On the 5th of Epip (July 12th), the Church celebrates the Feast of the Apostles, which follows the holy fast bearing the name of our fathers the Apostles. This fast begins on the day following the Feast of Pentecost, the day on which the Church was established. The 5th of Epip was specifically chosen to be the Feast of the Apostles since it is the day commemorating the martyrdom of Sts. Peter and Paul in Rome in 67 A.D. However, our Church celebrates the commemoration of the martyrdom of the rest of the apostles as well. We celebrate the martyrdom of St. Andrew the Apostle on the 4th of Kiahk (Dec. 13th), the martyrdom of St. James the Elder, the son of Zebedee, on the 17th of Paramouda (April 25th), and the martyrdom of St. Bartholomew, a.k.a. Nathanael, on the first of Tout (Sept. 11th). Also the martyrdom of St. Philip is commemorated on Hatour 18th (Nov. 17th), the martyrdom of St. Matthew on Babah 14th (Oct. 24th), and St. James the son of Alphaes, the brother of our Lord, on Epip 18th. Also the Church celebrates the departure of St. John the Beloved on Toubah 4th (Jan. 12th).
The Selection of the Twelve Apostles
The Holy Bible mentions that our Lord Jesus Christ chose the Twelve Apostles from amongst His disciples as mentioned in the Gospel of St. Luke, "Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles." (Luke 6: 12-13) In the Gospel of St. Mark, it is written, "And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons." (Mark 3: 13-15) Also the Gospel of St. Matthew mentions how the twelve were chosen, "And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them the power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease." (Matt. 10:1)
Prior to choosing the Twelve Apostles, our Lord Jesus Christ chose some of them individually. At the beginning of His ministry in Galilee, while our Lord Jesus Christ was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Peter and Andrew casting their net into the sea for they were fishermen. " Then He told them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ They immediately left their nets and followed Him." (Matt. 4:19-20) Then He saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother and, "He called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him." (Matt. 4: 21-22) (Also review Matt. 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20, and Luke 5:1-11)
St. John in his Gospel recounts how he and St. Andrew encountered Christ. (John 1: 35-42) He narrates the story of how John the Baptist witnessed that Christ is the Lamb of God infront of two of his disciples. After which, the two disciples followed Christ and stayed with the Lord Jesus that day. One of the two disciples, whose name is mentioned, was St. Andrew, who found his brother Simon and told him, "We have found the Messiah (which is translated, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, ‘You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas (which is translated, A Stone)." (John 1: 41-42) The other disciple, whose name is not mentioned, is most likely St. John the Evangelist himself, since he recalls precisely the details of this meeting, such as the hour they met, the 10th hour (John 1:39); this was not mentioned in the other three gospels.
The Gospel of St. John also tells of how Christ called St. Philip, then Philip found Nathaniel (Bartholomew), who after encountering Christ confessed that Christ is the Son of God and the King of Israel (John 1:43-51). In Matthew 9:9, Mark 2:14, and Luke 5: 27-28, the Holy Bible tells us how Christ invited Matthew the tax collector (Levi).
By these accounts, we can see that our Lord Jesus Christ called His disciples individually at various occasions. Although the calling may have been similar with some, yet it differed from one to the other. Then at a certain time, He chose them as a group of twelve, called them Apostles, and gave them power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons (Mark 3:15). He sent them on their mission to preach about the Kingdom of Heaven. He gave them advice and instructions, explaining to them the difficulties they will encounter (Matt. 10: 5-42). St. Luke the Evangelist narrated how Christ appointed seventy others and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go (Luke 10: 1-12). When St. Luke wrote, "After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also…"(Luke 10:1) he is distinguishing this mission from that of the Twelve Apostles, and also is showing that it came after the calling and mission of the Twelve.
Why did the Lord Choose Twelve Apostles? Was it just a coincidence or does the number twelve denote a special significance?
H.G. Bishop Gregorios, the general bishop for Scientific Studies, mentions in his book titled "The Twelve Apostles" that the great Teacher, our Lord Jesus Christ, had a certain reason for choosing twelve apostles. The number twelve is one of the numbers symbolizing perfection in the Holy Bible. Therefore, the tribes of Israel were twelve and there were the twelve patriarchs (Acts 7:8, Acts 26:8, James 1:1). The Twelve Apostles of Christ will sit on twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28 and Luke 22: 28-30).
In the Book of Revelation, there is a symbol of the Twelve Apostles. It is written, "Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars." (Rev. 12:1) The woman symbolizes the Church or the Holy Virgin Mary, the sun is our Lord Jesus Christ, the moon is John the Baptist, and the twelve stars are the Twelve Apostles. In talking about the Heavenly Jerusalem, the Book of Revelation mentions that "the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." (Rev. 21: 14)
The number twelve has many meanings and is important in the economy of our salvation. Therefore, when they became one less after the betrayal of Judas and his perdition, it was necessary to choose someone to replace him to fulfill the prophecy of Psalm 109:8, which St. Peter mentioned. At that time, the disciples were 120 and St. Peter stood in their midst and asked for a replacement of Judas from amongst those who accompanied the Lord and witnessed His acts and Resurrection. They chose St. Matthias the Apostle (Acts 1:15-26).
The Names of the Twelve
The Gospels of St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke, as well as the Book of Acts mention the names of the Twelve Apostles. St. Luke mentioned them as follows: "Simon, whom He named Peter, and Andrew his brother; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew; Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the zealot; Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor." (Luke 6:14-16) The names are mentioned exactly the same by St. Luke in the Book of Acts, except he did not mention Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:13). St Mark lists the names as follows: "Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is ‘Sons of Thunder'; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, the son of Alphaes, Thaddeus, Simon the Cananite and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him." (Mark 3: 16-19) Here, St. Mark mentions Judas, the brother of James by his other name, which is Thaddeus, and mentions Simon the Cananite in reference to his town, Cana.
In the list mentioned by St. Matthew (Matt. 10: 2-4), he refers to St. Judas, the brother of James the son of Alphaeus, by his name Lebbaeus, whose surname was also Thaddeus; he is the one who wrote the Epistle of Jude, which is one of the catholic epistles in the New Testament. As for Simon, he is mentioned as Simon the Cananite, a.k.a. Simon the Zealot.
St. John the Evangelist does not list the names of the Twelve Apostles, but mentions some of their names at different occasions. The new name, which is mentioned in his gospel and not in the other three gospels, is Nathaniel. He is mentioned twice. Once when Philip called him to meet Christ and was hesitant at first, then he met Christ and believed in Him (John 1: 45-51). The other time, he is mentioned is when St. John recounted how the Lord appeared to His disciples at the Sea of Tiberias and he called him Nathaniel of Cana in Galilee (John 21: 2). As revealed in the Gospel of St. John, we notice that St. Philip played a role in the calling of Nathaniel to meet Christ; he then followed Christ. We also notice that the other three gospels mention the name of Bartholomew after Philip and don’t mention the name Nathaniel. Therefore, it is believed that Bartholomew is Nathaniel, as confirmed by many of the scholars of the Holy Bible.
Honoring our Fathers the Apostles
Our Church honors our Fathers the Apostles by preserving their teachings. One of the main characteristics of a Church is that She must be an Apostolic Church, i.e. one whose doctrines are based on the teachings of the Apostles, who witnessed to the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, His death, and His glorious Resurrection. We place their icons on the inconstasis to remind us that our Church is an Apostolic Church. We celebrate their feasts to commemorate their martyrdom, so we may follow in their footsteps in preserving the true faith, and so that we may be ready to deny ourselves and like the Fathers the Apostles follow Christ and carry the cross.
May our Lord protect our Church and help us, until the last breath, to be faithful in preserving the teachings of our Fathers the Apostles.