Our Patrons: On the 12 Apostles
Commemorated all together on June 30th, the Patron Saints of our parish are the 12 Glorious, All-Praised Apostles. The 12 were sent out by Jesus Christ to spread the “Good News” about the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God in Jesus Christ, the awaited Messiah, who brought salvation to the world. Who exactly are the 12 Apostles? While the answer to this is fairly simple, how we arrive at 12 names can seem a bit confusing at first.
In order to arrive at the proper list of 12 names, then, let’s begin by looking at the Scriptural lists of the 12 Apostles from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, with the names itemized into lists:
The Account from Matthew 10:2-4
Now the names of the twelve apostles are these:
- first, Simon, who is called Peter,
- and Andrew his brother;
- James the son of Zebedee, and
- John his brother;
- Philip and
- Thomas and
- Matthew the tax collector;
- James the son of Alphaeus, and
- Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus;
- Simon the Cananite, and
- Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.
The Account from Mark 3:14-19
Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons:
- Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter;
- James the son of Zebedee
- and John the brother of James, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, “Sons of Thunder”;
- James the son of Alphaeus,
- Simon the Cananite;
- and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.
The Account from Luke 6:13-16
And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles:
- Simon, whom He also named Peter,
- and Andrew his brother;
- and John;
- and Bartholomew;
- and Thomas;
- James the son of Alphaeus,
- and Simon called the Zealot;
- Judas the son of James,
- and Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor.
If we were to look at these lists side-by-side without the descriptive elements, they would look like this:
Now, if we were to consolidate the lists by creating a single list of only those names that are common to all three Gospel lists, the result would be thus:
Names Common to each List
- James (son of Zebedee)
- James (son of Alphaeus)
- Judas Iscariot
So here, we have 11 names that are common to all three Gospel lists. So what’s left over?
The 12th person is given three names:
- Lebbaeus/Thaddeus/Judas, the Son of James
We know, however, since this is the only name not consistent on all three lists, that Lebbaeus – who Matthew tells us is also named “Thaddeus” – must be the “Judas” from Luke’s list. This is also the Judas who John the Evangelist mentions in his Gospel and specifies as not being the same as Judas Iscariot, who would betray Jesus: “Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, ‘Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?’” (John 14:22). For more on this Judas, see below.
Finally, one might ask about the name “Nathaniel.” Wasn’t there a “Nathaniel” among the 12? The simplest explanation here is that “Nathaniel” was simply another name of the Apostle Simon (though some say it is actually another name for Bartholomew). Seeing as two of the other Apostles (Peter and Thaddeus) had other names (Simon and Lebaeus/Judas, respectively), this does not seem at all unlikely.
What to do with Judas Iscariot…
Judas Iscariot, in betraying Jesus, disowned his title of “Apostle,” so he is not commemorated by the Church and would certainly not be counted among the 12. The Apostles, however, understanding a need for 12 and not 11 Apostles (as the number 12 corresponds to the 12 Tribes of Israel and thus portrays a fullness and completeness), decided to replace Judas. In Acts 1:15-26, we read about how Matthias is chosen to take Judas’ place among the Apostles.
Interestingly, however, in Orthodox iconography depicting the 12 Apostles, it is Paul who is shown as the 12th Apostle, not Matthias. This – rather than being a slight to Matthias – is simply a recognition of the greatness of Paul and how, through his calling by Jesus Himself (Acts 9) and his missionary labors, Paul also became one of the Apostles. In fact, Peter and Paul are given the title “Preeminent among the Apostles,” as Peter became the main Apostle to the Jews and Paul the main Apostle to the Gentiles.
A Little about Each of the Apostles…
The Scriptures provide us just a little of historical information on most of the Apostles. However, the Church preserved their memories well right from the beginning, so by piecing together some of the writings of the Saints and early histories of the Church as well as information found in the hymns honoring these figures, we learn quite a bit about who they were and what they did. The following is just a brief sketch of each of the 12 (13 including both Paul and Matthias!):
The divinely-blessed Peter was from Bethsaida of Galilee. He was the son of Jonas and the brother of Andrew the first-called. He was a fisherman by trade, unlearned and poor, and was called Simon; later he was renamed Peter by the Lord Jesus Christ himself, who looked at him and said, “Thou art Simon the son of Jonas; thou shalt be called Cephas (which is by interpretation, Peter)” (John 1:42).
On being raised by the Lord to the dignity of an Apostle and becoming inseparable from him as his zealous disciple, he followed him from the beginning of his preaching of salvation up until the very Passion, when, in the court of Caiaphas the high priest, he denied Him thrice because of his fear of the Jews and of the danger at hand. But again, after many bitter tears, he received complete forgiveness of his transgression. After the Resurrection of Christ and the descent of the Holy Spirit, he preached in Judea, Antioch, and certain parts of Asia, and finally came to Rome, where he was crucified upside down by Nero, and thus he ascended to the eternal habitations about the year 66 or 68, leaving two Catholic (General) Epistles to the Church of Christ, known as I Peter and II Peter. He is also generally regarded as being the primary source (i.e., in interview) for the material recorded in the Gospel of Mark. (source: www.orthowiki.org)
St. Peter is commemorated on June 29th with St. Paul.
This Saint was from Bethsaida of Galilee; he was the son of Jonas and the brother of Peter, the chief of the Apostles. He had first been a disciple of John the Baptist; afterwards, on hearing the Baptist’s witness concerning Jesus, when he pointed Him out with his finger and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, Which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1.29,36), he straightway followed Christ, and became His first disciple; wherefore he is called the First-called of the Apostles. After the Ascension of the Saviour, he preached in various lands; and having suffered many things for His Name’s sake, he died in Patras of Achaia, where he was crucified on a cross in the shape of an “X,” the first letter of “Christ” in Greek; this cross is also the symbol of Saint Andrew. St. Andrew is commemorated on November 30 (source: www.goarch.com)
- James (son of Zebedee)
The holy, glorious, all-laudable Apostle James, also knows as James the Great was a son of Zebedee, the brother of the Apostle John and a fisherman. The Church remembers St. James on April 30… He and his brother John are know as the Sons of Thunder, because of their quick temper.
At the invitation of Jesus he left his nets to follow him and is counted among the Twelve Great Apostles. Belonging to Christ’s ‘inner circle’, James was present on Mount Tabor for Christ’s transfiguration and also for his suffering in the garden of Gethsemane. Following Pentecost, St. James preached in Spain, and upon his return to Jerusalem the Jews would argue with him vehemently concerning the Holy Scriptures. None could withstand his wisdom, however.
Seeing this the Jews slandered him before Herod and among some false witnesses there was a certain Josias. But in hearing St. James’ testimony, Josias believed and was condemned to death with James. Before the axe fell, St. James embraced and kissed this repentant false witness and said, “Peace and forgiveness to you!” St. James was martyred in the year AD 45 and was the first Apostle to die for Christ. His body was translated to Spain where his relics continue to work miracles even to this day. (source: www.orthowiki.org)
The holy, glorious and all-laudable Apostle and Evangelist John (also John the Theologian or John the Divine) was one of the original twelve Apostles, and wrote the Gospel bearing his name; three canonical letters: I John, II John, and III John; and the Book of Revelation. His primary feast day is celebrated on May 8, that of the twelve apostles on June 30, and his repose on September 26. His symbol is the eagle.
St. John was the son of Salome the myrrh-bearer and Zebedee, a fisherman. His brother was St. James, another apostle. In his own Gospel account, he refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” rather than use his name. He was the youngest of the twelve apostles, and especially close to the Lord. This closeness is often portrayed in icons of the mystical supper, where St. John leans on Jesus.
He was present for the Transfiguration of Christ with Peter and his brother James.
St. John was exiled to the island of Patmos by Emperor Domitian around 90-95 A.D., and it was there that he received and wrote the Book of Revelation.
“Account of the miracle that occurred at his grave: When over 100 years old, St. John took seven disciples outside of Ephesus and had them dig a grave in the shape of a cross. St. John then went into the grave, and the disciples buried him there, alive. Later on, when his grave was opened, St. John’s body was not there. ‘On May 8 of each year, dust rises up from his grave, by which the sick are healed of various diseases.'” (source: www.orthowiki.org)
Born in Bethsaida beside the Sea of Galilee, Philip was so well versed in the Holy Scriptures that he immediately recognized Jesus as the Messiah upon seeing him the first time. After Pentecost, St. Philip preached in Asia and Greece. In Greece, the Jews hated him and the high priest even ran at him to club him to death, but miraculously this Jewish priest was blinded and turned completely black. Then the earth opened up and swallowed him. Many of the sick were healed, and many pagans believed.
St. Philip found himself in the company his sister Mariamma, the Apostle John and the Apostle Bartholomew while preaching in Hieropolis. Through prayer he killed a giant snake that the pagans worshipped, which angered the unbaptized so much that they crucified him and St. Bartholomew upside-down. Again, the earth opened and swallowed his judge along with many pagans, and being terribly afraid the people rushed to bring the Apostles down from their torment. But St. Philip had already reposed.
St. Bartholomew then ordained Stachys—whom St. Philip had healed of a forty-year blindness and baptized—as bishop for those who were baptized in that area. Later, St. Philip’s relics were translated to Rome. He is commemorated on November 14. (source: www.orthowiki.org)
Remembered on June 11, Saint Bartholomew was one of the Twelve Apostles, and had Galilee as his homeland; this is all that is known of him for certain according to the history of the Gospels. Concerning his apostolic work, certain say that he preached in Arabia and Persia, and especially in India, bringing to them the Gospel written by Saint Matthew, which had been written originally in Hebrew, and which was found there one hundred years later by Pantaenus, formerly a stoic philosopher and later an illustrious teacher of the Christian school in Alexandria (see Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5: 10). Other accounts say that he went to Armenia. According to some, he ended his life by being crucified, or by being flayed alive, in Albanopolis (Urbanopolis) of Armenia. This also confirms an ancient tradition preserved by the Armenians. According to some, Bartholomew and Nathanael are the same person, because the Evangelists who mention Bartholomew do not mention Nathanael; and John, who alone mentions Nathanael as one of the Twelve, says nothing of Bartholomew. Indeed, Bartholomew is a patronymic, “son of Talmai,” which means “bold, spirited” (see also Jesus of Navi 15:14; II Kings 3:3), and Nathanael could have had this as a surname. According to the Synaxarion of the Menaion on April 22, however, it is Simon the Zealot and Nathanael who are the same; the Evangelists who mention Simon the Zealot (or “the Canaanite”) do not mention Nathanael. (source: www.goarch.org)
The name Thomas means, “twin.” He was one of the Twelve, a Galilean by birth. Sophroneus (not the famous Patriarch of Jerusalem [7th Century, celebrated March 11], but a friend of Jerome’s), quoted also by Jerome, says that Saint Thomas preached to the Parthians, Pesians, Medes, Hyrcanians, Bactrians, and neighboring nations. According to Heracleon, the Apostle died a natural death; according to other accounts, he was martyred at Meliapur His tomb was known by Saint John Chrysostom to be at Edessa in Syria, to which city his holy relics may have been translated from India in the fourth century. St. Thomas is commemorated on October 6. (source: www.goarch.org)
Commemorated on November 16, Matthew was originally called Levi. He was the son of Alphaeus and was by profession a publican, or tax-collector, at Capernaum. On one occasion Jesus, coming up from the side of the lake, passed the custom-house where Matthew was seated and said to him, “Follow me.” Matthew arose and followed Christ, becoming his disciple (Matthew 9:9). He changed his name to reflect his new calling. “Matthew” means “Gift of the Lord.”
The same day on which Jesus called him he made a “great feast” (Luke 5:29), a farewell feast, to which he invited Jesus and his disciples and probably also many of his old associates. The last notice of him in the New Testament is in Acts 1:13.
After the resurrection of our Lord, Matthew went and preached amongst the Jews. His Gospel was probably first written in Aramaic and later translated into Greek. Eventually Matthew went to Ethiopia to spread the gospel. There he was martyred by Fulvian, the ruler of the region, by being set on fire. After Matthew willingly gave up his soul to the Lord, his body was put in a coffin and cast into the sea. It washed up at the site of the church he had built. Fulvian, Matthew’s persecutor, immediately repented of his deed, renounced his position of worldly power, and was made a presbyter by the Bishop Platon (or Plato). Once Platon died, the apostle appeared to the priest (who had taken the name Matthew as well) and told him to assume the bishop’s throne. (source: www.orthowiki.org)
- James (son of Alphaeus)
The Holy Apostle James was the son of Alphaeus. He was the brother of the holy Evangelist Matthew. The Church commemorates the Apostle James on October 9.
James heard the Lord’s words and witnessed his miracles. After the Descent of the Holy Spirit the Apostle James, Alphaeus, and the Apostle Andrew the First-Called made missionary journeys throughout Judea, Edessa, Gaza, and Eleutheropolis, proclaiming the Gospel, healing all sorts of sickness and disease, and converting many to the path of salvation. St James finished his apostolic work in the Egyptian city of Ostrachina, where he was crucified by the pagans. (source: www.orthowiki.org)
This Apostle was called Simon the Cananite by Matthew, but Simon the Zealot by Luke (Matt. 10:4; Luke 6:15). The word “Cananite” used by Matthew is believed to be derived from kana, which in the Palestinian dialect of Aramaic means “zealot” or ‘zealous”; Luke therefore translates the meaning of “Cananite.” Later accounts say that he was the bridegroom at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, where the Lord Jesus changed the water into wine, making this the first of His miracles (John 2:1-11); according to some, he is called Cananite because he was from Cana (according to others, from the Land of Canaan). Simon means “one who hears.” He is commemorated May 10. (source: www.goarch.org)
The Apostle Jude was of the choir of the Twelve, and by Luke was called Jude, the brother of James the Brother of God (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13), and therefore also a kinsman of the Lord according to His humanity. But by Matthew (10:3), he is called Lebbaeus, surnamed Thaddeus (he is not the Thaddeus who healed the suffering of Abgar, as Eusebius says in his Eccl. Hist., 1:13; see Aug. 21). Saint Jude preached in Mesopotamia, Arabia, Idumea, and Syria, and, it is said, completed the path of his divine apostleship by martyrdom in Beirut in the year 80. Written after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, his is the last of the Catholic (General) Epistles to the believing Jews in the Diaspora. His name (a variant of Judah) means “Praise.” He is commemorated on June 19. (source: www.goarch.org)
Apostle Matthias was born at Bethlehem of the Tribe of Judah. From his early childhood he studied the Law of God under the guidance of St Simeon the God-receiver.
When the Lord Jesus Christ revealed himself to the world, St Matthias believed in him as the Messiah, followed constantly after him and was numbered among the Seventy Apostles, whom the Lord “sent them two by two before His face” (Luke 10:1).
After the Ascension of the Savior, St Matthias was chosen by lot to replace Judas Iscariot as one of the Twelve Apostles (Acts 1:15-26). After the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Matthias preached the Gospel at Jerusalem and in Judea together with the other Apostles (Acts 6:2, 8:14). From Jerusalem he went with the Apostles Peter and Andrew to Syrian Antioch, and was in the Cappadocian city of Tianum and Sinope. Here the Apostle Matthias was locked into prison, from which he was miraculously freed by St Andrew the First-Called.
The Apostle Matthias journeyed after this to Amasea, a city on the shore of the sea. During a three year journey of the Apostle Andrew, St Matthias was with him at Edessa and Sebaste. According to Church Tradition, he was preaching at Pontine Ethiopia (presently Western Georgia) and Macedonia. He was frequently subjected to deadly peril, but the Lord preserved him to preach the Gospel.
Once, pagans forced the saint to drink a poison potion. He drank it, and not only did he himself remain unharmed, but he also healed other prisoners who had been blinded by the potion. When St Matthias left the prison, the pagans searched for him in vain, for he had become invisible to them. Another time, when the pagans had become enraged intending to kill the Apostle, the earth opened up and engulfed them.
The Apostle Matthias returned to Judea and did not cease to enlighten his countrymen with the light of Christ’s teachings. He worked great miracles in the Name of the Lord Jesus and he converted a great many to faith in Christ. The Jewish High Priest Ananias hated Christ and earlier had commanded the Apostle James, Brother of the Lord, to be flung down from the heights of the Temple, and now he ordered that the Apostle Matthias be arrested and brought for judgment before the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem.
The impious Ananias uttered a speech in which he blasphemously slandered the Lord. Using the prophecies of the Old Testament, the Apostle Matthias demonstrated that Jesus Christ is the True God, the promised Messiah, the Son of God, Consubstantial and Coeternal with God the Father. After these words the Apostle Matthias was sentenced to death by the Sanhedrin and stoned.
When St Matthias was already dead, the Jews, to hide their malefaction, cut off his head as an enemy of Caesar. (According to several historians, the Apostle Matthias was crucified, and indicate that he instead died at Colchis.) The Apostle Matthias received the martyr’s crown of glory in the year 63. He is commemorated on August 9. (source: www.orthowiki.org)
Named Saul at his birth in the city of Tarsus, the holy apostle was a son of the tribe of Benjamin. Saul became a Pharisee under Gamaliel, one of the chief Jewish Rabbis (Masters/Teachers) of the day. After his study under the great Rabbi, Saul became one of the chief persecutors of Christians. Present at the stoning of St Stephen (Acts 7: 58), Saul later found himself blinded by Jesus Himself on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-22). Sought out by the Apostle Ananias, Saul immediately repented and Ananias baptized him. Saul, soon after his conversion called Paul, was later named and numbered among the Apostles. The extent of Paul’s preaching as he spread the Gospel went far and wide from Arabia to Spain, to both Jews and Gentiles. He was called the “Apostle to the Gentiles.” Paul spent his new life in suffering and labor for Christ, establishing and organizing churches everywhere. He reached such a state of perfection that he was able to say to the Church at Galatia: “not I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Like the Apostle Barnabas, Paul studied under Gamaliel.
The account of Paul’s missionary journeys and the letters he wrote to the Churches he founded form an important part of the New Testament. St. Paul was martyred with the Apostle Peter under Nero by beheading. He is commemorated with St. Peter on June 29. (source: www.orthowiki.org)