The Orthodox Pages


22th May 2008







































































































Today we continue with our short series on the lives and martyrdoms of the Holy Apostles. Last week we saw the life of St. Andrew the first-called. Today we are going to look at 3 Apostles who were called to be companions in their mission to preach the word of God to the pagan Gentiles. They are Sts Philip, Bartholomew and Philips’s sister Mariamne.
Bartholomew was born in Cana of Galilee where the Lord performed his first miracle at the marriage in Cana and turned the water into wine. Philip was from Bethsaida of Galilee, the same town as Andrew and his brother Peter. This small town on the eastern shore of Lake Tiberias was deeded worthy to offer to the Lord a considerable number of the Apostles. When Jesus called Philip to the apostolic position, he accepted it with great joy and without any hesitation. One could say that his acceptance was too spontaneous and irrational and only makes sense if we look at his relationship with his fellow townsman Andrew. Andrew was a man of a gentle and kind heart who with great desire waited for the Messiah. His faith pushed him to become a disciple of John the Baptist. On hearing John preach, Andrew didn’t keep what he heard to himself, but shared everything with his close friends and townsmen. Thus Philip had been prepared for the Messiah by Andrew long before Jesus called him to follow him. That Philip had a special relationship with Andrew, whom he trusted and looked up to, is clear from another passage in the Gospels. Before the Passion of our Lord we are told that Greek proselytes to Judaism had come to Jerusalem to worship. They had heard of Jesus and wanted to see and talk with him. They could have approached any of the Apostles to ask for a meeting, but chose Philip, possibly because he had a Greek name which gave them the courage to approach him more easily than the others. The Greeks told Philip that they wanted to see Jesus. Now Philip could have gone directly to Jesus and give him the message, but instead goes first to his beloved and trusted friend Andrew and together they lead the Greeks before Jesus.

Another of the Apostles who probably was Philip’s best friend is Nathanael. In the same way that Andrew ran to tell his brother Peter that he had found the Messiah, Philip also ran with great joy to tell the good news to his buddy Nathanael: “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Philip’s words “We have found him” was not only an expression of joy but also an invitation to his friend to share and feel the same joy he felt. On hearing that Jesus was from Nazareth, Nathanael was cautious because Nazareth was a town mostly inhabited with Gentiles: a town full of sin and corruption. Nathanael rightly then said those well known words “Can anything good come out of Nazareth,” Philip then invited him to come and see. And that is exactly what he did. He came and saw and believed and also became one of the twelve apostles. But why did Nathanael believe? When Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, he said of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael replied to him, From where do you know me? And Jesus answered, Even before Philip called you, when thou were under the fig tree, I saw you. This was enough for Nathanael to believe and say: Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. Then Jesus said to him: “Just because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, you believe? you shall see greater things than these.”

Why then did Nathanael believe by just these few words? He may literally have been sitting under a fig tree before Philip found him and was therefore astonished as to how Jesus would know about that. But there is an interpretation to these words that we find in Russian Icons of the 17th century which I rather like. The Russian iconographers of that period and before loved to make multiple icons with many figures and events painted into a single Icon. In multiple Icons of the Nativity, they would paint up to sixteen different events which directly or indirectly were connected to the Nativity of Christ. So apart from the usual Icon showing the birth of Christ, the Magi coming with the gifts, the Shepherds and Joseph being tempted by the devil, they would also have scenes like the Massacre of the Innocents and Rachael weeping for her children, the flight into Egypt of the Mother of God, Christ, Joseph and his son James, the future Apostle and first bishop of Jerusalem, Elizabeth and her baby John the Baptist being pursued by soldiers etc. One of the scenes which became fairly common was of another mother with a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes under a fig tree and often with the microscopic inscription “Nathanael lying under the fig tree”. In other words the Icon is telling us that it was traditionally believed that Nathanael was born under a fig tree.

There is also an XIth century Greek Gospel now in the National library in Paris with an illustration of the first chapter of St. John’s Gospel depicting the meeting of Christ with Nathanael. The illustration shows the moment when Christ talks with Nathanael who is accompanied by Philip who had called him, while at a certain distance, in the background, standing under a tree is Nathanael again, but this time represented as a child with a halo. Perhaps both the Greek manuscript and the Russian Icons are based on the mysterious phrase of St. John Chrysostom in his interpretation of this text in the Gospel of St. John. He wrote “He already knew the good disposition of Nathanael, not as a man who had watched him, but as God,” and also: “What? Do you think Christ saw Nathanael only just before Philip called him, and had not seen him before with the eye that never sleeps? He did see him, and no one will deny it.” Of course the Icons and the manuscript might have nothing to do with what St. John Chrysostom wrote and is it possible that these images of Nathanael are based on some text unknown to us, which was used by ancient iconographers. If that is the case and Nathanael was literally born under a fig tree, then Nathanael must have really been taken aback because there was no way that Jesus would have known such a story unless as God, he saw him being born.

But our talk today in on the lives of Philip, Bartholomew and Mariamne, so why have I stayed so long on Nathanael? Most Jews at the time of Christ had two names: A Jewish name and a Greek or Roman name. Matthew was also known as Levi, Mark the Evangelist as John, Simon as Peter and Thaddeus as Judas. Sts John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Epiphanius of Cyprus and certain other fathers of the Church regard that Nathanael is one and the same person as the Apostle Bartholomew. Only the Evangelist John mentions Nathanael while the other three Evangelist mention Bartholomew and always paired with Philip suggesting that they were close enough to be brothers. For example in Matthew’s listing of the Apostles, he says: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.” (Matth. 10: 1-4). Matthew pairs the brothers Peter and Andrew together, then the brothers James and John and then the close friends Philip and Bartholomew. The other two Evangelists give similar listings always mentioning Philip with Bartholomew. This certainly supports the general agreement that Bartholomew and Nathanael are one and the same person.
Now before we look at the Apostles’ activities after the Resurrection, it is worth noting something from the Gospels for which Philip is especially remembered for. When Christ was talking to the Apostles before his Passion, giving them the last advice and promises of what to expect, Philip asked him to show them the Father. To this Jesus answered: “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake.” Philip probably shouldn’t have asked such a thing of Christ. He had been with him for three years and after hearing and seeing so many miraculous things, he should have known that Jesus was God. But we should be very grateful for Philip’s request because his simplicity gave the opportunity to Christ to reveal something very dogmatic about his person. A dogmatic truth “that I am in the Father, and the Father in me” which has stood up against countless attacks from heretics and which remains today and for all centuries the corner stone and firm foundation of our Orthodox faith.
Now after the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Philip together with Bartholomew set off to take the message of Salvation where the love of God called them. With faith, enthusiasm and hearts on fire, these labourers of the new faith, accompanied by Philip’ sister Mariamne, went forward and preached first in Galilee, accompanying their preaching with many miracles. Although they travelled together, when they preached, they would often wander into different cities and then meet up again later. Thus, when Philip restored to life a dead infant in the arms of its mother, Bartholomew was not necessarily with him. From Galilee they went to Greece, and preached among the Jews that had settled there. Some of them reported the preaching of the Apostle Philip to the Jews in Jerusalem. In response, some scribes arrived in Greece from Jerusalem, with one of the Jewish chief priests at their head, to interrogate the Apostle Philip. The chief priest accused Philip of lying about the Resurrection of Christ and said that the Disciples of Christ had stolen away and hidden the body of Christ. Philip told instead how the Pharisees had bribed the soldiers on watch, to deliberately spread this rumour. When the Jewish chief priest and his companions began to insult the Lord and lunged at the Apostle Philip, they were suddenly struck blind. By his prayer the Apostle restored everyone's sight. Seeing this miracle, many believed in Christ. The Apostle Philip provided a bishop for them, by the name of Narcissus (one of the Seventy Apostles).
From Greece the Apostles went to Parthia, and then to the city of Azotus, where Philip healed an eye affliction of the daughter of a local resident named Nikoklides, who had received him into his home, and then baptized his whole family.
From Azotus the Apostle Philip set out to Hieropolis in Syria (there were several cities of this name) where, stirred up by the Pharisees, the Jews burned the house of Heros, who had taken in the Apostle Philip, and they wanted to kill the apostle. At Hierapolis, the devil seeing himself defeated, urged some of the people to arrest Philip and have him tortured. Being bound, they lead him before a civil court. There the district officer Aristarchus literally screamed at Philip saying: “Do you think you can also scare me with your acts of magic?” And then without another word, he caught him by the hair and started to drag him around to torture him. Philip couldn’t contain himself any longer and to bring the impious district officer to his senses and realize the wrong he was doing and also to give a lesson to the others, who were watching his torture, prayed out loud and said: “Lord I know thy compassion. I beseech thee, not for my self-satisfaction because of the wrong that is being done to me, but so that this cruel leader may be corrected and reformed for what he is doing to me and also that the others may know thy power and see that you are not only the God of Love, but also a chastiser of evil, grant that the hand that hits the head which you have blessed be paralysed.” As soon as the Apostle finished saying these words, the miracle happened: the hand became lame and disabled. But also one of his eyes became blind and his ears became deaf. At this spectacle, all those present became terrified and with contrition in their hearts, began to plead with Philip to have mercy and take pity on him and make him whole again. At their request the meek Apostle stressed that: “Your ruler can be whole again, all that it needs is for him and also yourselves to believe in the one true God and in Jesus Christ whom he sent into the world to suffer for you.

At that moment, a funeral procession was passing by that place and suddenly stopped. Some of those who followed the dead person happened to be friends and fellow rulers with the district officer. On seeing what had happened to their friend, they turned on the Apostle wanting revenge and told him ironically: “If your God can raise this dead person who we are taking to bury, then we and our ruler Aristarchus will believe in him.” Slightly shaken by their proposal, Philip raised his hands to heaven and on his knees prayed silently. Then looking straight at the dead person who was in the coffin, he called him by his name and said: “Theophilus, the Almighty God commands you to get up and say whatever you will.” The miracle was instantaneous. The dead Theophilus stood up and jumped down from the coffin. Then kneeling before the Apostle he said with a deep groaning of relief: “Thank you my good man, thank you o holy one of God for the salvation which you have granted me. Some black and gruesome creatures were dragging me by the hands to throw me into hell. Your intervention saved me. I was leaving this world a sinner without knowing the truth and the truth is one: Jesus Christ whom you preach is the true God. I also believe in Christ with all my heart and soul.”
The miracle shook the crowd that was present. The calling of the dead man by his name and his resurrection emotionally stirred up everyone there and without hesitation they all believed in Christ and said to Philip: We believe that the God which you preach is the true God. Now help us to be saved and forgive our ruler. After making signs with his hands for everyone to keep silent, he told one the rulers that accompanied the dead man to make the sign of the Cross over Aristarchus and to invoke the help of the Holy Trinity. The man did as Philip asked him and immediately Aristarchus was made completely whole. The result was very moving. A great many asked to be baptized that same hour, and first among them, the father of the risen Theophilus who was called Prephictus and who was also one of the rulers of the city. After his baptism, the reborn man gave the Apostle twelve golden idols which he had at his house and many other items that he had so that he could share them out among the poor according to his own judgement. Philip, Bartholomew and Mariamne continued preaching the Gospel of Christ to various towns of Lydia, Mysia and Parthia which were counties of Asia Minor. Lydia was to the North West, Mydia to the North of Asia Minor and Parthia in the mountainous regions south east of the Caspian Sea. In many places they were pelted with stones, locked up in prison, and thrown out of villages.
In spite of the many difficulties which they encountered, in spite of the many obstacles the devil placed before them to prevent there work, the Apostles always overcame them and the work of the Lord proceeded day by day. A great contribution in their efforts to evangelize the people were the many miracles the Lord granted them to perform.
For many years this blessed group of Apostles continued their corrective and saving work in the various towns of the counties just mentioned. The results were truly miraculous. Where “sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” (Rom. 5:20) There where sin had almost destroyed its victims, a new world was born: a world of kindness and love; a world of beauty and grace, a new Christian Asia Minor. But not everyone took kindly to this new religion. A time came when the divine Apostle Philip had to seal everything he taught with the sacrifice of his life. On their journey, they met up with St. John the Theologian and together they set off for Phrygia.
The Apostles arrived in the Phrygian city of Hieropolis. At Hieropolis there lived a man by the name of Stachys, who had been blind for 40 years. When he received healing, he then believed in Christ and was baptized. News of this spread throughout the city, and a multitude of the people thronged to the house where the apostles were staying. The sick and those beset by demons were released from their infirmities, and many were baptized. In Hierapolis there were many pagan temples. There was also a pagan temple where people worshiped an enormous serpent as a god. By the power of their prayers, the Apostles killed the serpent and healed many bitten by snakes.
Among those healed was the wife of the city prefect, Amphipatos. Having learned that his wife had accepted Christianity, the prefect Amphipatos gave orders to arrest Philip, his sister, and Bartholomew, and to burn down the house of Stachys. Thus they were arrested and tortured and led before a court. At the trial, pagan priests came forth with the complaint that the strangers were turning people away from the worship of the ancestral gods. Thinking that perhaps some sort of magic power was hidden away in the clothes of the apostles, the prefect gave orders to strip them. But St. Mariamne became like a fiery torch before their eyes, and none dared touch her. At the urging of the pagan priests of the temple of the serpent, Amphipatos ordered the holy Apostles Philip and Bartholomew to be put to death. The public executioners, who were waiting took Philip, tied his ankles together and hanged him upside down on a tree. Then they took hold of Bartholomew and after torturing him also proceeded to hang him. After this Philip was then crucified. With pain in her heart, Philip’s sister Mariamne watched her brother’s martyrdom and Bartholomew’s and prayed that God would give them strength and patience to bear their sufferings. At that moment God showed his love for the workers of the Gospel and sent a great earthquake and the earth opened and swallowed up their persecutors. The successive shakes which occurred in all the land terrified the crowds who came running with tears to ask forgiveness from the Apostles. The earthquakes stopped at the intercessions of the Apostles and God gave the onlookers a wonderful vision and proof of his divine powers. A ladder appeared joining earth with heaven. The crowd ran and took down Bartholomew from where he was hanging and then went to take down Philip from the Cross, but he didn’t allow them. He continued to preach to the crowd round about him urging them to repent and receive Baptism. Whilst teaching, he took his last breath and his holy soul flew to heaven, to the land of eternity. Bartholomew and Mariamne, together with those who believed and were baptized, took his body and buried it with reverence and piety sprinkling it with their tears of love. After making Stachys Bishop of Hieropolis, the Apostle Bartholomew and St Mariamne left the city and moved on.
Preaching the Word of God, Batholomew and Mariamne arrived in Lykaonia. Soon after, their roads parted and Mariamne returned to Palestine near the Jordan where she past away peacefully. The Apostle Bartholomew went to India, where he translated the Gospel of Matthew into their language, and he converted many pagans to Christ. He also visited Greater Armenia (the country between the River Kura and the upper stretches of the Tigrus and Euphrates Rivers), where he worked many miracles and healed the daughter of King Polymios from the demons afflicting her. In gratitude, the king sent gifts to the apostle, who refused to accept them, saying that he sought only the salvation of the souls of mankind. Then Polymios together with his wife, daughter, and many of those close to them accepted Baptism. And people from more than ten cities of Greater Armenia followed their example. But through the manipulation of the pagan priests, the Apostle Bartholomew was seized by the king’s brother Astiagus in the city of Ourbanopolis (now the city of Baku), and crucified upside down. But even from the cross he did not cease to proclaim the good news about Christ the Saviour. Finally, on orders from Astiagus, they flayed the skin from Bartholomew body and cut off his head. Believers took his body and buried it in a leaden coffin.
In about the year 508 the holy relics of the Apostle Bartholomew were transferred to Mesopotamia, to the city of Dara. When the Persians seized the city in 574, Christians took the relics of the Apostle Bartholomew with them when they fled to the shores of the Black Sea. But since the enemy overtook them there, they were compelled to leave the coffin behind, and the pagans threw it into the sea. By the power of God the coffin miraculously arrived on the island of Lipari where the bishop Agathon, who had been warned by revelation in a dream, was waiting for it and buried it in the Church. In the ninth century, after the taking of the island by the Arabs, the holy relics were transferred to the Neapolitan city of Beneventum in Italy, and in the tenth century part of the relics were transferred to Rome.
The holy Apostle Bartholomew is mentioned in the Life of St Joseph the Hymnographer (April 4). Having received from a certain man part of the relics of the Apostle Bartholomew, St Joseph conveyed them to his own monastery near Constantinople, and he built a church in the name of the Apostle Bartholomew, placing in it a portion of the relics. St Joseph ardently desired to compose hymns of praise in honour of the saint, and he fervently besought God to grant him the ability to do so. On the Feast day in memory of the Apostle Bartholomew (11th June), St Joseph saw him at the altar. He beckoned to Joseph and took the holy Gospel from the altar table and pressed it to his bosom with the words, "May the Lord bless you, and may your song delight the whole world." And from that time St Joseph began to write hymns and canons to adorn not only the Feast day of the Apostle Bartholomew, but also the Feast days of many other saints, composing about 300 canons in all.
I mentioned that the holy relics of St. Bartholomew ended up in Italy but what happened to the relics of St. Philip?
For many years, Philips venerable relics adorned the Church in Hierapolis which was built in his honour. After the sacking of Constantinople by the Latin Crusaders in 1204, his holy relics were transferred to Cyprus and for many years were kept safe in the village of Arsos of Limassol where today stands the 12th century Church built in honour of the Apostle. In this Church is also a 13th Century Icon of the Apostle. Embodied to the main Church is also a chapel dedicated to Philip’s Sister St. Mariamne, which today is used to store many old Icons dating from the 15th century to the 19th century. Later parts of his relics were given as blessings to various places. In 1788, supposedly for greater safety, his holy head was transferred to the Monastery of the Cross in Omodos were it is kept to this day. In days gone by, when Cyprus was plagued with locusts, Philip’s head would be carried as far as the Mesaoria plains (Between Nicosia and Famagusta) and after the blessing of waters, they would sprinkle their crops and trees to be rid of the plague.
Many miracles happen even today to those who with true faith come to Cyprus and with reverence seek the intercessions of the Apostle.
St. Philip’s Feast day is on 14th November, a date most Greeks remember because it is the last day of eating meat before the start of the Christmas fast. St. Bartholomew is celebrated on 11th June together with St. Barnabas the Patron saint of Cyprus, and St. Mariamne on 17th February. The two Apostles are also commemorated on the 30th June, the Feast of the Twelve Apostles.