The "Divine Dozen" who served Jesus Christ as his apostles comprised a band of spiritual giants whose comparison to one another invites scarcely more than an embarrassment. But the sentimental favourite seems to be St. John the Evangelist and Theologian, the apostle who looked into the dying eyes of our crucified Lord on that dark day at Calvary and received the Messiah's last request. An agonised John heard the final words from the Cross, entrusting to him the care of the Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, who was uppermost in the thoughts of her Son in his last moments of earthly life (John 19.26).
Born in Bethesda of Galilee, the son of Zebedee, John shared his apostolic mission with his brother the Apostle James, who died for Christ in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Salome, but he is affectionately referred to as having three mothers, the other two being Mary the Mother of Jesus and the symbolic Thunder (Boanerges). The latter applied to him by the Saviour, as the son of Thunder, because he was rebuked for asking Christ to send down "fire from Heaven to punish the citizens of Samaria that refused to admit him because he was going to Jerusalem" (Luke 9.58-56). He was in close personal contact with Jesus to the end, despite his extensive travels as an evangelist. A dedicated apostle, John was chosen by Jesus Christ to accompany Him on the ascent of Mt. Tabor, the scene of the historic Transfiguration, and where Jesus was proclaimed by God to be "his beloved Son." The personal ties with Jesus and his Mother were shared by Salome, John's mother, whose love for the Saviour earned her a place among the saints and whose feast day is celebrated on August 8, as one of the seven myrrh-bearing women who anointed the sacred body of Christ, after his descent from the Cross.
John remained close to the Mother of the Saviour throughout her lifetime and was at her side when she breathed her last on August 15, officiating at her burial in the Garden of Gethsemane, a spot made sacred by her Son years before. He was among the other disciples who discovered the empty tomb of Mary, who forty days after her death had been assumed into Heaven.
With his promise to Jesus for his Mother's care fulfilled, St. John now turned his full attention to carrying the message of Jesus Christ to the spiritually darkened areas of the then known world, preaching throughout Asia Minor with a passion that won converts who formed a solid base for the New Faith. Unlike the other eleven apostles, all of whom were martyred in the name of Jesus Christ, John lived to the ripe age of 105, escaping the fate of his brother evangelists.
This remarkable durability provided for one of the longest services on record in the cause of Christ, a service which carried over into the second century which establishes him as a record holder in conversions to Christianity. Some estimates have it that he was personally responsible for winning over some 400,000 pagans to Christianity, a staggering figure considering that his audiences could never have been at best a few hundred and most of the time a lot less. Not even his uncle, St. Prophoros, who wrote about his nephew's travels, could have envisioned such a protracted mission for the Messiah.
John withdrew from the gruelling pace of preaching in favour of the solitude of the beautiful island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. There he refreshed his mind and body and found the tranquility in which it became possible to write that part of the holy Scriptures known as the Revelation, a profound and prophetic book of the New Testament. This holy work was done at the express bidding of God, who smote a huge cleft in a rock formation of a cave, still visible today, and commanded John to write this revealing segment of the Bible. On the spot where lightning struck the cave the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople maintains to this day a sacred shrine which has beckoned countless religious pilgrims to the island of Patmos.
After leaving Patmos, John turned up at Ephesos, where, in the course of writing the three epistles contained in the New Testament, he is said to have caused, through means of a prayer vigil, the destruction of a pagan temple dedicated to Artemis which is now the site of a beautiful cathedral. A true man of God, John is one of the most beloved figures of Christianity.
Saint John the Theologian, Apostle and Evangelist
The Apostle and Evangelist St. John, called the Theologian, was the son of Salome and Zebedee, a fisherman of Galilee. Zebedee possessed rather vast holdings, workers and was a member of some importance in the Jewish community, having access to the high priest. John’s mother Salome is mentioned in the ranks of women who served God with their possessions.
John was at first the pupil of St. John the Baptist. Listening to his witness of Christ as the Lamb of God, taking upon himself the sins of the world, he, together with Andrew the First Called followed the Saviour. Being a constant pupil of the Lord, he and his brother James were called by the Lord Himself at a later time after a successful catch of fish in the sea of Galilee. Together with Peter and his brother James, John was deigned worthy to become close to the Lord, being with Him during the most important and triumphant times of His earthly life. Thus, he was worthy to be in attendance at the resurrection of the daughter of Nair, to see Christ’s transfiguration on the mount, to hear the discourse on the signs of His second coming and was a witness to His prayer at Gethsemane. At the Last Supper he was so close to the Lord that in his own words, he lay his head at Christ’s bosom, whence emanated his name "bosom-friend," which has become a nick-name for someone who is especially close.
Through humility, not calling himself by name, nevertheless speaking of himself in the Gospel, refers to himself as the disciple "whom Jesus loved." This love of him by the Lord, showed itself when the Lord was on the cross he entrusted His Most Holy Mother to him saying: "Behold your mother."
Zealously loving the Lord, John was filled with indignation at those who were hostile to the Lord or who estranged themselves from Him. While traveling through Sumeria he prohibited those who did not walk with Christ to be exorcised in the name of Jesus Christ and asked the Lord’s permission to consume with fire certain residents of a Sumerian town for not accepting Him. For this he and his brother James were called by the Lord "sons of thunder" (Boanerges). Feeling the love of Christ toward himself, but as yet not enlightened with grace by the Holy Ghost, he decided to ask for himself and his brother James a place close to the Lord in His coming Kingdom and learned of the impending sufferings for both of them.
After the Lord’s Resurrection, we often perceive Apostle John together with Apostle Peter, similarly with whom he is considered a pillar of the Church and often sojourning to Jerusalem. True to the Lord’s directive he cared for the Holy Virgin Mary as a most devoted son and only after her Blessed Dormition did he begin to preach in other lands.
During Apostle John’s ministry, one notices the singularity that he chose for himself a specific province and directed all the energy of his soul to eradicate paganism therein and strengthen the holy faith. As example of his specific cares were the seven Churches of Asia Minor — in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicia. Preeminently he lived in Ephesus.
During the time of Emperor Domitian (81-96), Apostle John, as the sole surviving Apostle, was summoned to Rome and by the decree of this persecutor of the Church was thrown into boiling oil, but the power of God saved him unscathed just as it saved the three lads from the fiery oven. Then Domitian sent him to the desert island of Patmos. Here John wrote the Apocalypse or Revelations of the fate of the Church and the world.
After the death of Domitian, Apostle John returned to Ephesus from exile. The Bishops and presbyters of the Ephesian Church showed him three Gospels written by the Apostles Matthew, Mark and Luke. Having approved these Gospels, Apostle John deemed it necessary to supplement that which was lacking and which he knew well, being the last of the living eyewitnesses. This was of great importance, since toward the end of the first century there appeared in the Christian world several active gnostic sects which abased and even denied the Divine merit of the Lord Saviour. It was imperative to protect the faithful from that pedagogy.
In his Gospel, Apostle John explains the sermons of the Saviour narrated in Judea. These sermons directed toward the learned scribes were more difficult to understand and most likely due to this fact were not contained in the first three Gospels which were designated for the newly converted pagans. In beginning to formulate the Gospel, Apostle John designated a fasting period for the Church of Ephesus and withdrew with his disciple Prochorus onto the mountain where he wrote the Gospels bearing his name.
From ancient times the Gospel according to John were called enspirited, for in comparison with the other three preeminently it contains the sermons of the Lord regarding the deepest truths on faith — on the embodiment of the Son of God, on the Maker, on the redemption of mankind, on spiritual rebirth, on the grace of the Holy Ghost and on Communion. From the first words of the Gospel, John elevates the thoughts of the faithful on the height of the godly emanation of the Son of God from the Father: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God" (John 1:1). The apostle John expresses the aim of his Gospel thus: "These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:31).
Besides the Gospel and the Apocalypse, the apostle John wrote three epistles which were incorporated into the make-up of the New Testament books as Ecumenical (i.e. universal epistles). The main thought in his epistles was that Christians must learn to love: "Let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is of God and knows God... He who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:7-8).
"...love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says I love God but hates his brother, he is a liar; for he does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him; that he who loves God must love his brother also" (1 John 4:17-21).
Regarding the subsequent ministry of Apostle John, tradition has preserved some wonderful information showing to what extent his heart was filled with love. While visiting one of the Asia Minor Churches, John noticed among his listeners a youth distinguishing himself with unusual gifts and entrusted him to a Bishops as a special ward. Later on this youth became close with unsavory friends, became debauched and the leader of a gang of bandits. John, hearing of this from the bishop went into the mountains where the bandits were ravaging; he was seized and brought before the chief.
On seeing the Apostle, the youth became embarrassed and began to run away. John pursued him and with touching words of love encouraged him and himself brought him to Church, shared with him the labors of repentance and did not rest until he totally reconciled him with the Church. During the last years of his life the Apostle preached only one precept: "children, love one another" His disciples asked, "Why do you repeat yourself?" Apostle John answered, "This is the most important commandment. If you will fulfill it, then you will fulfill all of Christ’s commandments."
This love would turn into a fiery fervor when the Apostle met false-prophets who corrupted the faithful and deprived them of eternal salvation. In one of the public houses he met the false prophet Cerinthus who disclaimed the Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. "Let us depart quickly," said the Apostle to his disciple "I fear this building might collapse around us."
St. John the Theologian died a natural death (the only one of the Apostles to do so), being around 105 years of age, during the time of Emperor Trajan. The circumstances of the Apostle's death appeared to be unusual and even puzzling. Upon the insistence of the apostle John, he was buried alive. On the following day, when the tomb was unearthed it turned out to be empty. This event somewhat affirmed the belief in the conjecture of some Christians that the apostle John will not die but will live until the Second coming of Christ and that he will unmask the Antichrist. The reason for such a surmise was served by the words said by the Savior not long before his Ascension. To the question of Apostle Peter as to what will become of Apostle John, the Lord answered, "If I will that he remain until I come (the second time) what is that to you? You follow Me " The apostle John makes a notation regarding this in his Gospel: "This saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die" (John 21:22-23).
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