Saint Andrew, the Inspirational Apostle

Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Andrew, the Apostle. Saint Andrew was the brother of Saint Peter, and the first called of all the disciples. It was Saint Andrew who convinced his brother, Peter, to leave behind their fishing business and to follow Christ. Saint Andrew appears in the Bible by name on twelve separate occasions and can be found in all four gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles.

saint andrewSaint Andrew in the Bible

According to the gospel of John, prior to following Christ, Andrew had been a follower of John the Baptist. In the first chapter of John’s gospel we read about the ministry of John the Baptist and the calling of the first disciples:

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). (John 1:35-42)

One interesting thing about the Andrew of John’s gospel is that the story of his calling to discipleship differs from the other gospels. In Matthew and Mark, Andrew and Peter are called as Jesus is passing by the Sea of Galilee when he sees the brothers casting their net into the water. It is from those versions of the story that we have Christ speaking the memorable line: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” (Luke’s gospel is slightly more matter of fact. Rather than tell a story of the calling of the disciples, he merely states it as a fact, and lists the twelve that Christ called.)

saint andrewAnother unique thing about the Andrew of John’s gospel is the speaking role given to him as someone who was close to Christ. In the sixth chapter of John, we read that when Jesus was looking to feed the multitude, the apostle Philip was incredulous that it was possible to feed so many given the resources they had. “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little,” bemoans Philip. But then Andrew gives Christ exactly what he needs to perform the miracle. “There is a boy here,” Andrew says, “who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Of course, we all know how the story ends. These loaves and fish that Andrew points out are the same ones that Christ multiples such that the multitude are given enough to eat to satisfy their hunger. In fact, there are leftovers.

What lesson does Andrew learn here, and indeed, what lesson are we to take away from this story? We know that Andrew was a man searching for truth and for meaning beyond his own existence toiling as a fisherman. (And he sought it for his brother, Peter, too.) He so trusted and believed in John the Baptist that at John’s mere mention of Christ as the “Lamb of God,” Andrew left John’s side to learn more about Jesus. And after first collecting his brother, he spent a day with Jesus and came to believe. But now in this story he is confronted with the physical world and what may be perceived to be its limitations. Surely a couple of loaves of bread and some fish won’t be enough to feed the crowds. But then why did Andrew point out the boy who had these things? It’s Andrew’s impulsiveness and desire to problem-solve in the service of his Lord that leads Andrew to point out the food in the boy’s possession. But just as quickly as he points it out, does Andrew have a failure of imagination or a mini-crisis of faith? You can read it that way. This little bit can’t feed all these people, he says. Pretty straightforward. But is there something more behind his second sentence?

This story always reminds me of Mary’s request at the wedding feast at Cana where Christ performs his first public miracle by transforming the water meant for purification rituals into wine. Mary recognizes the embarrassment the bride and groom would feel if they knew that they hadn’t enough wine for all of their guests. “They don’t have any wine,” she tells her son. A simple enough statement. But behind those words there is a plea. A sort of a wink and a nod. You, Jesus, are the savior of the world. Despite the physical limitations, I believe that through you anything is possible. At first, in this story, Jesus hesitates. So what?, he basically says. That’s not my problem. But Christ can’t resist the prayers of his mother. We know how this story ends, too. He doesn’t just say “So what?” and then change the topic. He relents. He answers Mary’s request with a miracle.

saint andrewSo here, too, in this story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, we see Andrew in a similar situation. Andrew is a man of faith, a man searching after truth, and he has opted to follow Jesus because he believes in him. There’s a boy over here with a little bit to eat, he says. Then, maybe after a slight pause, he adds: but that’s certainly not enough, is it? Wink. Nod. Instead of hesitating as he does at the wedding feast of Cana, Jesus acts immediately. “Make the people sit down,” he says. And next thing you know, he is giving thanks for the little that they have, and through a miracle, makes that little bit enough for all.

Does that, then, remind you of anything? Listen to the words and acts of Christ as he is performing this miracle:

Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. (John 6:10-13)

This is a foreshadowing of the Last Supper. But more than that, it prefigures our Mass of today. During the Eucharistic celebration at Mass, the priest blesses the bread and, in the words of Christ, retells how he gives thanks. Have you ever been to a Mass where the Eucharistic ministers completely run out of communion? Me either. In fact, there are lots of stories of Eucharistic miracles throughout the ages involving a small amount of communion being enough for all attendees at the Mass. What does the priest do after everyone has received communion? Before cleaning up, have you ever seen him ensuring that all the crumbs are gathered and consumed? He does. He gathers up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost. Next time you’re at Mass, pay attention right after communion and see for yourself.

Saint Andrew’s Martyrdom and Relics

saint andrew crucifixionAfter Andrew’s travels and evangelizing visits around the Black Sea and as far as modern-day Russia, Saint Andrew was martyred by crucifixion, with one small twist. According to legend, Andrew did not see himself as worthy to die in the same manner that Christ died. At his request, he was crucified on an x-shaped cross, and may have been bound rather than nailed to it. From this legend and its resulting iconography, we have what is known as the Saint Andrew’s Cross, which is the X-shaped cross familiar to us in its many iterations, including on the flags of some countries such as Scotland, over which Saint Andrew is the patron saint. Fragments of this cross are to this day venerated as relics.

Portions of the cross of saint andrew
Fragments of the cross of Saint Andrew venerated as relics inside the cross-shaped reliquery. AFP/PHOTO OLGA MALTVA

Saint Andrew is also an important figure in Malta, Cyprus, Romania, Georgia, the Ukraine, Russia, and Georgia. Andrew also figures prominently in the Greek Orthodox Church, and is the patron saint of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. In some respects, it is this popularity among these various groups that has led to Saint Andrew having remarkably well-traveled relics. Besides the fragments of the cross on which he was crucified, relics of Saint Andrew include a finger and his skull. These relics have been in various locations at different times throughout history. At one point, the skull was enshrined in one of the central parts of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican by Pope Pius II. In 1964, Pope Paul VI ordered that all remaining relics of Saint Andrew held in the Vatican be sent back to Greece. Today, the majority of Andrew’s relics are held in veneration at the Basilica of Saint Andrew in Greece.

Saint Andrew as an Inspiration

I hope that after spending some time with Saint Andrew, as we have just done, that you feel called and inspired. I have to believe that these “takeaways” are what would please Saint Andrew the most. Andrew the man was the first called by Christ, and he inspired Christ to multiply the loaves and fish. The humility (and bravery!) he showed in his dying are also an example to us of faithful living, and dying faithfully. We should all feel called to continually seek the truth, following where Christ might lead, and having so much faith that even the impossible seems possible through Christ.

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