Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Photo of the Week

The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

- Romans 8:19, 21

Monday, February 17, 2020

Quote of the Week

(On pastoral ministry):

"What is the distinct service of the pastor-theologian? We reply: for confessing, comprehending, celebrating, communicating, commending and conforming themselves and others to what is in Christ.... In sum: the real work of theology is the work of getting real--conforming people's speech, thoughts, and actions to the mind and heart of Jesus Christ, the source and standard of all truth, goodness, and beauty."

- Kevin Van Hoozer, from The Pastor as Public Theologian

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

(Frescoes, Vank Cathedral, Armenian church in Isfahan, Iran; photo by Diego Delso, delso.photo, License CC-BY-SA)

O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions. Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly union and concord: that, as there is but one Body, and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may henceforth be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, that we may with one mind and one mouth glorify Thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
- Accession Prayer for the reign of King George I

Friday, February 14, 2020

Hymn of the Week: I Lift My Heart to God Alone

One of the major sub-genres of Protestant hymnography is the hymn of conversion or repentance. I didn't really have one in my corpus that fit that category, so I wrote one this week. It's to the tune of the old English song "O Waly Waly," often used as an alternate tune for "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross."

I Lift My Heart to God Alone

I lift my heart to God alone:
No idol shall receive my praise.
To the true faith I'm coming home,
There to abide all of my days.

Long have I wandered in the night,
Pursuing sin to ease my pain;
But now I'm turning to the light,
And finding peace in Jesus' name.

Lord, I repent! I bow my heart
In sorrow deep for all I've done;
And you your grace to me impart,
All through the merit of your Son.

His righteousness has clothed my soul
In beauty of his holy love;
By Jesus' blood I am made whole,
All praises be to God above!

Now let the voice of his redeemed
Rise up before him evermore;
May every word and every deed
Proclaim the glory of the Lord!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: Antony and the Desert Fathers

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.  - 1 Cor. 9:24-27

Antony and the Desert Fathers and Mothers

- Antony lived from 251 to 356 AD in Egypt 

- Born into a wealthy family, he renounced his wealth and went alone into the desert to pursue a life of prayer and virtue.

- The verse that changed Antony’s life was Matthew 19:21--"If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

- His biography, The Life of Antony, written in the 4th century by Athanasius, became one of the most influential books of all time and helped launch the Christian monastic movement worldwide.

- He is known as "The Father of All Monks," and was described as "a man of joy and of a settled state of soul."

- The Desert Fathers and Mothers include many men and women from the 3rd through the 5th centuries who renounced their former lives, fled into the wilderness, and lived lives of fasting, prayer, spiritual warfare, and the pursuit of holiness.

Quotes and Sayings

Abba Antony: "Let us not think, as we look at the world, that we have renounced anything of much consequence, for the whole earth is very small compared with the kingdom of heaven….Therefore let the desire for possessions take hold of no one, for what gain is it to acquire these things which we cannot take with us? Why not rather get those things which we can take away with us—things like prudence, justice, temperance, courage, understanding, love, kindness to the poor, faith in Christ, freedom from anger, and hospitality? If we possess these virtues, we shall find them preparing a welcome for us there in the land of the meek-hearted." (Life of Antony 1.17)

Abba Poemen: "A man will be always tripped up by that thing which he will not cut off from himself."

When Abba Macarius returned to his cell one day, he found a man stealing his belongings. He reacted calmly and helped the thief load his donkey with the objects from his cell. As the thief departed, Macarius recited the words of Job: "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."

Abba Agatho: "If an angry man raises the dead, God is still displeased with his anger."

A young man came to Abba Macarius and said, "I want to become a holy man by tomorrow’s end." Macarius smiled and said, "To be a holy man, what you must do is this: Spend the day at the cemetery, cursing the dead. Throw sticks and stones at them, call them names—whatever you can think of. Spend the whole day doing nothing but that." So the young man went and did as Abba Macarius had said. When he returned at the end of the day, Macarius asked him what the dead had said in response to his abuses. "Nothing," the young man replied. "They’re dead." So Macarius sent him back the next day and told him to spend the entire day doing nothing but praising the dead. "Call them righteous men and women, compliment them, say everything wonderful you can imagine." So the young man went out and spent the next day complimenting the dead. When he returned, Macarius asked him again how the dead had responded. "They didn’t say a word," said the young man. "Ah," Macarius replied. "They must be holy indeed. You insulted them, and they did not answer. You praised them, and they thought it of no account. Go and do likewise, my friend, taking no account either of the scorn of men or of their praises. And you too will be a holy man."

Abba Antony: "Don’t be afraid to hear about virtue….The Greeks travel all over the earth and cross the seas in their quest for knowledge. But we have no need to depart from home for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, nor to cross the sea for the sake of virtue….For it is not far from us, nor is it outside of ourselves, but the quest for virtue is within us, and is easy if only we are willing." (Life of Antony 1.20)

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Evangeliad (13:44-14:1)

Section 13:44-14:1 (corresponding to Luke 7:24-28; Matt. 11:7-11)

After John's followers turned and were gone,
Christ spoke to the gathered crowds about John:
"What did you go to the desert to see?
A wind-shaken reed? No? What did you see?

A man arrayed in the softest of clothes?
I'll tell you where you would find some of those--
The king's palaces hold such finery,
Herodian courts stuffed with luxury.

You went not to see such things. What then?
A prophet, the lowest and highest of men?
Indeed, and more than a prophet, I say,
For John is the one the Scriptures proclaimed:

'I'm sending my messenger before you appear,
To prepare the way for you to draw near.'
Believe what I say, for truly I speak:
None born of women is greater than he.

Yet now God does something new in my name,
Something of which John could only proclaim;
So the least of all in the kingdom of God
Shall be greater than all the greatness of John."

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Photo of the Week

Do not be in a greater hurry than the Most High.

- 2 Esdras 4:34 (Old Testament Apocrypha)

Monday, February 10, 2020

Quote of the Week

"This and this alone is Christianity--a universal holiness in every part of life."

- William Law, 17th-century Anglican divine

(Photo: Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “Heiligengrabe, Kloster Stift zum Heiligengrabe, Stiftskirche -- 2017 -- 7197-203” / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Saturday, February 08, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

Write upon our hearts, O Lord God, 
The lessons of your holy word, 
And grant that we may all be doers of the same, 
And not forgetful hearers only; 
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

- Alexander Campbell Fraser

Friday, February 07, 2020

Hymn of the Week: Strong and Courageous

This week's composition is based on the biblical scene of Joshua and the children of Israel making ready to enter the Promised Land after forty years of rebellions and wanderings in the desert. In that context, God tells Joshua over and over again to "be strong and courageous" (Josh. 1:6-9). The refrain for this hymn takes that line and combines it with Paul's sentiment in Romans 8:31: "If God is for us, who can be against us?" The verses then apply the sentiment of that scene to the challenge laid down before the individual Christian: assisted by God's grace, to press on into the Promised Land of abundant life by working to conquer sin and by accepting the victory of the holiness God has granted us as our birthright in Christ. I've set it to the tune of the well-known hymn "Showers of Blessing."

Strong and Courageous

I stand on the banks of the Jordan,
Facing the challenge ahead,
All my rebellions behind me,
Ready to press on instead.

     Strong and courageous,
     Strong and courageous I'll be;
     For if my God will be with me,
     Who then can stand against me?

God in his grace and his power
Bids me to enter the land,
Trusting that there in my battles
Strength I'll receive from his hand.


With my God's help I march onward,
Practicing all he imparts,
Planting the flag of his kingdom
Deep in the fields of my heart.


Sin's fortresses will all crumble;
I will be holy indeed;
For God has already conquered
And claimed the vict'ry for me!


Thursday, February 06, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: Justin Martyr

In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  - 1 Peter 3:15-16

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  - Jeremiah 29:13

Justin Martyr

- Justin Martyr (c.100-165 AD) was one of the most prominent theologians and defenders of the faith in the early church.

- Justin was born to a Greek family living in Palestine, but did not encounter Christianity while he was growing up. Instead, he became a student of philosophy and followed a personal search for truth by exploring the dominant Greek philosophies of his day: Stoicism, Aristotelianism, Pythagoreanism, and Platonism. Still finding himself unsatisfied, he was converted to Christianity through the personal witness of a random stranger who convinced him that Christianity was the only true philosophy.

- Justin became a wandering philosophy teacher, setting up schools in Ephesus and in Rome. His teaching influenced several major Christian figures, including Tatian and Irenaeus. He wrote a number of books, including two “Apologies” addressed to the Roman Emperor and the Senate, as well as a philosophical dialogue with an Ephesian Jew.

The Problem with Christianity (from the Roman Perspective)

1.) Christians refused to sacrifice to the gods, and they would even deny their existence. Thus they were known as “atheists” and were seen as a public danger, because the gods’ wrath might fall on their cities because of their impiety. Christians also refused to sacrifice to the cult of the Emperor, which made them seem like traitors and a danger to the very structure of Roman society.

2.) Christians celebrated a secret rite with one another in which they claimed to eat the flesh and drink the blood of their founder. Rumors abounded about what was really going on in Communion, and many people suspected the Christians to be cannibals or morally depraved in other ways.

3.) Christianity was a new religion and a new philosophy, only 100 years old in Justin’s day. By contrast, the religions of Greece and Rome had been in place for a millennium at least, and all the major philosophies had been around for four centuries or more. For a culture that venerated antiquity as a mark of truth, Christianity’s newness made it seem suspicious.

Justin Martyr addressed these and other concerns in his two “Apologies” (a Latin word for a “defense” of the faith). He argued (1) that Christians are not atheists, because they honor the one true God; and instead of sacrificing to the Emperor, they offered prayers on his behalf to God Almighty. (2) Justin gives a lengthy explanation of Communion, in which he shows us that 2nd-century Christians did believe that the elements were indeed “transmuted” into the flesh and blood of Christ. But far from being cannibals or morally depraved, Christians are marked by the pursuit of virtue and the common good, going so far as to even pray for their enemies. He also noted that Christian ethics tended to teach the same things, or even better things, than the most revered Greek philosophies did. (3) And he made a case for Christianity’s antiquity, rooting it in the fulfilled promises made to Abraham, Moses, and all the prophets of the Old Testament.

The Theory of the Logos

Justin takes the way that Jesus is described in John 1 as “the Word” (“logos” in Greek) and uses the idea to make a case for the goodness of philosophy. Logos was understood in Greek philosophy to mean the wisdom, the order, the logic of God—the principle of divine Reason that lay behind all things, held all things together, and revealed truth to all people, to whatever extent they were open to it. By making this case, Justin was able to claim for Christianity all the treasured wisdom of the Greek tradition:

“Whatever all men have uttered aright, then, belongs to us Christians.”

“He is the Word of whom every race of men partakes; and those who lived by their reason were Christians, even though they did not know it—such men among the Greeks were Socrates and Heraclitus.”

More Quotes from Justin:

[Relating the story of his conversion:] “Straightaway a flame was kindled in my soul, and a desire came over me to know the prophets, and the men who were friends of Christ. And as I revolved [the old man’s] words in my mind, I decided that this was the only philosophy safe and serviceable. Thus, and for these reasons, I am a philosopher….If then you have any care for yourself and are seriously searching for salvation and believe in God, you may…learn to know the Christ of God and live a life of happiness.”

“We who once enjoyed the pleasures of lust now embrace chastity. We who once resorted to magical arts, now dedicate ourselves to the good and unbegotten God. We who prized above all else the acquisition of wealth and possessions, now bring what we have into the common stock, and share with everyone in need. We who hated and destroyed one another, and, because their manners were strange, would not live with men of a different race, now since Christ has come, live familiarly with them and pray for our enemies. And our endeavor is to persuade those who hate us unjustly to live themselves by the good precepts of Christ, that they too may become partakers with us of the same joyful hope of reward from God, the ruler of us all.”

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

The Evangeliad (13:36-43)

Section 13:36-43 (Mark 6:12-13Matt. 11:2-6Luke 7:18-23)

The disciples went out, preaching good news
Among the cities and towns of the Jews;
They cast demons out, anointed to heal,
And then for repentance made their appeal.

Word of these things reached the ears of John's friends,
Those who had watched him go baptizing when
He had been free; but as he sat now in jail,
They came and of Jesus' work told the tale.

Then hearing these things, John sent them back out,
Out to find Jesus and ask him about
The things Messiah would do and would be,
And then to confirm it truly was he.

The disciples of John asked this of Christ
After beholding him heal and work signs:
"Are you the one who is coming, asks John,
Or should we expect still another one?"

So Christ answered them, "Go back and tell John
Of what you have heard, what you've seen been done:
The blind are receiving their sight, the lame walk,
The deaf, they can hear, the mute, they can talk--

The lepers are cleansed, the dead live again,
And the poor have good news preached unto them.
The kingdom the prophets foretold, it is come:
Blessed are those who don't turn from the Son!"

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Photo of the Week

How rich the depths of love divine,
Of bliss a boundless store!
Blest Savior, let me call Thee mine,
I cannot wish for more.

- Verse 4 of the hymn "Come, Holy Spirit, Guide My Song"

Monday, February 03, 2020

Quote of the Week

"There is only one really startling thing to be done with the ideal, and that is to do it."

- G. K. Chesterton, early 20th century Christian writer

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

Lord, my chief desire is to be rooted and grounded in you—
God-centered and God-absorbed, 
God-enthused and God-loved. 
How eager my soul is to know you and be still!

- Oswald Chambers

Friday, January 31, 2020

Hymn of the Week: As I Rise Today

Within the hymnographic tradition, there's a set of old songs that were written not for congregational use, but for personal, devotional hymn-singing. One such type was the "rising hymn," a song that one would sing during morning devotions, to thank the Lord for his safe-keeping through the night and commit to him the day to come. This new hymn falls within that old tradition, and I've deliberately written it with a rather antiquated word choice for that reason. I've written it to the tune of "Break Thou the Bread of Life."

As I Rise Today

Lord, as I rise today, I offer praise
Unto the God who watches all my ways:
Giving me restful sleep beneath His care,
As shepherds in their arms their lambs will bear.

Lord, Thou hast carried me to this new day;
As Thou hast done before and will always,
Preserve me by Thy pow'r, grant me Thy peace,
That I may go where'er Thou callest me.

Lord, as I rise today, let my heart be
Lifted in wonder and in praise to Thee!
On this day's pilgrimage, I consecrate
Each of my steps to follow all Thy ways.

Be glorified in this, my morning psalm,
As Thou art glorified in each new dawn.
With all creation I offer my praise,
Before Thy throne, Thou Ancient of all Days!

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: Ignatius & Polycarp

"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." - Luke 9:23-24

Ignatius of Antioch

Ignatius of Antioch (c.30-108 AD) was an early Christian church leader and one of the earliest major Christian writers, a member of the post-apostolic generation known as "the Apostolic Fathers" (others of whom included Polycarp, Clement of Rome, Papias, and Hermas). Ignatius was bishop of the city of Antioch, one of the major early Christian centers. He was arrested and brought to Rome for trial, where he suffered martyrdom in the arena. Along the course of his final journey, however, he left a lasting legacy for the faith: a series of letters written to the churches which he was passing by, which give us a unique window into the life and practice of the early post-apostolic church.

Quotes from Ignatius:

"Grant me nothing more than to be poured out as an offering to God....It is good to be setting from the world to God in order that I
may rise to Him."  - Ignatius to the Romans 2:1-2

"Now at last I am beginning to be a disciple! Fire and cross and battles with wild beasts, mutilation, mangling, wrenching of bones, the hacking of limbs, the crushing of my body, cruel tortures of the devil—let these come upon me, only let me reach Jesus Christ!....Him I seek, who died on our behalf; Him I long for, who rose for our sake."  - Ignatius to the Romans 5:3-6:1

"Pray continually for the rest of mankind as well, that they may find God....Allow them to be instructed by you, at least by your deeds. In response to their anger, be gentle; in response to their boasts, be humble; in response to their slander, offer prayers; in response to their errors, be steadfast in the faith; in response to their cruelty, be civilized; do not be eager to imitate them. Let us show by our forbearance that we are their brothers and sisters, and let us be eager imitators of the Lord."  - Ignatius to the Ephesians 10

Polycarp of Smyrna

Polycarp (69-155 AD) was another member of the generation of Apostolic Fathers, one who had learned directly from the Apostle John (and his protege Papias) late in the disciple's life. He was the bishop of the city of Smyrna in Asia Minor, known as a beloved pastor and a great intercessor. He, like Ignatius, left some of his own letters as a part of his legacy, but he is most well known for the story of his martyrdom, which inspired generations of early Christians. At the age of 86, he was pursued out of the city, arrested while at prayer, and brought to trial in the arena, where he gave a winsome defense of the Christian faith before being burned to death.

Quotes from and about Polycarp:

"Let us become imitators of Christ's patient endurance, and if we should suffer for the sake of his name, let us glorify him. For this is the example he set for us in his own person, and this is what we have believed."  - Polycarp to the Philippians 8:2

"When Polycarp heard that his captors had arrived [to arrest him], he went down and talked with them, and those who were present marveled at his age and his composure.... Then he immediately ordered that a table be set for them to eat and drink as much as they wished, and he asked them to grant him an hour so that he might pray undisturbed. When they consented, he stood and prayed, so full of the grace of God that for several hours he was unable to stop speaking. Those who heard him were amazed, and many regretted that they had come after such a godly old man."  - The Martyrdom of Polycarp 7:2-3

(Polycarp's response when the magistrate asked him to renounce Christ:) "For eighty-six years I have been his servant, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?" - The Martyrdom of Polycarp 9:3

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Evangeliad (13:30-35)

Section 13:30-35 (Matt. 11:1Luke 10:38-42)

All of these things Jesus said to his twelve,
Then sent them out and went on by himself,
To continue his teaching along the way,
His preaching work, to seek and to save.

Sisters in one town, Martha and Mary,
Received him with joy; asked him to tarry
There in their home, to rest and to teach
While they offered him hospitality.

He came inside, and while he was speaking,
Mary sat there to drink in his teaching.
But Martha was serving, busy with tasks,
Till in frustration she came up and asked:

"Lord, don't you care that Mary is shirking
Her duty to serve? She should be working!
Instead, she left me to serve all alone--
Tell her to help, that the work may be done."

"Martha, Martha," Christ said unto her,
"Many things trouble you, beyond just the work:
A burden of anxiousness bears down on you
In all of these things you're trying to do.

Just one thing is needed, one thing alone:
Come unto me and find rest for your soul.
Mary has chosen the best lot by far,
And nothing will take it away from her heart."

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Photo of the Week

One privilege my heart desires:
O grant me an abode
Among the churches of Thy saints,
The temples of my God!

- from Isaac Watts' hymnographic rendering of Psalm 27

Monday, January 27, 2020

Quote of the Week

"Great and ineffable are the promises held out to Christians, so great, indeed, that all the glory and beauty of heaven and earth and all other attractions in such rich variety, the riches and comeliness, the delights of visible scenes, cannot measure up to the faith and riches of a single soul."

- from The Fifty Spiritual Homilies of Abba Macarius (4:17)

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

Rule over me this day, O God,
Leading me on the path of righteousness.
Put your word in my mind and your truth in my heart,
That this day I neither think nor feel
Anything except what is good and honest.
Protect me from all lies and falsehood,
Helping me to discern deception wherever I meet it.
Let my eyes always look straight ahead on the road you wish me to tread,
That I might not be tempted by any distraction.
And make my eyes pure,
That no false desires may be awakened within me.

- Jacob Boehme

Friday, January 24, 2020

Hymn of the Week: The Kingdom of God

This week's hymn is a reflection on the New Testament's teachings about the Kingdom of God, and the chorus is an exultant prayer for its reality to be made ever more manifest in us and in our world. I've written it to a version of the classic Shaker tune "Tis a Gift to Be Simple." 

The Kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God was proclaimed by Christ,
And set in our midst by his incarnate life;
Its gates thrown open by his sacrifice
And his bursting from the grave alive.

     Lord, let your Kingdom come in pow'r!
     May this be the day, may this be the hour!
     As you pour out your Spirit and you send us forth,
     May all nations come to praise you, Lord!

As the Church was sent out, in the Spirit's grace,
They called for all mankind to follow the Way;
By teaching of Christ and proclaiming his reign,
The Kingdom of God marched on in his name.


Now the Kingdom of God is present today
Here in this Body and here in this place;
And we who are priests of that Kingdom pray
And go in its power, to seek and save.


The Kingdom is already here, but still
Not yet in its fullness, as one day it will;
And so we yearn for the trumpet call
When the God who reigns will be All in All.

     (Chorus x2)

(Photo above by PtrQs, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license)

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: Minor New Testament Figures ("The Rest of the Story")

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” - John 15:15-16a

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” - Ephesians 2:10

The Woman at the Well
In John 4, Jesus has a long conversation with a Samaritan woman at a well in the town of Sychar. The Gospel doesn’t give us much information about the woman other than that she had had five husbands and that she became a believer in Christ and convinced most of her town to believe in him too. According to tradition, she took the Christian name Photini, and her many children also became Christians. Because of her active witness for the sake of Christ, she was given the high title of “equal to the apostles.” Her evangelization was so effective that it drew the attention of Emperor Nero, who had her tortured and then martyred by being thrown down the shaft of a dry well.

Mary Magdalene
Mary Magdalene is a prominent character in the Gospels. She seems to have become a follower of Jesus after he cast seven demons out of her (Luke 8:2; Mark 16:9), and she was present for most of his ministry. She was one of the faithful women who stood at the foot of his cross and who brought spices to the tomb on Easter Sunday. According to John, Mary was the very first person to whom the resurrected Christ appeared (John 20:11-18). She is sometimes also identified as the “sinful woman” who anoints Jesus in an act of love and penitence, but neither the Gospels nor tradition is clear whether this is actually Mary Magdalene or someone else. (The Eastern churches have always thought that, far from being a sinful penitent, she was actually so pure and chaste that the devil suspected that she would be the one to bear the Messiah, and that’s why he had sent seven demons to afflict her.) After the story of the New Testament ends, the most reliable early traditions relate that she lived as a companion and helper to Mary, Jesus’ mother, and perhaps emigrated to Ephesus later in life.

The Boy that Jesus Called to Stand with the Disciples
In the Gospels, there’s a story in which the disciples are fighting over who is the greatest. In response, Jesus calls a little child over, has him stand among the disciples, and then takes him in his arms (Mark 9:36). According to tradition, that boy was Ignatius of Antioch, one of the greatest leaders of the early church. Ignatius served as bishop of the churches in Syria for many years; he left us a set of letters written to other churches that continue to instruct and inspire Christians to this day; and he died as a martyr in Rome.

Lazarus, Mary, and Martha
These three siblings from Bethany were some of Jesus’ closest friends and often appear in Gospel stories. Tradition tells us that they were among the Christians who were scattered by the first persecution, organized by Saul (later Paul) after Stephen’s death in Jerusalem (Acts 7:59-8:4). They spent some time traveling and spreading the Gospel before eventually going to the island of Cyprus, where they settled, and Lazarus became the bishop of the city of Kition.

In the first chapter of Acts, the disciples decide to select a new apostle to fill the vacant role left behind by Judas. Matthias, who had been a follower of Jesus during his ministry, was chosen. Like the other apostles, he was given a commission as a missionary, and he traveled to the regions of northern Turkey and the Caucasus mountains, spreading the Gospel in what is now the modern country of Georgia (and Georgia is still a majority-Christian country to this day). He was martyred by being stoned to death.

Philip the Evangelist
This Philip (distinct from Philip the disciple) was one of the seven original deacons chosen by the Jerusalem church. He is recorded in the book of Acts as being a powerful evangelist, and he was the first to preach the Gospel to the Samaritans (Acts 8) and along the coast of Palestine, where he settled for awhile in Caesarea (Acts 21:8). Tradition tells us that later on, he moved further north and became the bishop of the church in Tralles (in modern Turkey).

The Ethiopian Eunuch
Acts 8 tells the story of Philip’s most famous convert, the Ethiopian eunuch who was riding home in a chariot, reading the Scriptures, when he came across Philip, who led him to the faith. Reliable early traditions tell us that this eunuch, Simeon Bachos by name, stayed in Palestine a bit longer to learn more about Christ and the church, and he is often thought to be Simeon Niger (Niger means “the Black”), who is mentioned as part of the church of Antioch in Acts 13:1. Eventually he returned home to Ethiopia, where he preached the Gospel and helped to found one of the most ancient traditions of Christianity—the Ethiopian Orthodox Tawahedo Church—which is still the largest religious affiliation in Ethiopia today.

In Acts 10, the Lord leads Peter to a Roman centurion named Cornelius, a devout man who immediately converts upon hearing the Gospel. He is considered to be the first Gentile convert to Christianity (since the Ethiopian eunuch had been a convert to Judaism before becoming a Christian), and this leads the Jerusalem church to realize that the Gospel is not just for Jews. Tradition tells us that Cornelius, upon retiring from the Roman military, entered pastoral ministry and became the bishop of a church.

Acts tells us that Barnabas was Paul’s first missionary partner, highly respected by the leaders of the churches of Jerusalem and Antioch. Together they evangelized throughout Cyprus and southern Turkey before splitting up to continue their missions separately, each now with junior partners. Mark accompanied Barnabas on his subsequent evangelism tours, and was a witness to Barnabas’ martyrdom, when an angry mob of Jews dragged him out of the synagogue and stoned him to death.

According to tradition, Luke was a doctor who accompanied Paul on some of his later missionary journeys, and he became the author of the books of Luke and Acts. Although tradition relates that he was also a martyr, he seems to have been one of the few major Christian leaders who managed to live to an old age—he died at 84 years old, in Boeotia, Greece. Another early tradition tells us that Luke was also the first Christian artist, and that he began the long and venerable tradition of sacred artwork by painting an icon of the Virgin Mary with the Christ child.

We first see Timothy as a young protégé of Paul’s, added to his mission team during a tour through the interior of Turkey. Timothy becomes one of the core members of Paul’s team throughout the remainder of the great missionary’s ministry. Near the end of Paul’s life, Timothy is entrusted with leading the church of Ephesus, one of Paul’s most treasured congregations, and it was there that he received the letters of 1 and 2 Timothy. He served as bishop of that city for the rest of his life until, in the year 97, he attempted to stop a pagan festival procession honoring the goddess Artemis by preaching the Gospel in the middle of the street; he was beaten to death.

Apollos was one of the most gifted preachers and Bible teachers in the early church. Acts 18 tells us that he had learned the Gospel in Alexandria, Egypt, and then came to Ephesus to preach. While there, Paul’s friends Priscilla and Aquila mentored him and taught him some of the finer points of doctrine. Then he was sent off to Greece, where his ministry blossomed powerfully. However, he was such a charismatic teacher that some people in the church of Corinth, dissatisfied with Paul, decided to claim that they were followers of Apollos alone (1 Cor. 1:12). Tradition tells us that Apollos was so disgusted by this state of affairs that he left Corinth for awhile and went to preach on the island of Crete. A few years later, after Paul’s letters to Corinth had set that church back in order, Apollos returned and became its bishop. Though tradition doesn’t tell us the name of the author of Hebrews, many later scholars speculated that Apollos, of all the New Testament characters we know, is probably the best fit.

In the book of Philemon, we hear about a young slave named Onesimus, a Christian, who has fled from his master and taken refuge with Paul. Paul decides to send Onesimus back to Philemon his master (who is also a Christian), with firm instructions that he is to be treated as a brother and not as a slave. We know from other sources that this same Onesimus was freed from slavery by Philemon, was appointed for ministry by the apostles, and that he served as the bishop of Ephesus, one of the leading Christian cities in the world, after Timothy died. Ignatius of Antioch, in fact, mentions Onesimus by name as the bishop of Ephesus in his letter to that church. Onesimus continued serving in that ministry for at least a decade before being imprisoned and martyred.

Jude the Brother of Jesus
We know very little about Jude from the New Testament, other than that he was one of those considered to be a brother (or other close relation) of Jesus, along with James the Just. He was the author of the book of Jude. But we do have an interesting little story about Jude’s children, who were also Christians. In the 90s AD, the Emperor Domitian was engaged in a series of persecutions against Christians. He was wary of Jewish messianic movements to begin with, and he had heard rumors about Christ establishing “the kingdom of God.” So he had some of his officials round up a few of the living descendants of David still in Palestine, and they happened to be the children and grandchildren of Jude. Emperor Domitian asked them about their wealth and power and examined their hands, all of which proved that they were no more than simple farmers and peasants. Then he questioned them about the nature of Christ’s kingdom, and they explained to him that it was a spiritual kingdom at this stage of history, and would only become an earthly kingdom at the end of the world. Their courageous honesty convinced Domitian to put a halt to the persecution of Christians, because he no longer saw them as a danger. For this, the family of Jude was honored throughout the church, and many went into ministry leadership in the congregations of Palestine.