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The First-Called Disciple

“He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). St. John the Baptist, knowing and understanding his calling and mission, served God faithfully and prepared the way for the coming of the Lord, pointing all who approached him to the One whose sandal strap he was not worthy to untie (Mark 1:7; c.f., Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16; John 1:27). He instilled this very approach to ministry in his own disciples, teaching them by his example, and undoubtedly also by his words, the centrality of God in life, worship, and service. For this reason, his disciples were able to discern that the Lord Jesus Christ was the One of whom St. John spoke, and followed Him, becoming His disciples eagerly and without hesitation, leaving behind their former teacher who had selflessly prepared them to recognize and follow the Teacher. Upon the disciple St. Andrew particularly, the example and teaching of St. John left a great impression, helping him to understand himself and his capabilities, and equipping him with the ability to uniquely, effectively, and faithfully serve the Lord.

From the first mention of St. Andrew in the Gospels, it is easily discernible that he possessed a heart intent on the service of and care for others, seeking firstly his own salvation as well as that of his family. To that end, alongside his brother St. Peter, St. Andrew submitted himself to discipleship under St. John the Baptist, and, upon first encountering the Lord, he immediately thought of and sought out his brother, so that together, they would follow Him and believe in Him:

“The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples; and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, ‘What do you seek?’ And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus” (John 1:35-42).

The Lord, preparing not only to minister to Israel but also to bring salvation to the whole world, found in St. Andrew and the other disciples the ability to serve and care for the salvation of others, including the Gentiles. In fact, the only words ascribed solely to St. Andrew in the Gospels invariably relate to his bringing others to the Lord. First, he tells his brother St. Peter: “We have found the Messiah;” and later, he would present the boy who had the five loaves and two fish to Christ, and by this, the five thousand were fed: “One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, ‘There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?’” (John 6:8). He would also, along with St. Philip, bring to Jesus the Greeks who wished to see Him, that they might experience and receive a word from Him, and “many even of the authorities believed in Him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:20-43). Even the house of St. Andrew and St. Peter became a place for all who wished to see Jesus to come and experience His works and hear His teaching: there, the Lord would heal St. Peter’s mother-in-law and others, cast out evil spirits from many who were possessed with demons, and perform many other signs and wonders (Matthew 8:14-17; Mark 1:29-34; 2:1-12). In these recorded accounts, St. Andrew is found to clearly understand that salvation and the Gospel were meant to be shared with others, and to possess the natural ability to extend this message to everyone he would encounter, beginning firstly with his own family. Despite his being a man of few words (as far as the Gospels reveal), St. Andrew would go on to minister and preach the Gospel to the whole world alongside the other Apostles, bringing to the world the experience and spirit which he received from the Lord, firstly through his example, and when the Spirit gave utterance, also through word and teaching. In this way, his voice, along with that of his brother Apostles, “has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:4; c.f., Romans 10:18).

St. Andrew also possessed the spirit of selfless humility — a quality that the Lord would routinely stress to the disciples in His teaching: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45; c.f., Matthew 20:26-28). Finding many gifts and talents in his brother St. Peter, for instance, St. Andrew encouraged and supported his growth in the service and work which Christ entrusted to His disciples. Thus, we find St. Peter often speaking on behalf of all of the Apostles (e.g., John 6:66-69; Matthew 19:23-30), speaking in the presence of the other disciples in the election of the replacement of Judas (Acts 1:15-26), and, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, delivering the first homily on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41). This of course does not suggest that a primacy existed among the disciples, especially as such a principle would have contradicted the message and example which they heard from and witnessed in the Lord. Rather, the disciples, having been fundamentally re-shaped by the teaching and example of Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit such that any selfish ambition or self-centeredness they previously embodied was entirely excised from their hearts, naturally preferred and encouraged one another in the ministry, and relied on each other for support and correction.

St. Andrew’s spirit of promoting others in the ministry according to their talents and qualifications is also clearly depicted in the account of his life in the Synaxarium:

“He entered the city of Lydd [Kurdistan]…accompanied by his disciple, Philemon, who had a sweet voice and was a good reader. St. Andrew commanded Philemon to go up to the pulpit and read. When the priests of the idols heard of the arrival of Andrew the Apostle, they took their spears and went to the church. They stood outside the church to hear if he was cursing their gods or not. They heard Philemon reading the words of David the Prophet [Psalm 115:4-8]…Their hearts rejoiced because of his sweet voice and their emotions mellowed. They entered the church and bowed down at the feet of Andrew the Apostle. He preached to them and they believed in the Lord Christ. Then he baptized them with the rest of those who worshipped idols.”

By recognizing St. Philemon’s talent in reading and selflessly promoting him in order to enable him to exercise this gift, St. Andrew was able to convert the idolaters and win them to the Faith in Christ. For St. Andrew, it did not matter whether he sat on the left or right hand of Christ in His glory; instead, he, along with the other disciples, learned to care only about enjoying the presence of the Lord, learning from and imitating Him, and sharing His teaching and the Gospel of His Economy of Salvation with the whole world.

Having exemplified these characteristics and virtues among many others, St. Andrew was granted the greatest honor, of martyrdom — and not only to die for the sake of His Lord, but like Him to die upon a cross. Having been threatened with crucifixion by the proconsul Aegeates, St. Andrew replied: “If I had been afraid of the tree of the cross, I should not have proclaimed the glory of the Cross.” After imprisoning and torturing him, Aegeates ordered for St. Andrew to be crucified:

“Aegeates then being enraged, ordered the blessed Andrew to be fastened to the cross. And he having left them all, goes up to the cross, and says to it with a clear voice: ‘Rejoice, O cross, which has been consecrated by the body of Christ, and adorned by His limbs as if with pearls. Assuredly before my Lord went up on you, you had much earthly fear; but now invested with heavenly longing, you are fitted up according to my prayer. For I know, from those who believe, how many graces you have in Him, how many gifts prepared beforehand. Free from care, then, and with joy, I come to you, that you also exulting may receive me, the disciple of Him that was hanged upon you; because you have been always faithful to me, and I have desired to embrace you. O good cross, which has received comeliness and beauty from the limbs of the Lord; O much longed for, and earnestly desired, and fervently sought after, and already prepared beforehand for my soul longing for you, take me away from men, and restore me to my Master, in order that through you He may accept me who through you has redeemed me.’”

While this account of his martyrdom is considered an apocryphal work and not divinely inspired, it nevertheless represents a beautiful description of St. Andrew’s approach to the cross on which he would be killed.

By few words and much action, St. Andrew became for the Church a testament to the power and ability of the Holy Spirit to work in us, each according to his or her own personality, talents, and capabilities. One does not need eloquence of speech, fame, or a large following to serve and preach Christ, but simply a deep love for God that engenders the desire and humility to abide in His presence and develop an intimate relationship with Him, being filled by His grace and work and being shaped to think, perceive, and behave as He desires and exemplifies. To such a person, God grants the ability to go and fill others — not primarily by long speeches or verbal exhortations, but more importantly by being the means through which they can also experience Christ.

May the prayers of the disciple St. Andrew be with us and support the Church for which he offered his life in full dedication and service, and may God raise up believers possessing the spirit and discipleship which the Apostles, by their life, witness, and teaching, delivered to the Church.


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