Saint John the Theologian,
Apostle and Evangelist
The Apostle and Evangelist St. John, called the Theologian, was the son of Salome and Zebedee, a fisherman of Galilee. Zebedee possessed rather vast holdings, workers and was a member of some importance in the Jewish community, having access to the high priest. John’s mother Salome is mentioned in the ranks of women who served God with their possessions.
John was at first the pupil of St. John the Baptist. Listening to his witness of Christ as the Lamb of God, taking upon himself the sins of the world, he, together with Andrew the First Called followed the Saviour. Being a constant pupil of the Lord, he and his brother James were called by the Lord Himself at a later time after a successful catch of fish in the sea of Galilee. Together with Peter and his brother James, John was deigned worthy to become close to the Lord, being with Him during the most important and triumphant times of His earthly life. Thus, he was worthy to be in attendance at the resurrection of the daughter of Nair, to see Christ’s transfiguration on the mount, to hear the discourse on the signs of His second coming and was a witness to His prayer at Gethsemane. At the Last Supper he was so close to the Lord that in his own words, he lay his head at Christ’s bosom, whence emanated his name “bosom-friend,” which has become a nick-name for someone who is especially close.
Through humility, not calling himself by name, nevertheless speaking of himself in the Gospel, refers to himself as the disciple “whom Jesus loved.” This love of him by the Lord, showed itself when the Lord was on the cross he entrusted His Most Holy Mother to him saying: “Behold your mother.”
Zealously loving the Lord, John was filled with indignation at those who were hostile to the Lord or who estranged themselves from Him. While traveling through Samaria he prohibited those who did not walk with Christ to be exorcized in the name of Jesus Christ and asked the Lord’s permission to consume with fire certain residents of a Samarian town for not accepting Him. For this, he and his brother James were called by the Lord “sons of thunder” (Boanerges). Feeling the love of Christ toward himself, but as yet not enlightened with grace by the Holy Ghost, he decides to ask for himself and his brother James a place close to the Lord in His coming Kingdom and learns of the impending sufferings for both of them.
After the Lord’s Resurrection, we often perceive Apostle John together with Apostle Peter, similarly with whom he is considered a pillar of the Church and often sojourning to Jerusalem. True to the Lord’s directive he cared for the Holy Virgin Mary as a most devoted son and only after her Blessed Dormition did he begin to preach in other lands.
During Apostle John’s ministry, one notices the singularity that he chose for himself a specific province and directed all the energy of his soul to eradicate paganism therein and strengthen the holy faith. As an example of his specific cares were the seven Churches of Asia Minor – in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodician. Preeminently he lived in Ephesus.
During the time of Emperor Domitian (81-96), Apostle John, as the sole surviving Apostle, was summoned to Rome and by the decree of this persecutor of the Church was thrown into boiling oil, but the power of God saved him unscathed just as it saved the three lads from the fiery oven. Then Domitian sent him to the desert island of Patmos. Here John wrote the Apocalypse or Revelations of the fate of the Church and the world.
After the death of Domitian, Apostle John returned to Ephesus from exile. The Bishops and presbyters of the Ephesian Church showed him three Gospels written by the Apostles Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Having approved these Gospels, Apostle John deemed it necessary to supplement that which was lacking and which he knew well, being the last of the living eyewitnesses. This was of great importance, since toward the end of the first century there appeared in the Christian world several active gnostic sects which abased and even denied the Divine merit of the Lord Saviour. It was imperative to protect the faithful from that pedagogy.
In his Gospel, Apostle John explains the sermons of the Saviour narrated in Judea. These sermons directed toward the learned scribes were more difficult to understand and most likely due to this fact were not contained in the first three Gospels which were designated for the newly converted pagans. In beginning to formulate the Gospel, Apostle John designated a fasting period for the Church of Ephesus and withdrew with his disciple Prochorus onto the mountain where he wrote the Gospels bearing his name.
From ancient times the Gospel according to John were called enspirited, in it in comparison with the other three they preeminently contain the sermons of the Lord regarding the deepest truths on faith – on the embodiment of the Son of God, on the Maker, on the redemption of mankind, on spiritual rebirth, on the grace of the Holy Ghost and on Communion. From the first words of the Gospel, John elevates the thoughts of the faithful on the height of the godly emanation of the Son of God from the Father: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Apostle John expresses the aim of his Gospel thus: .”.these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
Besides the Gospel and the Apocalypse, Apostle John wrote three epistles which were incorporated into the make-up of the New Testament books as Ecumenical (i.e. universal epistles). The main thought in his epistles was – Christians must learn to love: “Let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is of God and Knows God… He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).
“…love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says I love God but hates his brother, he is a liar; for he does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him; that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 John 4:17-21).
Regarding the subsequent ministry of Apostle John, tradition has preserved some wonderful information showing to what extent his heart was filled with love. While visiting one of the Asia Minor Churches, John noticed among his listeners a youth distinguishing himself with unusual gifts and entrusted him to a Bishops as a special ward. Later on, this youth became close with unsavory friends, became debauched and the leader of a gang of bandits. John, hearing of this from the bishop went into the mountains where the bandits were ravaging, he was seized and brought before the chief.
On seeing the Apostle, the youth became embarrassed and began to run away. John pursued him and with touching words of love encouraged him and himself brought him to Church, shared with him the labors of repentance and did not rest until he totally reconciled him with the Church. During the last years of his life the Apostle preached only one precept: “children, love one another” His disciples asked: “Why do you repeat yourself?” Apostle John answered: “This is the most important commandment. If you will fulfill it, then you will fulfill all of Christ’s commandment.”
This love would turn into a fiery fervor when the Apostle met false-prophets who corrupted the faithful and deprived them of eternal salvation. In one of the public houses, he met the false prophet Cerinthus who disclaimed the Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Let us depart quickly,” said the Apostle to his disciple “I fear this building might collapse around us.”
St. John the Theologian died a natural death (the only one of the Apostles to do so), being around 105 years of age, during the time of Emperor Trajan. The circumstances of the Apostles death appeared to be unusual and even puzzling. Upon the insistence of Apostle John, he was buried alive. On the following day, when the tomb was unearthed it turned out to be empty. This event somewhat affirmed the belief in the conjecture of some Christians that Apostle John will not die but will live until the Second coming of Christ and that he will unmask the Antichrist. The reason for such a surmise was served by the words said by the Saviour not long before his Ascension. To the question of Apostle Peter as to what will become with Apostle John, the Lord answered, “If I will that he remain until I come (the second time) what is that to you? You follow Me ” Apostle John makes a notation regarding this in his Gospel: ” This saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die” (John 21:22-23).
Troparion Tone 2
Apostle beloved of Christ our God,/ hasten to deliver a defenseless people./ He Who allowed thee to recline on His breast/ receives thee bowing in prayer, O John the Theologian./ Implore Him to dispel heathen persistence/ and to grant us peace and mercy.
Kontakion Tone 2
Who can tell of thy mighty works, O beloved Saint?/ Thou didst pour forth miracles./ Thou art a source of healing and dost intercede for our souls/ as Theologian and friend of Christ.