four Gospels as one of the Twelve Disciples of the Lord Jesus. The Gospel of St. John informs us that he was the first of the Lord's disciples, hence St. Andrew's title in Greek, "Protokletos" (First-Called). He is not as prominent a personality in the Gospels as some of the others, particularly his more boisterous brother Simon Peter. But St. Andrew is always there, just below the surface. And by observing the few times he rises to the surface of the Gospels, we can discern something about his personality, his close relationship with his Master, and his role as a guide and intercessor for the Holy Church today.

The most important thing to note about St. Andrew is that the few times he does appear in the Gospels, he is always leading others to Jesus Christ. St. Andrew is not outspoken, and he does not come across as one who craves the spotlight, but his gentle, caring personality comes forth and invites others to "come and see" the Master.

First, we meet St. Andrew as a spiritual seeker in the first chapter of St. John's Gospel (1:35-42). Originally a disciple of St. John the Baptist, Andrew is there when John prophesies of the Lord Jesus, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" (John 1:36). Andrew and another disciple leave their first master to go and follow Someone far more important! Jesus invites Andrew and his friend to "come and see" (1:39), and the two of them spend the rest of the day with this mysterious new Master, learning from Him and observing His manner of life.

Andrew is not one to keep the Good News to himself. After spending the day with this Rabbi Jesus, the first thing Andrew does is go and tell his brother Peter: "We have found the Messiah!" The Gospel simply tells us, "And he brought him to Jesus" (1:42). Andrew was on his own humble quest for the truth, and when the Truth came before him, Andrew recognized Him and never looked back.

Second, we meet St. Andrew at the Feeding of the 5,000 by the Sea of Galilee (John 6:4-14). "A great multitude" is now following Jesus, and they are starting to get hungry. The Lord tests Philip: "Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?" (6:5). Philip has no faith, and no ideas. "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little!" But Andrew is the one who pipes up: "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?" (6:9). Andrew is still a little short on faith, but at least he's thinking in the right direction! Jesus takes the fish and loaves from the little boy, and we all know the rest of the story. It says a great deal about Andrew's character that he would have taken the time to get to know this young boy, and introduce him to Jesus at the right time.

Third, and also in the Gospel of John, we again encounter the Protokletos leading others to Jesus, this time a group of Greeks who were in Jerusalem to worship the one true God of the Jews on the feast of Passover (12:20-22). The Gospel simply says, "there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. Then they came to Philip..., and asked him, saying, 'Sir, we wish to see Jesus.'" Does Philip the Apostle take them directly to Jesus? No, he takes them to Andrew, who then brings them to Jesus: "Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus" (12:22). Even among the Apostles, it was apparently recognized that Andrew had a special intimacy with the Master, and that he was particularly gifted in leading others to Him. Even apart from Andrew's later missionary travels, it's no wonder Greek Christians to this day venerate St. Andrew as their patron saint, the one who leads prayers on their behalf before the Holy Trinity.

In each of these examples, St. Andrew is not trying to do anything exceptional. He comes across to us as simple, faithful, humble, kind, and friendly, with an openness toward others. Providence can count on him to do what is needful and bring others to "come and see" Jesus Christ in the right way, at the right time.

After Pentecost, St. Andrew's missionary travels would take him through modern day Greece, Romania, Ukraine, and Russia. He was finally nailed to an X-shaped cross in the Greek city of Patras, where he gave his life as a martyr for the sake of His Master. One version of St. Andrew's martyrdom puts these beautiful words to the Holy Cross on his lips: "O good Cross, made beautiful by the body of my Lord! So long desired, so anxiously loved, so unceasingly sought after, and now at last ready for my soul to enjoy! Take me from amidst men, and restore me to my Master, that by thee he may receive me, who by thee redeemed me."

Saint Andrew's relics rested in Patras until the mid-fourth century, when the emperor moved them to the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople. During the sack of Constantinople in the thirteenth century, the Crusaders took the bones and cross of St. Andrew back to Italy. In 1964, as a gesture of good will, Pope Paul VI presented St. Andrew's skull back to the Greek Orthodox Church, and then in 1980, the X-shaped cross.

Troparion to St. Andrew (Tone 4): Since thou wast first called among the Apostles, and a brother of the head, implore, O Andrew, the Master of all to grant the inhabited world safety and our souls the great mercy!

Read about Thomas the Twin.