Wednesday, December 31, 2014

First Sunday after Christmas Day

Sermon by the Rev'd Dr. Philip Wainwright, Priest Associate of St. Andrew's Church
Luke 2: 22-40

Simeon and Anna are not usually thought of as part of the Christmas story, but I think when you look at Luke’s gospel, you’d have to say that Luke thinks they are, and I’m going to take the author’s word for it! Let’s look and see how Luke uses them to complete his explanation of the significance of the Christmas story.

In Luke 2 v 20, the Shepherds go back from Bethlehem to their flocks praising God, but Luke goes on to describe how Mary and Joseph did all the things that any Jewish parents would have done for any Jewish first-born boy. In v 21 he tells us that Jesus was circumcised when He was 8 days old, and this would have been done in Bethlehem. If the traditional dating is correct, the wise men did not arrive in Bethlehem till 12 days after Jesus was born, so Mary and Joseph were still in Bethlehem then, and in fact they had to stay there, because the law required a forty day quarantine before Mary could go out in public. According to Leviticus 12, which is the ‘Law of Moses’ referred to in the first verse of our reading from Luke this morning, a new mother was considered unclean, because of the blood involved in child-birth, for forty days after giving birth. This was not because childbirth was considered a sin, but because blood was so sacred, so connected with life itself, that any shedding of it, even in a natural and God-given event like childbirth, was a consequence of sin that needed to be atoned for. That childbirth would be attended by pain and suffering instead of being a gentle and easy thing was the first thing God said to Eve after her disobedience. So Mary’s first public appearance after the birth of Jesus would be for the ceremony of purification that ended that forty day period. Incidentally, all this was to the people of the time quite well-known and normal, so the unknown Bethlehem innkeeper deserves some appreciation; when he realised he had a woman about to give birth on his hands, he knew first that it was going to be a mess and second that it meant she was stuck on his property for forty days, 74 days if she had a girl, so even the offer of the stable at the back of the inn was very generous!

But eventually the new family set out for Jerusalem, which was on their way back to their home in Nazareth, for the formal end of the quarantine, which meant a sacrifice. The prescribed sacrifice was that of a lamb and a turtle-dove, although if the family was too poor to afford a lamb, the Old Testament said they could sacrifice two doves instead, and in v 24 Luke (without mentioning that it’s the option for the poor) tells us that that’s what Mary and Joseph did. So we know that Mary was not exaggerating when she said, after the angel had told her that the baby she was going to bear would be the Messiah, that God had blessed her despite her ‘humble estate’.

You’ll notice that Luke talks about the time coming for their purification, rather than her purification. This is puzzling, because the Old Testament doesn’t say that the husband or the baby needed the purifying sacrifice. It was only the mother’s blood that was shed. I think Luke is reminding the reader of the broader meaning of sacrifice, in which all human beings are sinners in need of the reconciliation with God that the sacrifices symbolised. Mary needed purification because of the blood of childbirth, but both she and Joseph needed purification in a deeper sense because they were sinful human beings, and it’s as well to remember that this is Jesus’s first contact with the rôle of sacrifice in restoring mankind to God, for which He was eventually to give His own blood.

The purification was not the only ceremony that was required in the case of Jesus. When Luke says in v 22 they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord he is talking about the fact that for the first-born male, the Old Testament had a special provision, described in Exodus 13, just after the Jews had escaped from slavery in Egypt. The quote in v 23 is from that passage in Exodus. You’ll remember that their escape was made possible by the death of the first-born of every family in Egypt that didn’t have the blood of the lamb painted on the doorpost; the Jews had painted that blood, and so the angel of death ‘passed over’ them. But, God said as He led them towards the Red Sea and freedom, your first-born are also Mine: all first-born male animals you will sacrifice to me, and your first-born sons you must either give me or redeem by substituting something else in their place. The first-born was significant because it made possible the continuation of the family, and was given to God at least partly to express their faith that the family was in God’s hands, and was part of the plan God had made for the salvation of the human race. The first-born was chosen for the sake of the whole family, just as the people of Israel were God’s chosen people for the sake of the whole of humanity. All Israel is holy to the Lord, the first fruits of his harvest, says the prophet Jeremiah. Five shekels of silver was the amount to be given to redeem a first-born son. Luke doesn’t mention the payment, perhaps because he thinks it wasn’t really necessary in Jesus’s case, since He was the Lord’s in such a unique way. Luke didn’t want anything to obscure the importance of the moment when the one destined to shed His own blood for the sins of the whole world was first brought into the sacrificial system. But Mary and Joseph did not yet have this understanding, and doubtless paid the silver to redeem their first-born. A symbol of what is to come, and an amazing moment in itself: the Redeemer of the world, Himself redeemed according to the law!

Christ’s redeeming work is also fore-shadowed by the words of Simeon and Anna at these ceremonies, and Luke tells us about each of them in turn. In v 25 he tells us that Simeon was looking for ‘the consolation of Israel.’ This was a standard phrase for the coming of the Messiah, and it’s clear that the promised Messiah was much on Simeon’s heart. Even two thousand years ago there were many Jews who had grown tired of waiting for the Messiah; he had been prophesied 800 years earlier, but had still not come. Simeon was one of those who still eagerly expected God’s promise to be kept, and v 26 says that God had promised him that he would see the Messiah with his own eyes before he died. So Simeon, guided by the spirit, went into the Temple, and was sitting there when Mary and Joseph came in carrying the baby.

At that point, v 28 tells us, Simeon immediately recognized Who this baby was. He took the baby in his arms and began to thank God that he, Simeon, had indeed seen the promised Messiah. His words are recorded in v 29: Lord, now I can go in peace, as you promised. I’ve seen with my own eyes the salvation which you have prepared. This is often taken as a reference to Simeon’s death: now I can die content. But that’s only because of v 26, It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. The language is also that of a duty done; Lord, you’re setting me free. I’ve been on watch all this time, now I’m free to go. It could as easily mean that Simeon was free to live in peace as to die in peace, and what’s important to Simeon is that peace has arrived, peace with God, peace with man, peace with life.

Simeon has more to say. Verse 34, This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed. The word translated ‘rising’ is the word usually translated as ‘resurrection’—it occurs 42 times in the New Testament, and refers to resurrection from the dead in all but one of the other passages. There seems nothing else that it can mean here than this child is set for the fall and resurrection of many; ‘fall’ in that He will call all mankind to repent for the forgiveness of sin, and ‘resurrection’ in that He will bring about victory over death, the consequences of sin, for all those who believe in Him. Simeon is seeing in the distance the results of the Messiah’s coming in these words. He sees also the hatred of Jesus that will be the reaction of some of those who hear about Him: He is a sign that will be opposed. Prophetic words, that are fulfilled on the morning of Good Friday when the crowds are chanting ‘crucify Him, crucify Him,’ and which continue to be fulfilled to this day whenever people dismiss the gospel as impossible or irrelevant.

Finally, Anna: she comes into the picture in v 36, where she is described as an elderly prophetess. We need to put that description in perspective: the Jews of that day believed that prophecy had ceased with Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets. They didn’t believe that God had sent any more prophets since. So it is either Luke himself, or more probably the earliest Christians, who recognised Anna as a prophet. A Christian prophet is one who speaks publicly the truth in God’s word about Jesus Christ. Mary and Zechariah and Simeon had all spoken the truth about Jesus in words drawn almost verbatim from the Old Testament, but Anna is the first to do so publicly. Verse 38 tells us that she came into the Temple at the very moment that Simeon was speaking, and she too gave thanks to God, as Simeon had; but she did more: she  began to… speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. Anna was the first Christian preacher, the first evangelist, and one of the great heroes of the Christian faith.

Luke was a careful writer. It is no accident that in beginning his book about Jesus and His followers with the story of Jesus’s birth, he includes all the major themes that will recur throughout the book: not only Who Jesus is, but how men and women are to take the truth about Who He is into the world. It is the completion of the Christmas story, because it makes clear why Christmas is worth celebrating: it is truly the saviour of the world who was born in that stable. Let those with faith in Him not only worship Him, but make sure the whole world knows He came to offer eternal life and peace to the whole world.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve

Hark! the Glad sound, the Savior comes, the Savior promised long; let every heart prepare a throne, and every voice a song.

Good evening, and grace and peace, all of us with his song in our hearts, all the hymns and carols and joyful anthems, with choirs of angels,  in the Name of our Newborn King Jesus, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and  ever.   Amen.

A word of welcome in this holy night.  Old friends and new friends always, travelers, visitors, kids home from school for the winter break.  I know as I stand at the back of the church and listen to the musical prelude each year at this service how I am struck again and again by the sense of what a high privilege and a gift it is, truly, that in all the places on God’s earth that we could be tonight, he has seen fit to bring us here.  Good old St. Andrew’s.  Just to take that in. 

That’s what Rick says when he sees Ilsa at the Café Americaine in Casablanca.  “All the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, and she walks into mine.”  Of course we know that there are no accidents, no coincidences. 

It is destiny, that we would be here tonight. I really do belief that: the Baby in the Manger, God from God, light from light, very God from Very God-- his intention for us from the beginning of time.  For some reason, for his own reasons, and they are hard to figure out sometimes, he wants us here.  Perhaps because there’s something he knows we need, a word he knows we need to hear or to speak or to pray or to sing that could happen in that particular and necessary way in no other place but tonight at St. Andrew’s.  Wondering what it might be tonight.  What unexpected gift he has hidden under the tree, with our name written on it. 

Perhaps something that will be shared with us.  Perhaps something we’ve been called here to share with someone else.  A word, a smile, a kindness of some sort, a Christmas greeting.  Who knows what difference that might make?  Or perhaps the reason will remain a mystery, as there is so much mystery in this night.

In the wide world things seeming out of sorts, off-kilter.  Headlines elbowing each other off the front page and messing with the Christmas shopping circulars—from Pakistan to North Korea to the streets of our own cities and neighborhoods.  Sometimes just needing to put the newspaper down, to change the channel on the radio. 

But to say again, in the midst of all this, and in the midst of everything that is going on in our own lives.  Not newspaper headlines, but for us, on the front page.  Family, those we love.  What’s going on in our own thoughts, in our hearts.  The up’s and down’s, victories and defeats. 

This particular year, he wanted us here tonight.   

We would come tonight not simply to acknowledge and celebrate his birth, long ago and far away.  Baby Jesus, the son of Mary, born in the days of Herod the king.  But as St. John reminds us, behind the Christmas Card scene there is a lot more going on.   This baby’s cry, ringing in the dark streets of Bethlehem, marks the pivot of cosmic history.  Our lives and our world.

The victory of God in Christ, the Dayspring from on high, a new heaven and a new earth. 

May seem a little hard to get our head around that, late at night, by candle light.  But this is the real story.  Not a sentimental fairy tale, long ago and far away.  But something real, happening.   God intervening.  Word made flesh, to dwell with us.  His birth, and our salvation.  Forgiveness, healing, mercy, and blessing.  Full of grace and truth.  

We walk past the crèche, and under the great Rood Beam, that massive cross, and the inscription, “And I if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me.”   The old world passes away. 

So simply to say that the take-away about Christmas isn’t Christmas, but what happens after Christmas.  The story that unfolds along the road from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, and the story that continues to unfold across the centuries, to this night in Highland Park.  Incorporating all our lives.  The generous, costly giving of God’s free and precious gift of himself.  To us and for us. 

 If we watch as bystanders, the day will pass and the New Year will come and life will go back to being what it was before.  But if we allow him to meet us here and to make us a part of his story, nothing will ever be the same again. 

It is his grace and love that can make a difference, here in this world, for us.

May there be for all of us in this Christmas the compassionate heart of Jesus himself, his love, and a tenderness of our hearts, a gentle spirit, kindness, peace.  We would trust in him.  Open our eyes and ears and minds and hearts as he approaches, as he is born.  Christmas beginning this night, one Christian at a time, until in Christ it will be all Christmas, all the time.  Blessings to you, and with much love.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Fourth Advent

It is a simple but I think also poetically and symbolically suggestive observation that the word Bethlehem, the little town of our Savior’s birth, is drawn from two Hebrew words, for “house” and “bread."

I’m not sure if that’s because in some deep background of antiquity this was a village of bakers. I guess names and titles don’t always come about in such obvious and literal ways. But the echoing is nonetheless interesting and meaningful I think, in a devotional way.  A holy resonance.

We never have one thing at a time.  Words, images, meanings jumble together.  And the journey of Mary and Joseph through these early winter days and nights from Nazareth to Joseph’s ancestral home connects us even now on the Fourth Sunday of Advent to that gathering as the Promised Child of Bethlehem would one day take the loaf in his hands and say,  “this is my Body, given for you.”

Picture for a moment, the manger itself a kind of Holy Table, where, in our hearts and minds, the wood of the Cross becomes real for us, where he has given himself for us and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  The Lord’s Supper.

The Manger his Throne. King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  His Mercy Seat. The royal platform of his abundant generosity and healing and blessing.

It is my hope and prayer that through this Advent and as we fly along into Christmas this week, each of you, all of us, may know and experience his mercy, his abundant generosity, his healing,  his blessing.  As the carol says, “Good Christian men rejoice, with heart and soul and voice: Christ was born for this.  Christ was born for this.”

The reading from Second Samuel builds a long line of connection from the story of King David to the story of his son King Solomon. As we hear this passage this morning we of course know already that Solomon built a great Temple on the holy hill of Zion. But we know as well that the true home of the Lord of heaven and earth is in the hearts of his people, where he is and will be enthroned forever. 

And in the womb of Mary is the Word made flesh.  The Lord, in his holy Temple.   Let all the earth fall quiet before him.  As we notice with the beautiful Annunciation panel in the Clara Miller Burd Nativity Window, in the South Transept.  Just to pause with her in our minds and hearts on this Fourth Advent Sunday.  Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you.  Blessed among women.  Blessed the fruit of thy womb.

Many streams, flowing together this morning, contributing to a deeper river of meaning.  The beginning of the story, and it’s end.  Last Sunday the whole story unfolded right up the center aisle of St. Andrew’s Church. With thanks once again to the kids, who know this story by heart.  The Angel Gabriel. Mary and Joseph, angels and shepherds, the Baby in the Manger. The Star. The Wise Men from the East, at the end of their long journey. 

It’s hard to think of a story that we’ve heard more often. A child is born in Bethlehem. The town that is called “House of Bread.”  The house we enter each time we come forward to Holy Communion with him.  The story long ago and far away. And yet it is certainly true as well that every time we hear it, when we tell it to our kids and when they tell it back to us, it is fresh and new. And it is like hearing it all again for the first time.  Happy Advent.  Merry Christmas.

May he indeed be born again into our lives, may he find his home in our hearts.   To know the Bread of Heaven born for us: and may we be fed and nourished and sustained by him and in him today and always.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Third Advent, Children's Pageant of Christmas

Third Advent is Pageant Sunday around St. Andrew's, and the kids "preach."

If I were preaching I think I'd choose for a text a verse from Psalm 126: Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Second Advent

Isaiah 40

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.  

(I would sing more of Handel’s wonderful tenor line here, but I don’t want to spoil it for you!)  Speak ye tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.  The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken.

The Sunday schedule of readings for Advent and then on into Christmas is full and almost overflowing with the poetry of the second part of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, which is a wonderful gift for us in the coming weeks.  And building from these beautiful turning-point verses from Chapter 40.  

We might say that it is something like the background music for the season, touching us and shaping our impressions and perceptions and experience of the solemn and powerful message we meet here in Advent and Christmas again and again.   

Ancient Holy Jerusalem in ruins.  A remnant and broken people scattered in exile.  In the hour of deepest defeat, darkness, despair, when all hope seems to have melted away, and beyond all deserving, God acts, redeems, forgives, restores, renews.   Comfort.

That as we lean forward with longing and anticipation as the windows in the Advent calendar chart the way  in the journey to Bethlehem and the Manger, so we lean forward as well here and now in the midst of our day to day lives to the completion of his story and to what it will mean for us to be lifted up into his final victory.  Advent.   Give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness; and put upon us the armor of light, now in time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal.

A season all about hope.  Not as a hypothesis, a theoretical proposition, but suddenly to appear as a concrete effective reality in the midst of our lives.  Dayspring from on high.  The shimmering of a perfect dawn on the horizon of the world’s dark night.  Even when we are surrounded and even as we are  infected by such profound brokenness.  Personal loss.  Regret.  Mistakes.  Hurtful and self-centered words and actions.  Turned in on ourselves, is the classic description of this human condition.  Incurvatus in se.  Turning away from God and from one another.  The inclination of sin.  Social dislocation, all of humanity.  Even when the whole wide world we live in from the Middle East to East Asia to Missouri and New York and to our neighborhood and city.
The opening of Isaiah’s  40th chapter, and God the Holy Spirit speaks though the Prophet:  Comfort my people.  And then this wonderful phrase. An imperative, a command.    Daber al-leb.  The Hebrew, translated in King James’s English as “speak ye tenderly,” but that’s only part of it.  It’s 30 years since my last Hebrew class, but always fun and meaningful to turn back to the first language of the text.  More literally, “Comfort my people, speak to the heart of Jerusalem.”   Daber al-leb.

And a reminder that in Hebrew poetic imagery the heart is not simply as it mostly is in English about emotions.  Feelings.  We say “mind and heart” to talk about two different kinds of perception, but that wasn’t a division in the Hebrew way of thought.  The heart is also where all cognition and reason and feeling are said to reside. One place rather than two.  Some academic translators that I’ve read concerning this passage from Isaiah prefer something more like, “Comfort my people, persuade them completely.”    What we mean when we talk about “winning hearts and minds.”   The Prophet’s call not simply to be soft and affectionate, but a comforting word that is most of all,  thorough and transformative--that that communicates entirely, from the whole person, to the whole person,  to the whole people, God’s chosen, that overcomes every reservation and doubt, every hesitation and objection,  every hidden point of resistance--that searches out and cleanses and refreshes every dark corner of life.  Speak to them so that the message fills every part of them.

Speak in this full way to Israel.  Let her know through and through that her warfare is over, the crushing and shattering consequences of her unfaithfulness and sin, now come to an end.  That a new day is dawning.  An Advent, Easter hymn:  The strife is o’er, the battle done, the victory of life is won.

A complete conversion of life.  Scattered across the lands of exile, in ghettos and refugee camps from Iran and Iraq to Egypt and Yemen, the surviving remnant to stand and sing with full voice, I once was lost, but now am found . . . .  A long, long time before John Newton would compose the text of that hymn.  But all there in Isaiah 40: Amazing Grace. 

And at the heart of this season, this New Year:   What are we looking for?  What’s on our Christmas list?  What to add to our New Year Resolutions this year?  The hopes and fears of all the years.  What you and I are bringing to the table this morning, this season.  Just to pause over that. Really and truly, in the deepest secret places of our “minds and hearts.” 

The penetrating word, to enter us and to fill us completely.  Advent not a few weeks of superficial holiday cheer, but an invitation to a thoroughgoing conversion, a new life.  A fresh start.  To know the gracious and generous gift of his forgiveness, his love.  Beyond our deserving.  To experience a renewal.  To become a new people, and each of us a new person.  Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven.

We see him coming in his manger bed, the Child of Bethlehem.   We watch for him in the East, our triumphant King returning in his glorious majesty.   And the reading somehow flows off the page and into our lives.  A word for us.   Comfort ye my people.

 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Advent Sunday

Our sermon at St. Andrew's on Advent Sunday, November 30, was offered by our Parish Deacon, the Ven. Jean D. Chess.

Advent 1 Year B
Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

November 30, 2014

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen

I love chances to make a fresh start.  As a student and as a teacher - I always looked forward to the start of the new school term.  I love the process of starting a new job or a new project or a new spiritual discipline.  I'm filled with hope that this time I can really get everything in order.  I'll finish my daily to-do list.  I'll eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day... I'll keep up with all those emails.... I'll see and respect the image of God in everyone I encounter.

I especially love Advent - the start of a new church year, a liturgical season filled with beautiful, peaceful, and hopeful images of light emerging in the darkness culminating with the very tender, and non-threatening presence of the baby Jesus.  A chance to try - for only 4 weeks - some new spiritual discipline of keeping a better watch out for Jesus at work in my life and in the wider world.
So when I was asked to preach this first Sunday of Advent - I thought great, no stress, I know what to say about Advent.  Upon my first read through of the lessons several weeks ago, I was caught by the familiar phrase - keep alert - and I even had an idea about how to work learning to use my GPS into this sermon..
But then, I spent time dwelling more deeply in our readings for today.  I was drawn to the cries of lament from God's people in Exile as captured in the book of Isaiah - God's people crying out and saying - God, I need you, where are you, why have you left us, why don't you answer me.... and I was especially drawn to the very end of Isaiah 64 which was not included in our lectionary reading. 
(From the New International Version translation..)

"Oh, look on us, we pray - for we are all your people....
Your sacred cities have become a wasteland; even Zion is a wasteland, Jerusalem a desolation.  Our holy and glorious temple, where our ancestors praised you has been burned with fire, and all that we treasured lies in ruins.  After all this, Lord, will you hold yourself back?  Will you keep silent and punish us beyond measure?"

There is great comfort in the image of the light of Christ emerging in the darkness - and we know that we, as Christians, walk always as children of the Light....but to focus only on the light can diminish the reality of our very human experience of darkness. 
What have you treasured that now lies in ruins going into this season of Advent?  Have you lost the presence of a beloved companion in this earthly life?  Are you grieving the loss of physical or mental health of yourself of someone you love? Are you full of regret about the past - or fearful about the future? 

Acknowledging the reality of darkness invites us into those places where we are less than perfect, where we are broken, where we are most human, and where we most need - and often find - God.

Canadian singer-songwriter-poet Leonard Cohen puts it this way in his song,  Anthem - "There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in"

Listen to the whole refrain...
"Ring the bells you still can ring.  Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, there is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in".

Where are the cracks, the broken places, in our lives as individuals and in our collective lives as communities of human beings where we long for the light to get in?

Where might we be so focused on presenting a 'perfect' offering that we're holding back from taking any step at all?   

Open the newspaper, turn on the TV, browse to, walk down the street - what makes you want to shout out loud to God and beg "Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down so that the mountains would quake at your presence...." 
From where do you long most deeply for the light of God this Advent?  From where do you cry - O come, O come Emmanuel?


Monday, December 1, 2014

St. Andrew the Apostle

While the "St. Andrew's, Highland Park" congregational observance of our patronal festival is customarily scheduled for the Sunday before the Thanksgiving Holiday, Andrew's "Day" on the calendar is November 30--transferred to December 1 in years when that day falls on a Sunday (as it does in 2014).

Patron of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Highland Park, Pittsburgh

(Greek: Ανδρέας, Andreas), called in the Orthodox tradition Protocletos, or the First-called, is a Christian Apostle and the elder brother of Saint Peter. The name "Andrew" (from Greek : ανδρεία, manhood, or valour), like other Greek names, appears to have been common among the Jews from the second or third century B.C. No Hebrew or Aramaic name is recorded for him.

The Bible records that St Andrew was a son of Jonah, or John, (Matthew 16:17; John 1:42). He was born in Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee (John 1:44). Both he and his brother Peter were fishermen by trade, hence the tradition that Jesus called them to be his disciples by saying that He will make them "fishers of men" (Greek: ἁλιείς ἀνθρώπων, halieis anthropon). At the beginning of Jesus' public life they occupied the same house at Capernaum (Mark 1:21, 29).

From the Gospel of John we learn that Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist, whose testimony first led him and John the Evangelist to follow Jesus (John 1:35-40). Andrew at once recognized Jesus as the Messiah, and hastened to introduce Him to his brother(John 1:41). Thenceforth the two brothers were disciples of Christ. On a subsequent occasion, prior to the final call to the apostolate, they were called to a closer companionship, and then they left all things to follow Jesus (Luke 5:11; Matthew 4:19-20; Mark 1:17-18).

Click here to read more.

ALMIGHTY God, who didst give such grace unto thy holy Apostle Saint Andrew, that he readily obeyed the calling of thy Son Jesus Christ, and followed him without delay; Grant unto us all, that we, being called by thy holy Word, may forthwith give up ourselves obediently to fulfill thy holy commandments; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

When the Apostles went forth to preach to the Nations, Andrew seems to have taken an important part, but unfortunately we have no certainty as to the extent or place of his labours. Eusebius (Church History III.1), relying, apparently, upon Origen, assigns Scythia as his mission field: Andras de [eilechenten Skythian; while St. Gregory of Nazianzus (Oration 33) mentions Epirus; St. Jerome (Ep. ad Marcell.) Achaia; and Theodoret (on Ps. cxvi) Hellas. Probably these various accounts are correct, for Nicephorus (H.E. II:39), relying upon early writers, states that Andrew preached in Cappadocia, Galatia, and Bithynia, then in the land of the anthropophagi and the Scythian deserts, afterwards in Byzantium itself, where he appointed St. Stachys as its first bishop, and finally in Thrace, Macedonia, Thessaly, and Achaia. It is generally agreed that he was crucified by order of the Roman Governor, Aegeas or Aegeates, at Patrae in Achaia, and that he was bound, not nailed, to the cross, in order to prolong his sufferings. The cross on which he suffered is commonly held to have been the decussate cross, now known as St. Andrew's, though the evidence for this view seems to be no older than the fourteenth century. His martyrdom took place during the reign of Nero, on 30 November, A.D. 60); and both the Latin and Greek Churches keep 30 November as his feast.

El Greco, St. Andrew, 1606

St. Andrew's relics were translated from Patrae to Constantinople, and deposited in the church of the Apostles there, about A.D. 357. When Constantinople was taken by the French, in the beginning of the thirteenth century, Cardinal Peter of Capua brought the relics to Italy and placed them in the cathedral of Amalfi, where most of them still remain. St. Andrew is honoured as their chief patron by Russia and Scotland.

Click here to read it all in The Catholic Encyclopedia