Friday, May 8, 2015

Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian

The Lord Jesus Christ loved all His disciples, but He had a particular love for John, who was the youngest of the apostles, and who was an innocent, and pure youth, aflame with boundless love for his Teacher. John was that apostle of whom the Gospel says, "the disciple whom Jesus loved." It was the Lord's will that he shine longer than all the other apostles on the horizon of the apostolic age; he reposed at the beginning of the second century.
Saint John came from Bethsaida, a poor village in Galilee. He was the son of Zebedee the fisherman and of Salome. Whilst he and his family worked hard for a living, John, who was 22 years of age, was always preoccupied with the study of the Holy Scriptures. He spent any spare time he had reading the Laws and the Prophets and attended the School of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem where the Word of God further enriched him.
His thirst for the Truth, however, was not fully quenched. The words of the prophet Isaiah, “…behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Emmanuel.”(Isaiah 7:14) stirred his soul and he yearned for an answer. It was at this stage that the older and wiser Andrew (the First-Called) told him to accompany him to the banks of the Jordan to listen to the prophet in the desert. His sermons were full of fire as he spoke bluntly to the Scribes and the Pharisees and as he prepared his listeners for the arrival of a greater Prophet.


John and Andrew therefore, became disciples of St John, the Prophet, the Forerunner of Christ, also known as John the Baptist. The hearts of these simple fishermen leapt as they heard the thunderous voice of the Baptist, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”(Matt 3:2). The young John was so taken by this prophet that he asked him if he was the Messiah, but the Baptist answered, “I baptise with water, but there stands One among you…whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.”(John 1:26-27).
It was because of John’s relationship with St John the Baptist, that he encountered on that blessed day the Man who came to be baptised in the waters of the Jordan, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”(John 1:29). As the young John heard the Baptist’s words and looked into the eyes of Jesus he remained speechless and recognised that before him was the Messiah. John and Andrew followed Jesus and asked Him where he lived. The Lord’s reply was, “Come and see.” It was with these words that John became one of the twelve and eventually the beloved disciple.
John closely followed the footsteps of the Lord, never leaving His side and hearkening to His every word. He became a trusted friend, a faithful follower who was subsequently granted many divine revelations. John witnessed the Lord’s first miracle at Cana, he watched the Lord drive the merchants out of the Temple, he accompanied Him to Samaria and marvelled with the Samaritan woman at the words of his Rabbi, “…whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.”(John 4:14). He witnessed the healing of the nobleman’s son, and of the paralytic, his faith was strengthened when he saw the Lord feed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish, he saw that the Lord is Ruler of all nature when He walked on water and he took into his heart the mystical theology of the Eucharist, “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”(John 6:54).
John witnessed the miracles of the Lord and heard His parables; he also witnessed the pride in the hearts of the Pharisees and their attempt to put an end to the ministry of his Teacher. Although he heard the Lord speak of His death and Resurrection many times, it wasn’t until the Lord took him, Peter and James to the top of Mount Tabor that their faith was strengthened. It was here that the young disciple witnessed what was with him all along, the Uncreated Light of God, a light that was to give him the strength and the faith to follow the Lord all the way to Golgotha.
Upon their return to Jerusalem, John witnessed the Lord’s final miracle of His ministry, the raising of Lazarus, and marvelled at the reaction of the masses as the Lord humbly but triumphantly entered Jerusalem.
At the Mystical Supper of the Lord, John sat next to his Teacher, leant on His bosom and felt the Lord’s troubled spirit because one of them would betray Him. He heard as he rested his head on the Lord, the new commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
The Lord once again asked John, Peter and James to accompany Him in the Garden of Gethsemane while He prayed, but they were overcome by sleep and only awoke to witness their Teacher’s betrayal and arrest. It is from this point on that the strength and faith of one of the youngest disciples, John, is clearly manifested. John remained with the Lord through His arrest, and trials, and he followed Him with a heavy heart towards Golgotha. He held the arm of the Mother of God and tried to give her strength as she witnessed the suffering and Crucifixion of her Son. He heard the words which could only be entrusted to a beloved disciple, “Behold thy Mother.” At the time the Resurrection was announced, John outran Peter and came first to the Tomb. It was he who first stooped down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground (John 20:5-6). He saw Christ after His Resurrection and was commissioned with the other disciples to preach the Gospel throughout the world. He was present also at the Lord’s Ascension into heaven and received the Holy Spirit under the appearance of tongues of fire with the other disciples on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1-2). He remained the last of them all in Jerusalem, in the company of the Virgin Mary, whom he served until the time of her Dormition.
When the time came to part from one another to preach in all the regions of the world, the Apostles drew lots to tell where each should go. It fell to John to preach the Gospel in Asia Minor which was full of idolatry and entirely given over to paganism. Saint John was much cast down on learning where he was to go for he had not yet learned to put all his trust in the invincible power of God. To purge him of this human weakness, God put him to the trial of wind and waves for forty days before he reached his destination.
He made his way to Ephesus, a place where the people had great devotion to the Goddess Artemis, who was the Goddess of hunt, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth and virginity, and would celebrate festivals in her honour. At one of these, John climbed the hill where stood the great statue of the goddess in order to address the crowd. The pagans were enraged to see him there and tried to stone him, but all the stones missed their mark and struck the statue, which was reduced to rubble. However, the pagans, blind to the signs of divine Providence and deaf to the words of Saint John, made a second attempt to stone him. This time the stones turned back on the idolaters themselves, and the earth, quaking at the Apostle’s prayer, suddenly swallowed up more than two hundred of them. The people who survived came to their senses at last. They begged John to intercede with God to deal mercifully with them and restore to life those who had perished. So, at the prayer of Saint John, all those people came forth from the bowels of the earth, venerated the Apostle and were baptized.
During the second persecution of Christians St John was sent to Rome to stand trial before the then Emperor Domitian. He was tortured and cast into a vat of boiling oil from which he came forth unscathed. The Emperor, having failed in his futile attempts to bring any harm towards our great Saint, banished him into exile on the island of Patmos. On the voyage there with Prochorus, John showed the kindness of God towards man by curing the dysentery of the soldiers escorting them. As soon as they arrived, he freed Apollonides, the son of Myron a local dignitary, of an impure spirit. This miracle, accompanied by the word of John, brought Myron’s entire household to faith in Christ and baptism; and a little later, the Governor of the island was also baptized.
It was also on Patmos that John wrote the New Testament book known as the Apocalypse, also known as the Book of Revelation. John saw Christ, having the appearance of a young man whose “face was like the sun shining in full strength.” Reassuring John, who “fell at his feet as though dead,” the Lord said: “Fear not; I am the First and the Last; I am He that Lives and was dead; and behold, I am alive forevermore and have the keys of Death and of Hell. Write the things that you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter” (Revelation 1:17ff). Then in successive revelations John was shown what will happen at the end of time: the gathering strength of iniquity, the coming of the Antichrist, his warfare against the faithful and his final struggle against Christ who, in the end, will cast him forever into Hell with the Devil and his angels. It was also given him to see in his vision the violent upheavals that will take place in the world, the fiery end of all things, and the final triumph of the Son of man, the general Resurrection and the Last Judgment.
Upon the death of the Emperor, Saint John returned to Ephesus where he then wrote his Gospel and his three Catholic Epistles. The main thought in his epistles was - 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 who distinguished himself with unusual gifts, and he entrusted the youth to the care of a bishop as a special ward. Later on this youth got involved with unsavoury friends, became debauched and the leader of a gang of bandits. Hearing of this from the bishop, John went into the mountains where the bandits were ravaging, and 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. He finally brought him to Church, shared with him the labours of repentance, and did not rest until he had 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 fulfil it, then you will fulfil all of Christ's commandments."
This love would turn into a fiery fervour when the Apostle met false-prophets who corrupted the faithful and deprived them of eternal salvation. In one public building he met the false prophet Cerinthus who denied 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."
This apostle was wholly permeated by love for his neighbour. His zeal for the salvation of those who were perishing knew no obstacles. And the meekness, humility, and kindness of this great apostle were so amazing and touching, that he seemed to be not a man but an angel incarnate. His entire life was a life of love. In deep old age, when his physical strength had spent itself so that he could move about only with difficulty, he continued nevertheless, with the assistance of his disciples, to attend the Christian gatherings, teaching and edifying the flock.
The holy Apostle and Evangelist John reposed in the year AD 105, having surpassed ninety years of age. He was buried in Ephesus, where his grave became a place of pilgrimage for Christians desiring to bow down before the holy remains of "the disciple whom Jesus loved."
Why is St John the Evangelist also known as Theologian? This honorary title has been given by the Church to a small number of significant theologians, due to their important theological work and teachings. That is also why St John is depicted, in the byzantine iconographic tradition as a winged eagle, because his Gospel seems to soar on eagles’ wings.
The Theologians, proclaimed by the Orthodox Church are Apostle and Evangelist John, Gregory the Theologian and Saint Symeon the New Theologian. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew explains that, “this sparing use of the title ‘theologian’ reveals the sacred awe with which the Church approaches matters relating to God.” St. Neilos claims that a theologian is someone who prays. Theologians are those people who “experience the purifying, especially the illuminating and deifying energy of God.”
There are two feasts celebrated within the Orthodox Church in honour of St. John the Theologian: on May 8th and the feast of the Metastasis of St John the Theologian is celebrated on September 26th.

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