Heroes, Legends, and Bones: Part 1
Part 1: Heroes
Feast of Saint Andrew
Today, November 30th, is the feast day of Saint Andrew the Apostle on both the Eastern and Western calendars. East and West don’t share all saints, and many of the saints that we do mutually venerate are not honored on the same calendar day. Andrew is in the privileged minority of saints that are honored both simultaneously and universally. (Don’t even make me go into the old calendar/new calendar stuff. Lord have mercy). In other words, he is one of those Christian dudes that casts a pretty big shadow.
Patrons and Heroes
Andrew is my patron saint. So what exactly is a patron saint and what’s the point? When my family and I entered the Orthodox Church almost 5 years ago, we were encouraged to take a patron saint. What I learned at that time is that someone’s patron saint is simply a prior Christian that we would look up to as an elder brother or sister in Christ; someone who has successfully gone before us in the faith; someone who was not perfect, but someone we should emulate; someone whose life, character, and virtues we would attempt to pattern ourselves after; someone who would pray for us in times of need, even when we might not be able to pray ourselves. In short, a patron saint is a hero. So five years ago, Andrew became my hero. Although I was given the freedom to choose my own patron, I struggled with whom to choose. My day job is in the medical field, so I was considering Luke the Evangelist, who was by trade a physician. I had also read the account of the life of the 20th century Russian/Ukranian Saint Luke, Bishop of Simferopol (Crimea), who was also a physician and surgeon prior to his clerical life. (Saint Luke, pray for us now, and the current mess in Crimea). So, I was leaning towards one of the Luke’s, but wasn’t really sure and didn’t sense that I should make the decision myself. So I asked my spiritual guide (my priest) to decide, and I would submit to whatever his decision would be. It seemed good to him, and to the Holy Spirit, (a bit to my surprise) that the Apostle Andrew, the First Called, would be my hero. So, unworthy as I was and am to bear his name, I began my journey with Andrew.
Andrew in Scripture
In the Bible we learn some things about Andrew. Andrew, son of Jonah, or John (Matthew 16:17, John 1:42), was born in Bethesda of Galillee (John 1:44). He was the brother of Simon (Peter) (Matthew 10:2, John 1:40). The brothers were both fishermen (Matthew 4:18, Mark 1:16), and lived together in the same house in Capernaum at the beginning of Christ’s public ministry (Mark 1:21, 29). Andrew and another follower of John the Forerunner and Baptizer (probably John the Apostle and Evangelist) saw Christ. From this section in the Gospel of John (John 1: 28-40) we learn that Andrew was not only the first called disciple of Christ, but immediately recognized Jesus as the Messiah, and was also the first introducer of Christ, introducing Peter to Christ. Later, on the final call to become followers of Christ, Andrew and Peter left all things to become Jesus disciples (Luke 5:11, Matthew 4:19-20, Mark 1:17-18). As one of the twelve disciples of Christ, Peter is always listed first, and Andrew is either listed second (twice) or fourth (twice, after Peter, James, and John) (Matthew 10: 2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, Acts 1:13). He was one of the four, amongst Peter, James, and John, who privately asked Jesus about the end times, and Christ answered them with a great eschatological discourse, foretelling among other things the destruction of Jerusalem (Mark 13:3). In the miracle of the five thousand, it was Andrew who tells the Lord about the boy with five loaves and two fishes (John 6:8-9). Also in John (John 12:20-22), Philip refers inquiring Greeks to the introducer Andrew, who then in turn contacts Christ. From the rest of the New Testament accounts of the apostles, he is not mentioned specifically, but like all of the apostles, we know that he was in close familiarity with Christ, that he was at the last supper, that he was with Christ in His Risen state, that he was present and active at Pentecost, that he was there in the establishment of the Church in Palestine, and that he was called to preach the Gospel to the Ends of the Earth.
So this is what scripture reveals to us about Andrew. But what else do we know of him, and how do we know it?
Holy Tradition vs. traditions
In this context, I will comment a little on Holy Tradition, traditions, and legends. Quoting from Father Andrew Stephen Damick’s book, Introduction to God, Holy Tradition is
in the Orthodox Christian understanding…the life in faith handed over to Christ to the apostles, then handed over by them to their disciples, from one generation to the next, without any addition, subtraction, or alteration.
This life of faith or rule of faith is the ongoing life in Christ in the church. This Tradition (with a capital “T”) is not a written creed or compendium or systematic textbook, it is the dynamic union with God, in the Church, with Christ as it’s head. So this Holy Tradition is what we must join with, accept, not deny or reject, to be fully within the Orthodox Church. It, Holy Tradition, as hard as “it” is to define to the rational/reason-oriented mind of Western culture (into which I have been born and rasied), comprises the non-negotiables/ain’t-no-denying-stuff of Orthodoxy. Within this Apostolic life of faith/rule, faith/dynamic, and union/capital, big “T” Tradition needs to be differentiated from small “t” tradition(s).
There are many traditions, oral histories, or even legends regarding the church, saints, and martyrs, from the earliest of Christian history to the present. Indeed, the heroes of the church have lived lives nothing short of legendary. For certain, just because something is legendary, and worthy to be passed on generation to generation, does not make it untrue or unreliable. For example, wouldn’t it make sense for the early church to know that the Samaritan woman at the well later became a great evangelist and martyr, and that they would know her name (Photini)? Or that the Good Thief and Bad Thief on either side of Christ at Golgotha had names known to the early church (Dismas and Gestas)? Is one required to believe this and such things to be a Christian, or to be in good standing in the Church? Of course not. Are things such as this historically “provable?” Probably not, I would think. However, my attitude on things such as this has become the opposite of skepticism. I embrace more of a faith-filled “why not?” With that said, much of what we know or suppose of Andrew’s legendary life come from the historical and traditional point-of-view of not so much of what is provable, but what is probable, or at the very least what is possible. So, therefore in that vein, why not?
About the Author
Dr. David Brown
Dave is married to his best friend, Amy, and is dad to six kids ranging from college age to elementary school. He puts bread on the table by practicing ophthalmology and doing cataract surgery. He enjoys golf, but doesn’t play enough to have a decent handicap. He is advancing through the belts of Tae-Kwon-Do with one of his sons. He enjoys mosaic portraiture/iconography.
Christian background: Dave’s Christian journey began with baptism as an infant in the United Methodist Church. His primary spiritual influence was his mom. From age six until after college, his church life was spent in non-denominational charismatic churches. He attended Oral Roberts University, partly in hopes of figuring out what he believed and why he believed it. Throughout his post college years, he and his wife journeyed within Evangelicalism from Pentecostalism to reformed Calvinism, with several stops in between. The search for more answers accelerated whilst living in East Africa as medical missionaries, centering on the debate between Arminianism and Calvinism. Soon thereafter, Dave had a friend unexpectedly convert to Roman Catholicism, forcing some further investigation. Looking into the history of Christianity led to the study of Reformation history (the beginning of Christian history for him at the time), which then led to the “discovery” of the early church history and Patristic writers. The ancient apostolic church evidenced itself through this history and the witness of the church Fathers. After a long journey, and strong guidance from both Roman Catholic and Orthodox shepherds of souls, he, along with his wife and children, were received into the Orthodox Church in 2010. They attend Holy Resurrection Orthodox Mission in Berrien Springs, Michigan.