11 / 24 June
One of the Twelve Great Apostles. It is generally agreed that Bartholomew and Nathaniel are one and the same person. He was a companion of the Apostle Philip and his sister, the virgin Mariamnaand for some time of St John the Theologian preaching the Gospel in Asia, then in India and finally in Armenia, where he died a martyr. In Hierapolis, the holy apostles, who were travelling together, by their prayers killed a great snake which had been kept in a temple and deified by the pagans. In this same town, they restored the sight of one Stachius, who had been blind for forty years. This roused the mob against them, and Philip and Bartholomew were crucified, Barthlomew upside down. At this there was an earthquake, in which the evil judges and many of the people perished. Seeing this as a punishment from God, many ran to take the apostles down from their crosses, but Philip was already dead although Bartholomew was still alive. After that, Bartholomew went to India, where he preached and translated the Gospel of Matthew into the Indian language. After that, he moved to Armenia, where he cured the king's daughter of madness. But the king's envious brother, Astyages, took the apostle of God and crucified him, then had him flayed and beheaded in the Armenian town of Ourbanopolis. His body was buried by Christians in a leaden coffin. When many miracles had been wrought over his relics, pagans took the coffin and threw it into the sea. But the sea carried the coffin to the island of Lipara, where the bishop, Agathon, who had been warned by revelation in a dream, was waiting for it and buried it in the church. St Bartholomew appeared to St Joseph the Hymnographer in church one day, robed in white, and blessed him with the Gospels to sing spiritual songs, saying: 'Let streams of heavenly wisdom flow from thy tongue!' He also appeared to the Emperor Anastasius (491-518), and told him that he would protect the newly-built town of Dara. Later, the relics of this apostle were translated to Benevento, and then to Rome. Great and wondrous miracles have been wrought over them.
One of the Seventy, he was born in Cyprus, of wealthy parents of the tribe of Levi, and studied with Gamaliel together with Saul. He was first named Joseph, but the apostles called him Barnabas, Son of Consolation, because he had a rare gift for comforting men's souls. After Saul's conversion, Barnabas was the first to welcome him among the apostles. After that, with Paul and Mark, he preached the Gospel in Antioch and other places. All accounts agree that he was the first to preach in Rome and in Milan. He suffered at the hands of the Jews on the island of Cyprus and was buried by Mark at the western gate of the city of Salamis, holding a copy of the Gospel of Matthew which he had transcribed with his own hand. His grave remained unknown for several centuries, but when many people had been healed of sickness in that place, it became known as 'the place of healing'. In the time of the Emperor Zeno, the Apostle appeared three times, on three successive nights, to Archbishop Anthemius of Cyprus, and revealed the whereabouts of his grave. This revelation by the Apostle took place just at the time when Peter, the power- hungry Patriarch of Antioch, was seeking to bring the Cypriot Church under his jurisdiction. After the revealing and finding of the miraculous relics of the holy Apostle Barnabas, it was established that the Cypriot Church, as an apostolic foundation, should be independent, and thus the autocephaly of the Church of Cyprus was finally confirmed.
The Feast of the Icon: 'It is meet ...', and the miracle that was wrought in front of it in the time of Patriarch Nicolas Chrysoverges. This miracle came about thus: One night a monk was reading the Canon of the Mother of God and singing: 'More honourable than the cherubim . . . ' in his cell in the monastery of the Pantocrator (now called after the icon). His elder had gone to Karyes. Suddenly a man appeared in the church and began to sing: 'It is meet ...', a hymn which till that time had been unknown in the Church. The monk, hearing this hymn, was greatly struck both by the words and the heavenly singing. The stranger turned to the monk and said: 'We sing it like this at home.' The monk desired to have it written down, and brought a marble tablet, onto which the stranger wrote the hymn with his finger as though the tablet were made of wax, and then suddenly disappeared. The stranger was the Archangel Gabriel. The tablet was taken to Constantinople, and the hymn is sung to this day in the Church.
Within discussions of Orthodoxy, the Holy Mountain of Mt. Athos does get mentioned many times. Mt. Athos itself is what we call a "Spiritual Republic". It is an independent state which pledges allegiance only to Almighty God. Mt. Athos which is perched on a peninsula 20 miles long and seven miles wide is off the Macedonian Coast The monasteries there are among the oldest in Christendom. Monks, hermits and holy men have lived there since the third century. During the Byzantine Era, the total population exceeded 50,000. No women have ever been allowed on Mt. Athos. The Blessed Ever-Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, is the "Patron Saint" of the Spiritual Republic of Mt. Athos. In one of the magnificent monasteries there is a huge icon on the Blessed Virgin Mary which has been titled "Axion Esti", meaning 'it is worthy to bless Thee, the Virgin'. This beautiful icon was painted in the seventh century and has since graced the sacred walls of the Cathedral of Mt. Athos. Today we commemorate the anniversary of the miracle which took place in front of this icon over 1,000 years ago, on June 11. During the celebration of the Divine Liturgy every Sunday, we hear the beautiful, and inspiring hymn called "Axion Esti" which follows the prayer (as we kneel) called the "Epiklesis". This hymn was written originally in the year 720 AD by St. Cosmas, one of the greatest hymnographers of the Christian Church. The hymn, however, began with the words 'Thee that art more honourable than the Cherubim (Tin Timioteran)". It was well over one hundred years later that this hymn was added to the Divine Liturgy, but with an added beginning as the result of the following miraculous event: On June 11, 980 AD, as a group of monks were conducting an all-night vigil before the icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, they suddenly noticed a monk standing on the right of the icon whom they did not recognise at all. He was unknown to the monks, and no one could explain his abrupt presence. This unidentified monk began to chant the beautiful hymn written by St. Cosmas, but rather began with the words "Axion Esti os Alethos Makarizin Se Tin Theotokon", which means "It is very meet to bless Thee, Theotokos the ever blessed and most pure Virgin and Mother of God". The monk then explained to the others that he was the Archangel Gabriel and that these words should be added to the hymn. The Arch-angel then vanished from their sight, leaving the monks amazed at the power of God. Since that day on June 11, 980 AD, the additional words to the hymn of St. Cosmas have been sung by all Orthodox Christians around the world. The icon of the Blessed Mother Axion Esti is still venerated today in the Cathedral of Mt. Athos. "It is meet indeed to bless Thee, the ever-blessed and most pure and Mother of our God. Thee that art more honourable than the Cherubim, and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim, who without spot of sin didst bear God the Word.
The first Chinese priest, and the Chinese New Martyrs of the Boxer Uprising, at Peking and other places, in 1900 - (unable to find the icon on the internet herewith a verbal description) - The Orthodox Church believes that the icon is a window into heaven. In other words the icon makes visible the very real but invisible reality of Christ and the saints. The Orthodox Church also believes that the icon is the word of God in visual form. In other words this icon is a visual sermon that speaks to us about the heroic faith of the Chinese Martyrs, their willingness to die for Jesus Christ. When I looked at this icon I asked myself: What are they doing? What are they looking at? What are they doing with their hands? What is their body posture like? Are there any writings in the icon? Starting from the bottom of the icon we see a large group of people looking at us. It is a mixed group. It is made up of clergy and laity, men and women, adult and children, boys and girls. All of them are wearing haloes, the haloes signifying their having attained sainthood. (In the Orthodox Church salvation -- that is, life in Jesus Christ -- is available to both adults and children.) The golden haloes represent the "crown of righteousness" and the "crown of glory" promised to those who keep the faith and who love the appearing of Jesus Christ. Notice that everyone in the icon has a cross. This represents the cross that Christ gives us when we become his followers: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it." Bodily posture is also important. Their standing upright signify the fact that the Chinese martyrs are very much awake and conscious in heaven right now. It also symbolizes the Orthodox Church's belief that when we die we do not experience soul sleep but enter fully conscious into Christ's presence. One thing I like about this icon are the little details that carry much meaning. I see little details like the Chinese style clothing, the long braided pigtail worn by St. Paul (standing to the right of Fr. Metrophanes'), the distinctive Chinese style kung fu slippers on their feet, the Asian features on their faces. When I looked at the front row I expected to see the priest Fr. Metrophanes Tsi-Chung in the center, instead I see the priest with his wife St. Tatiana. The fact that Metrophanes is of Chinese ancestry points to Orthodoxy's commitment to an indigenous clergy. Orthodoxy in China was not a foreign religion, but a religion with deep roots in Chinese culture. Also please note that the priest depicted in this icon is a married priest. More than that, he was a married priest with three sons. A family man with three sons! All this point to a powerful affirmation of Chinese family values. But what really impresses me is that here is a family willing to die for Christ. Imagine! A whole family who loved Jesus Christ more than anything else in the world. A careful examination of the front row shows other signs of family affection. In the left corner we see a little boy clinging to his father's robe. In the middle we see a mother putting her hand on her son's shoulder in a gesture of love and protection. In the right corner we see two sisters holding hands together. As I look upwards I see two buildings in the background. On the left a Russian Orthodox Church building with the distinctive onion shaped dome. And on the right a building in the distinctive Chinese architecture. This represents the dignity and wisdom of Chinese culture. The Chinese martyrs standing between the two buildings shows them standing between the two cultures. Looking further up I see the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven extending both hands in the gesture of blessing. Christ's position at the very top of the icon points to Christ's Lordship over all creation, his transcendence over all cultures: East and West. So likewise his extending out both hands in the gesture of blessing points to Christ's extending his grace and mercy to the whole world. This brings to mind the words in John's Gospel: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son...." In closing I would like to bring to your attention that for the Orthodox Christian, the icon is more than just a reminder of the past. This icon is a spiritual bridge linking us Christians living today to the Chinese Martyrs who died a hundred years ago. This leads us to the ancient belief in the communion of the saints. From the beginning Christians have not only remembered the saints and the martyrs, they asked the saints to remember them in their prayers. This is the significant of the eyes. Do you notice that the eyes of the Chinese Martyrs are looking at you? This is an invitation for you to enter into fellowship with them. It is also an invitation for us to ask them to pray to Christ for our salvation and for the salvation of China to the glory of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Robert A. Arakak.