People, Look East: Tradition for Feast of St. Andrew Continues

Today marks the feast of the apostle Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter.

The churches of the Byzantine tradition honor St. Andrew as protokletos, translated from the Greek as the “first-called,” in reference to Andrew’s recognition of Jesus as the Messiah in the Gospel of John (1:40-42):

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.

Early church chroniclers and historians believed Andrew preached the Gospel among the peoples living around the Black Sea, from the Greek port of Byzantium to the areas of modern Georgia, Ukraine and Romania. He died a martyr, bound to an X-shaped cross, in the Greek city of Patras in the year 60. 

St. Andrew’s relics remained there until the middle of the fourth century, when the Roman emperor Constantius II ordered their removal. He transferred the apostle’s remains to the Church of the Holy Apostles — built by his father, the emperor Constantine the Great, in his new imperial capital city of New Rome — around the year 330. Commonly called Constantinople, “the city of Constantine,” the new capital was founded on the site of the ancient Greek port of Byzantium, first evangelized by the apostle Andrew. 

Why is this relevant to us today?

For decades now, since the mutual embrace of Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem in January 1964, and, just a few months later, the lifting of the mutual excommunications of the year 1054, the popes as successors of Peter have sent representatives of the Church of Rome to pay their respects to the successors of Andrew in Constantinople (now known as Istanbul) on his feast, 30 November. Reciprocally, the ecumenical patriarchs as successors of Andrew have sent representatives of the Church of Constantinople to Rome for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on 29 June.

“On the occasion of the feast of the Apostle Andrew, the first-called and brother of the Apostle Peter, and patron saint of the Church of Constantinople and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, my thoughts turn to you, beloved brother in Christ, and to the Church that our Lord Jesus, ‘the great shepherd of the sheep’ (Heb 13:20), has entrusted to your ministry,” Pope Francis wrote today in a letter to the ecumenical patriarch, Bartholomew I. “I do so, not only in view of our own fraternal friendship but also of the ancient and profound bond of faith and charity between the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople.”

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople embrace after delivering a blessing in Istanbul on 30 November 2014 (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

In our increasingly fractured and overly partisan world, the message of the Gospel is undermined by the divisions within “the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” Although their methods may have been heavy handed at times, the bishops of Rome, as pontifex maximus — great bridge builders — have long sought to heal the schisms of the universal church. Pope Francis, in continuing that personal charism of the successors of Peter, recognizes the urgency of healing the wounds of schism now, particularly between brothers and sisters, so together as the united body of Christ, Christians may work together to tackle the serious challenges bearing upon humanity.

“It was a source of joy for me that during your recent visit to Rome we were able not only to share our concerns regarding the present and future of our world,” the pope writes today, “but also to express our shared commitment to addressing issues of crucial significance for our whole human family, including the care of creation, the education of future generations, dialogue among the different religious traditions and the pursuit of peace. 

“In this way, we as pastors, together with our churches, strengthen the profound bond that already unites us, since our common responsibility in the face of current challenges flows from our shared faith in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; in the one Lord Jesus Christ, his Son, who became man for our salvation, died and rose from the dead; and in the Holy Spirit, Lord and giver of life, who harmonizes differences without abolishing them. 

“United in this faith, let us seek with determination to make visible our communion. While recognizing that there remain theological and ecclesiological questions at the heart of the work of our ongoing theological dialogue, it is my hope that Catholics and Orthodox may increasingly work together in those areas in which it is not only possible, but indeed imperative that we do so.”

So be it.

Michael J.L. La Civita is CNEWA’s communications director.

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