The Feast of St. Andrew, the First of the Apostles

St. Andrew

The beginning of Advent marks the beginning of the Church Year for the vast majority of Christendom that follows the cycle and seasons of the Church Year centered on the lectionary.  With the beginning of the Church Year, it is fitting that the first Feast day of the year belongs to St. Andrew the Apostle, brother of Simon Peter.

Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist before being called by Jesus.  It is possible that he witnessed the baptism of our Lord in the River Jordan, and was there drawn to the presence of God in the flesh by the witness of the Father and the Spirit.   It was he who brought Peter to see Jesus, and they were later called as the fishermen, to leave their nets, and everything behind to follow Jesus.

Andrew was named one of the twelve Apostles by Christ.  In the lists of the Apostles, he is among the first four mentioned.  Not much is known about his work and mission following Christ’s ascension.  Andrew is generally thought to have died a martyr’s death on an X shaped cross.  Hence, the symbol of St. Andrew is an X shaped cross on a field of blue.   His death is said to have taken place during the reign of Nero on November 30, 60 A. D. in Patras, Geece.

There is some controversy over the remains of St. Andrew.  In 357 A. D., Andrew’s remains were said to have been moved from Patras to the Church of the Apostles in Constantinople, where they remained until the thirteenth century when the French took Constantinople.  Cardinal Capua moved the remains of Andrew to the cathedral of Amalfi in Italy.  The Scots on the other hand claim that the bones of St. Andrew are bones are in Scotland.  In any event, a Greek monk at Patras, St. Regulus, or Rule as he is commonly known, and keeper of the relics of St. Andrew at Patras, is said to have received a vision to move the relics including the bones of St. Andrew to Scotland c. 732.  Another story has the Bishop of Hexham, a collector of relics, removing the bones from Greece to Scotland around the same time.  The church of St. Rule, and eventually the cathedral of St. Andrew were built and were said to have housed the remains of the Apostle until the time of the Reformation when they were said to have been destroyed by Calvinists.  Of course, St. Andrew, Scotland is now famous for its golf course.

All that aside — it makes for a interesting history lesson — what we do know for sure is that Andrew was the first Apostle called by Christ, and the entire Church, both East and West, celebrate the Feast of St. Andrew on November 30 each year.  It is a small symbol of unity that binds the church together at the begining of the Church Year.

Hymn for St. Andrew’s Feast Day

JESUS CALLS US, Mrs. Cecil F. Alexander, 1818–1895

Jesus calls us o’er the tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea;
day by day His sweet voice soundeth, saying, “Christian, follow Me.”

Jesus calls us from the worship of the vain world’s golden store,
from each idol that would keep us, saying, “Christian, love Me more.”

In our joys and in our sorrows, days of toil and hours of ease,
still He calls, in cares and pleasures, “Christian, love Me more than these.”

Jesus calls us: by Thy mercies, Savior, may we hear Thy call,
give our hearts to Thy obedience, serve and love Thee best of all.

Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves Me. (John 12:26)

The story behind the hymn:

God’s call for discipleship comes to every believer, not just a special few. Whether or not we hear God’s call depends on our spiritual sensitivity.

The last Sunday in November is known as St. Andrew’s Day. It has traditionally been an important day in the liturgical worship of the Anglican church. It commemorates the calling of Andrew by Jesus as recorded in Matthew 4:18–20 and Mark 1:16–l8. “At once they [Simon and his brother Andrew] left their nets and followed Him.” Andrew has become the patron saint of Scotland, and the oblique cross on which tradition says he was crucified is part of the Union Jack of the British flag.

This is another of the quality hymn texts written by Cecil Frances Alexander, recognized as one of England’s finest women hymn writers. It is one of the few of Mrs. Alexander’s hymns not specifically written for children; nearly all of her more than 400 poems and hymn texts were intended for reaching and teaching children with the gospel.

Following her marriage in 1850 to the distinguished churchman, Dr. William Alexander, who later became archbishop for all of Ireland, Mrs. Alexander devoted her literary talents to helping her husband with his ministry, including writing appropriate poems that he could use with his sermons. One fall day, two years after their marriage, Dr. Alexander asked his wife if she could write a poem for a sermon he was planning to preach the following Sunday for his St. Andrew’s Day sermon. The pastor closed his sermon that day with the new poem written by his wife. These words have since been widely used in all churches to challenge God’s people to hear Christ’s call as Andrew did and then to follow, serve, and love Him “best of all.”

From Osbeck, K. W. (1990). Amazing grace : 366 inspiring hymn stories for daily devotions (356). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications.

Michaelmas — St. Michael and All Angels Day

Today is the feast of Michaelmas in the church.  It is a day that the church traditionally remembers and acknowledges God‘s other creatures — the angels.  Chief among them is St. Michael.  Angels are created beings although the Bible is silent as to the time of their creation.  They also serve as messengers providing messages from God to men, foretelling special acts of God, agents of God’s wrath and judgment, and agents of the divine providence of God. Continue ReadingScripture distinguishes between only two ranks of angels — angel and archangel.  Any other references to ranks of angels is primarily speculation.  The Bible mentions in addition to angels, two special kinds of angels — the cherubim and seraphim.  God is enthroned above the cherubim (Revelation)  and is mentioned as riding above the cherubim in Ezekiel.    Seraphim are described by Isaiah as having six wings.  They also appear to be the four living creatures John describes in Revelation 4.  Incidentally, no other angel is described as having wings.

Michael is mentioned as an archangel, the leader of God’s army.  It was he who led the host of God against Satan and the fallen angels, and threw them out of heaven.  Michael is mentioned by name three times in the Bible — Daniel 12, Jude, and Revelation.  Jude notes that Michael disputed with Satan over the body of Moses.  The only other angel mentioned by name in the Bible is Gabriel in Luke and Daniel 8.

The church has observed St. Michael and All Angels day going back to the first century. Angel worship is forbidden.  But we worship with the angels every Sunday the world round where the liturgy is used when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, just before the words of institution when the Pastor says:

With angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify your Holy Name, evermore praising you and saying:  Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Sabaoth.  Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of your Glory.  Hosanna!  Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna!  Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!

Our voices joined with the angels and the saints in heaven every time we celebrate the Eucharist.  We announce the coming of our Lord and Savior into our very presence and uniting Himself to us in the meal He prepared for us.

The Collect for Michaelmas.

Everlasting God, You have ordained and constituted the service of angels and men in a wonderful order. Mercifully grant that, as Your holy angels always serve and worship You in heaven, so by Your appointment they may also help and defend us here on earth; through Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Daniel 12:1-3

  • 1″At that time shall arise(A) Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And(B)there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered,(C) everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. 2And many of those who(D)sleep in(E) the dust of the earth shall(F) awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3(G)And those who are wise(H) shall shine like the brightness of the sky above;[a] and(I) those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Source for information on Angels:  Christian Cyclopedia.

The Feast of St. Mary, the Mother of our Lord Christ

Mother’s day is usually celebrated the second Sunday in May.  Today, however, the church commemorates the ultimate Mother, St. Mary, the Mother of Our Lord Christ.  Mary has always had a special place in the hearts church members throughout the centuries.  Whether she is venerated as remaining ever the virgin through an “Immaculate Conception,” or thought to have appeared at Lourdes or in various other times and places, or whether she is thought to be the “Queen of Heaven,” Mary remains Theotokos, the God-bearer.  She was at the center of one of the greatest Christological crises in the history of the church.  But no one can diminish the fact that she is the most blessed among women.   And Mary never claimed anything more for herself, according to Scripture.  She is mentioned just a handful of times in the Gospels in connection with the Birth of Christ, the Flight into Egypt, the Passover in the Temple, Jesus’ death, to name a few.  Tradition holds that she followed John to Ephesus where she died.  She is truly the things legends are made of for some say that she even was assumed bodily into heaven like Elijah, or Enoch.  Yet Scripture does not bear witness to this speculation.  And indeed, much of what we have about Mary in the traditions of the church are based on speculation and private revelation, like those matters noted above.

What we do have revealed in Holy Scripture, is the portrait of a true, earthly mother who brought her son, the God-man into this world, and watched Him leave it, hanging on a dreadful, bloody Cross.  We are shown an example of true faith, faith that is bestowed upon us only by the Holy Spirit, in accepting the gift of bearing the salvation of the world inside of her, while secretly carrying in her heart her entire life with her Son the knowledge, the aching suspicion that, if the prophecies were true, if the sacrifices pointed to the Lamb of God, she held Him in her arms, and she would watch Him leave this world and this life.  A blessing and a curse.  Gospel and Law.

The Hail Mary

Many things have been written about Mary.  The nicest come from Scripture. The Hail Mary, for example,as it is commonly known, is a prayer that developed over time in the church.  It is taken from the Angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary, as he announced to her the favor that God chose to bestow upon her to bear His Son into this world (Luke 1:28).  The second part of the prayer is taken from the greeting Mary received from her cousin Elizabeth when her yet unborn child leapt in her womb in the presence of Mary and his God (Luke 1:42).  These parts came into common use in the church by about 1050 AD according to the Catholic Encyclopedia.  It was used as a salutation, greeting, or expression of honor to Mary, but not as a prayer. Continue reading “The Feast of St. Mary, the Mother of our Lord Christ”

The Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, December 21, 2011

English: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Ca...

Doubting Thomas.  He was an apostle of Jesus.  All four Gospels mention him as one.  He was not present that first night Jesus appeared to the disciples in the locked room.  He did not believe his brothers.  He demanded proof that Jesus was alive, that He did appear to them.  For their eyewitness testimony was not enough for him.  He needed to see for himself, touch the wounds.  Only then would he believe.

On the night of Jesus’ death, Thomas Jesus a question that evoked one of the most memorable sayings of our Lord.  Jesus had just finished washing the feet of His disciples and revealed that one of the twelve would betray Him to His death.  Peter, ever the bold and brash jumped into the thick of it, telling our Lord that he would fight for Him to the death.  Jesus brought Peter back to reality and told him that he would not only not fight to the death for Him, but that he would deny that he knew the Lord of Life three times before the rooster crowed in the morning.  Jesus then began to comfort His disciples, telling them He was going to His Father’s house to prepare rooms for them. and that they knew the way to where He was going.  To this, Thomas said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus replied, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes unto the Father unless He comes through Me.”  In these two short sentences, Jesus staked His claim to be the salvation of the world.  There is no other name in heaven and on earth by which we may be saved.  “Show us the Father,” Phillip exclaimed.  Jesus must have been exasperated at their inability to comprehend and perceive what He was plainly telling them, and He tells Phillip, “Just believe my words!  Or if you do not believe them, at least believe based on the evidence of the miracles the Father has done through Me!”  Faith.  Christ calls us to be under His Word, to be subject to it.  He said it, BELIEVE it.  It is true.

What the scene must have been like, when Christ appeared again to the apostles, again behind closed doors.  This time Thomas is present.  Knowing Thomas’ doubts, Jesus goes directly to Him and bids Thomas to place his hands in His side, in the wounds of His hands.  “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

“You have believed because you have seen.  Blessed are those who believe who have not seen.”  This is the reality of the cross.  Thomas came face to face with the wounds and scars borne by Christ.  It brought to mind all the words of Jesus, the claims He made to be God in the flesh.  And here, in his presence, stood the risen Lord of the Light, shining a light on the darkened mind and sight of His apostles.  That light, for that moment, opened the eyes of faith in Thomas.  It illumined his path to India, the ends of the earth where he followed the Way of Christ.  That Way always, always is to the Cross for us.  Never around it, or through it.  We do not get to pick it up and lay it down.  We get to carry that Cross, the one that meets us at the beginning of our walk, just as Christ did for Thomas.  And in the darkest day of the year, a time of doubt and despair for many, we call upon the light of the Morning Star to shine in this world as He did for Thomas.

Feast of St. Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist

Today the Church remembers the writer of the first Gospel, Matthew, the tax collector. Mark identifies him as Levi, the son of Alphaeus. Mar 2:14. Jesus was by the sea of Galilee, teaching the crowds when He passed by a tax booth.


Today the Church remembers the writer of the first Gospel, Matthew, the tax collector.  Mark identifies him as Levi, the son of Alphaeus.  Mar 2:14.  Jesus was by the sea of Galilee, teaching the crowds when He passed by a tax booth.  He said to Matthew, “Follow me,” and, he rose and followed Jesus.  Matthew tells us in his Gospel account that it was near Capernaum where this took place, just after Jesus had healed a paralytic after coming into town.  Matthew 9:1, 9 (see also 4:13 — Jesus went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, after John was arrested).  Matthew worked for Herod Antipas, but collaborated with the Romans as well, and so was not well liked by his countrymen.  Matthew’s response to the call of Christ was immediate and unquestioned — he rose, left his post, and followed Jesus, his Lord and Master.  Jesus then ate with Matthew at his house, along with many other tax collectors and sinners.  Luke tells us that Matthew made a great feast, and there was a great crowd.  The scribes and pharisees criticized Jesus for associating with tax collectors and sinners — tax collectors were in a special class all by themselves.  Jesus told them that, “[t]hose who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”  Luke 5:31-32.  Mark and Luke’s Gospel agree.  Matthew adds that Jesus told the pharisees to “[g]o and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice…”” quoting Hosea 6:6.

In the early days of the church, the four Evangelists were associated with the four living creatures around the throne of God noted in Ezekiel 14, and Revelation 4.  Matthew is traditionally associated with the human/angelic figure;  Mark the Lion;  Luke the Ox/Bull;  John the Eagle.  This association has come down through the ages in some beautiful art in the churches and cathedrals of the world.  How each apostle became associated with each creature is not clear. It seems that, for some, the connection is based on how each Gospel starts.   Matthew begins:  “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  The genealogy then runs through the course of the human patriarchs through the line of King David to Joseph, the husband of Mary.  Matthew 1:1-8.  Thus Matthew is associated with the humanity of Jesus.  Luke’s Gospel starts with the priesthood of Zechariah the priest offering incense, the prayers of the people, in the Temple in Jerusalem.  Thus, his Gospel is associated with priestly duties symbolized by the bull or ox of sacrifice.  Under this theory, Mark is the Lion because his Gospel begins with John the Baptist in the desert.  John of course soars above all, and his lofty themes of divine things gives him the spiritual wings of the Eagle.  A brief outline of this theory can be found in Against Heresies, Book 3, Ch. 11, Irenaues of Lyons, AnteNicene Fathers, ed. Phillip Schaff.  Others examined the theme of each Gospel and drew different conclusions for Mark and Matthew and switched the living creature with which they were associated.

Not much else is known about Matthew outside of his work as the author of the Gospel bearing his name.  Matthew is thought to have preached the Gospel to his own people before going out into the ends of the earth.  Some of the places mentioned where Matthew may have traveled spreading the Gospel are Syria, Macedonia, Persia, and to an area just south of the Caspian Sea.  Even less is known about the manner of his death, whether it was as a martyr or the blessings of old age.  Regardless, in Matthew, Christ gives mercy and shows how the low are lifted up by the righteousness of Christ.  In turn, the Spirit is breathed upon St. Matthew, and we are given the gift of the eternal Gospel by the pen of his hand through the working of the Holy Spirit.

Feast of St. Matthias the Apostle

Saint Matthias, who replaced Judas Iscariot as...
Image via Wikipedia

Today marks the remembrance of St. Matthias, the Apostle in the church.  According to Luke, Matthias was with Jesus and the apostles throughout His ministry from the Baptism of Christ by John, through the Ascension of our Lord.  Matthias was chosen to replace Judas after he hanged himself.

Not much is known about Matthias beyond Luke’s account of his being numbered among the twelve.  Tradition holds that he preached the Gospel in Judea and then went on to Ethiopia.  He has also been placed in Armenia and Colchis in Asia Minor.  It is not known where or how Matthias died, although there is speculation that he was crucified, or stoned in Jerusalem.  It is said that St. Helena, the mother of Constantine, brought Matthias’ bones from Jerusalem to Rome.   They are said to have made their way to Trier where they are stored in the Church of Matthias.

Source:  Catholic Encyclopedia.

Love is in the Air? How about Love and Caring — Commemoration of St. Valentine, Martyr

A physician and priest living in Rome during the rule of the Emperor Claudius, Valentine become one of the noted martyrs of the third century. The commemoration of his death, which occurred in the year 270, became part of the calendar of remembrance in the early church of the West.   Tradition suggests that on the day of his execution for his Christian faith, he left a note of encouragement for a child of his jailer written on an irregularly-shaped piece of paper.   This greeting became a pattern for millions of written expressions of love and caring that now are the highlight of Valentine’s Day in many nations.  See LCMS Commemoration Biographies.

Val entine was also said to have been arrested for aiding persecuted Christians in the Third Century which included marrying young Christian couples.  Tradition holdsthat Valentine was executed on February 14.  See Catholic Online for more information, which, by the way, is the source for the Saint Fun Facts above.

This Valentine’s Day, do a little more than just kiss your husband or wife — show someone you care for their wellbeing and do something nice — a random act of kindness!


Commemoration of St. John Chrysostom

St John Chrysostom
Image by Lawrence OP via Flickr

John Chrysostom, Preacher

Given the added name of Chrysostom, which means “golden-mouthed” in Greek, Saint John was a dominant force in the fourth-century Christian church. Born in Antioch around the year 347, John was instructed in the Christian faith by his pious mother, Anthusa. After serving in a number of Christian offices, including acolyte and lector, John was ordained a presbyter and given preaching responsibilities. His simple but direct messages found an audience well beyond his home town. In 398, John Chrysostom was made Patriarch of Constantinople. His determination to reform the church, court, and city there brought him into conflict with established authorities. Eventually, he was exiled from his adopted city. Although removed from his parishes and people, he continued writing and preaching until the time of his death in 407. It is reported that his final words were: “Glory be to God for all things. Amen.”

LCMS Commemoration Biographies,

John was known as one of the three great Greek Fathers of the early church.  His Easter Sermon, reproduced below, is read each Easter at the end of the Matins Service on Easter Sunday in the Orthodox Church.  It was written in the late fourth or early fifth century, and is a wonderful example of John’s “Golden Tongue.”

If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let him enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.
If anyone is a wise servant, let him, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.
If anyone has wearied himself in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.
If anyone has labored from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let him keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; for he shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let him not fear on account of his delay. For the Master is gracious and receives the last, even as the first; he gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one he gives, and to the other he is gracious. He both honors the work and praises the intention.
Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry!
Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn his transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.
He that was taken by death has annihilated it! He descended into hades and took hades captive! He embittered it when it tasted his flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, “Hades was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions.” It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body and, face to face, met God! It took earth and encountered heaven! It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!
“O death, where is thy sting? O hades, where is thy victory?”
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the First-fruits of them that slept.
To him be glory and might unto ages of ages. Amen.




St. John of Damascus, the Last of the Greek Fathers

Today the church remembers one of the greatest theologians, pastors and hymnwriters of the ancient church, John of Damascus.  John (ca. 675–749) is known as the great compiler and summarizer of the orthodox faith and the last great Greek theologian. Born in Damascus, John gave up an influential position in the Islamic court to devote himself to the Christian faith. Around 716 he entered a monastery outside of Jerusalem and was ordained a priest. When the Byzantine emperor Leo the Isaurian in 726 issued a decree forbidding images (icons), John forcefully resisted. In his Apostolic Discourses he argued for the legitimacy of the veneration of images, which earned him the condemnation of the Iconoclast Council in 754. John also wrote defenses of the orthodox faith against contemporary heresies. In addition, he was a gifted hymnwriter (“Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain”) and contributed to the liturgy of the Byzantine churches. His greatest work was the Fount of Wisdom which was a massive compendium of truth from previous Christian theologians, covering practically every conceivable doctrinal topic. John’s summary of the orthodox faith left a lasting stamp on both the Eastern and Western churches.
Taken from the Commemoration Biographies of the LCMS.

Commemoration of Noah

Noah, the son of Lamech (Gen 5:30), was instructed by God to build an ark, in which his family would find security from the destructive waters of a devastating flood that God warned would come. Noah built the ark, and the rains descended. The entire earth was flooded destroying “every living thing that was on the face of the ground, both man and beast” (7:23). After the flood waters subsided, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. When Noah determined it was safe, and God confirmed it, he and his family and all the animals disembarked. Then Noah built an altar and offered a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God for having saved his family from destruction. A rainbow in the sky was declared by God to be a sign of His promise that never again would a similar flood destroy the entire earth (8;20). Noah is remembered and honored for his obedience, believing that God would do what He said He would.   From LCMS Commemoration Biographies, Noah.

It is fitting that Noah is remembered in the first week of Advent.  John the Baptizer prepared the way for our Lord and was the voice crying in the wilderness.  It was Noah, however, and the eight (8) people in his boat that foreshadowed our baptism, and the baptism of Christ.  It is tied to the covenant with Abraham marked by circumcision.  All male children were circumcised on the eighth (8th) day of they are lives.  Christ, the firstborn to Mary and Joseph was presented at the Temple on the eighth (8th) day of His earthly life.  Baptism now circumcises our hearts and marks us as ones redeemed by the precious body and blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Baptismal fonts in the early church, and in many churches today have eight (8) sides to them, tying this sacrament all the way back to Noah and the flood.