Today is the Feast Day of St Andrew, one of the twelve apostles who formed the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples as recorded in the Gospels. Andrew is most commonly identified as the brother of Simon Peter. I wonder if he ever got tired of that. Peter and Andrew are often associated with James and John, who were their fishing partners before responding to Jesus’ call to follow him. The four of them shared many experiences with Jesus, but sometimes it was just the three – Peter, James and John – without Andrew. I wonder how he felt about that. I feel sad for Andrew that he missed out on the Transfiguration.
Andrew is perhaps more highly regarded in the Eastern Orthodox church than in the West. The Eastern church has given him the honorific Protokletos, the First-Called, based on the account early in John’s Gospel in which John the Baptist points out Jesus to two of his own disciples, one of whom is Andrew, who immediately goes after Jesus and spends the rest of the day in his company at his invitation to come and see. Andrew then goes to find his brother Simon, tells him he has found the Messiah, and takes him to Jesus, who gives him the name Peter.
As one of the Twelve, Andrew was given authority by Jesus and sent out to proclaim the good news in word and deed, sharing peace with those who would receive it. Andrew continued doing this after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. Throughout the rest of his life, Andrew is said to have travelled far and wide, sharing Jesus’ teachings, and his influence endured long after his death.
In the West, Andrew’s association with Scotland is well known. Though he never actually went to Scotland, some of his relics were taken there after his death, and he eventually was established as the patron saint of that country. The Scottish flag, with its white X-shaped cross on a blue background, is based on the form of cross on which Andrew is said to have been crucified for converting the wife of a Roman governor who had sworn to eradicate Christianity.
According to early tradition, Andrew’s missionary activity mostly happened around the Black Sea in Asia Minor, and he was crucified in what is now southern Greece. In addition to being the patron saint of Scotland, Andrew is the patron saint of several other countries, including both Russia and Ukraine. Having been warned by Jesus to expect nation rising against nation and family members betraying one another, Andrew would perhaps not be surprised by what is now happening between those two nations of closely related peoples.
Earlier this year, a nun in a Benedictine Abbey in Ukraine who chose to remain anonymous wrote that the war there is like a terrible judgement falling on the entire world order, a judgement on the inability of people to be brothers and sisters to one another. Early in the war, her monastery was turned into a headquarters for the distribution of humanitarian aid and a place of acceptance of those whose lives had been devastated by the violence, people whose faces seemed to her as if they were living icons of the Crucified.
Andrew was among the Eleven remaining after Jesus’ betrayal when, before his ascension, Jesus promised that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. After Jesus left them, they devoted themselves constantly to prayer while they waited alone together.
The Ukrainian nun wrote of perseverance in prayer as the first struggle. It was a prayer of pain, a prayer of feeling desolate and disappointed that no one was around. Later, they realized how the prayer kept them, giving inner strength and a sense of peace. And then everything turned into a prayer, some completely different form of prayer, non-verbal and unforced. And so, they could continue to love.
We are told that Christians from many traditions have been devoted to the apostle Andrew as a broadly Christian model, rather than a strictly sectarian one. What mattered was the goodness he brought by affinity with God. The friend of God was the friend of humankind.
The Ukrainian nun wrote that Jesus entrusts the good news to those who have touched and felt the living pulse of his heart. We can cry out and rely only on God and on those who are people of God and peace. At one point, she somehow felt that everyone had become her family, a great community of brothers and sisters, a sense of belonging.
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, says the apostle Paul (nor, we might dare to add, between Jew and Palestinian, nor between Russian and Ukrainian); the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. The first verse of a hymn we sing for feasts of the apostles puts it this way:
Foundations of the city walls,
Where all the nations find their place,
Your names are bright upon the stones
That hold the homes of every race.
Photo by Phil McIntosh: https://www.pexels.com/photo/scottish-flag-on-sea-shore-at-sunset-18394189/