People, Look East: Saints Simon and Jude

Today, the church celebrates Sts. Simon and Jude, who were among the first to answer the call of Jesus:

In those days he departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God. When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called a Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. (Lk 6:12-16)

Obscurity shrouds the precise names, lives and deaths of both apostles, who in the West are traditionally associated with evangelizing the Roman province of Syria and the realm of Persia, centered in Mesopotamia. Several medieval European accounts assert that Simon and Jude (who is also known as Judas, son of James, Thaddeus from the Greek, or Addai from the Syriac) were martyred in Beirut, gruesomely sawed or axed to death in the year 65. Thus, the Roman Church commemorates the pair on the traditional date of their deaths. Of the two, it is Jude who takes top billing as patron of “desperate” or “hopeless cases” in the Latin rite of the Catholic Church. 

The various Eastern churches associated with the Cradle of Civilization — Assyro-Chaldean, Armenian and Georgian — do not pair them together. Yet they hold each closely to the heart of their traditions. 

Christianity in the Caucasus, Armenian and Georgian, is long associated with the Persian and Syriac Christian traditions. The Orthodox Church of Georgia, particularly its adherents in the coastal Georgian region of Abkhazia, venerates the memory of St. Simon, whose body, according to an ancient legend, was transferred and buried there in the first century. Holy sites associated with St. Simon continue to draw Georgian Christians. 

The Armenian Apostolic Church considers Jude, together with the apostle Bartholomew, as one of the first bearers of the Good News to the Armenian people. According to tradition, Jude’s body is enshrined in the Kara Kalisa — or “Black Church” in English — an ancient Armenian structure nestled in the mountains of what is today northwestern Iran. Considered one of the oldest Christian shrines in existence, it remains a destination for pilgrims worldwide.

The Assyro-Chaldean churches, Catholic and non-Catholic, are particularly devoted to one Thaddeus of Edessa. Also known as Addai, he is associated with the earliest liturgy of the church, is understood to be one of Jesus’ 70 disciples (according to Luke) and is considered by many biblical historians to be the same person as the apostle Jude. He is linked to the fourth-century story of Abgar, a disease-stricken king of Edessa (in present-day Turkey), who asked Jesus to heal him of his afflictions. Moved by his faith, Jesus dispatched Addai, who healed the king and spread the Gospel through what is now southeastern Turkey, Armenia and Iraq.

Despite the variety and obscurity of these legends and traditions, what makes Sts. Simon and Jude prominent figures in our shared Christian faith is their testimony to and zeal for the Gospel of Jesus. They preached the teachings of an obscure Jewish teacher from an insignificant corner of the eastern Mediterranean who was crucified by the Roman occupiers for his message of love — love of God and love of others. They witnessed, even to death, this message of love and its power to conquer death. Their lives and deaths point to the one who accepted his Father’s will, and died so we, too, could join him in paradise.

Thank you, Simon and Jude!

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