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ApostlesJohn, the son of Zebedee, is a subject quite well-covered in this blog, and one of my favourite posts here is Malcolm’s account of a visit to Patmos, the Island on which John received the vision which became the Revelation. Chalcedon has addressed the questions about the authorship of St John’s Gospel, as have I, so I don’t want to go over old ground here. He the the only one of the Apostles who is said to have lived to an old age and to have died peacefully.  I was glad to see that Jessica knows and likes the now much-neglected Browning poem, ‘A death in the desert’. If you’ve a taste for Victorian poetry, I commend it to your good graces.

If John was one of the few Apostles to pen Scripture, Matthew was one of the others. But, that fact aside, again, we know tantalisingly little of Matthew. He has traditionally been identified with the tax collector mentioned in Matthew 9:9, although Mark and Luke both call the man ‘Levi’. If the Aphaeus mentioned there is the same as the father of James the lesser, then he may have been another cousin of the Lord. As a tax-collector he would have been despised by devout Jews as a collaborator with the hated Romans, but he would also have been literate in a number of languages, and good with money – a useful man to have around. There is an old tradition that he went to preach the Gospel in Ethiopia – but if so, we know more more about him – than the fact that he was a sinner who gave everything up to follow the Lord – and what more do we need to know?

Philip is the second of the Apostles (Andrew being the first) to have a Greek name, which reminds us of the cosmopolitan nature of the environmentin which Our Lord preached. He figures most prominently in the Gospel of John, and Papias tells us about the daughters of Phillip, who seem to have been consecrated virgins, and tells us that Philip was buried at Hierapolis in the patriarchate of Antioch.

‘Doubting Thomas’ is said by the Christians of southern India to have gone there to spread the Gospel and to have died a martyr’s death. I am grateful to Chalcedon for the information that St Ephrem’s hymns contain references to Thomas, including these lines:

‘Blessed art thou, O Light, like the lamp, the sun amidst darkness

hath placed; the earth darkened with sacrifices’ fumes to illuminate.
‘A land of people dark fell to thy lot that these in white robes
thou shouldest clothe and cleanse by baptism: a tainted land Thomas has purified.

the solar ray from the great orb; thy
grateful dawn India’s painful darkness doth dispel.
‘Thou the great lamp, one among the Twelve, with oil from the
Cross replenished, India’s dark night floodest with light.

Eusebius tells us that Batholemew also went on missions to India, Parthia and Ethiopia, although the Armenians say he was martyred there. Quite how his skull came to be in Frankfurt Cathedral I shall leave to those with more of a taste for relics.

Even more obscure is Thaddeus, who may or may not be identical with Jude, either way he, and Simon the Zealot, with whom he is always linked, seem to have suffered martyrdom in Beirut in about 65 AD.  Their bones are said to lie together in the Vatican.

So, witnessing to the Lord, even by those who saw Him in the flesh, was not something which brought anything save trouble to those who did it. Why then should we expect more? Their example stands before us – if we have the courage to bear that same cross.