Andrew, the First Apostle

Saint Andrew, at Saint John Lateran, by Camillo Rusconi

Today, the last day of November, is when we celebrate the first Apostle called, along with his brother, the first Pope. Andrew’s patronage includes Scotland, Russia, Ukraine and Greece, for reasons that are somewhat historically tenuous.  But, as Belloc says, behind every legend, there is always some truth.

What we know of Andrew – whose name is Greek for ‘man’ or ‘manly’ – from the Gospels are from similar accounts in Matthew, chapter 4 and Mark 1, where he and his brother leave their nets ‘immediately’ (eutheos) upon being called by Christ. There is, or should not be, a delay when Christ calls.

Andrew is not named in Luke’s account of this initial calling, but his presence implied, and made clear later on; and in the longer account of John, Andrew is a disciple of John the Baptist, and, again, ‘immediately’ recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, running off at once to tell his brother.

There is a legend that the ship upon which Andrew was sailing in his missionary endeavours veered off course in an unruly wind, and landed on the east coast of Scotland, on the site of the town that now bears his name (it must have been quite the gale).  At the very least, we do know his relics were brought there, for more likely he preached and was crucified likely in the city of Patras in Achaea (now Greece) – on a crux decussata, an X-shaped cross, the ‘saltire’ that is now the flag of Scotland – since, like his brother Peter who was crucified upside down, he considered himself unworthy to die in the same manner as his Saviour.

Saint Andrew’s was once the centre of Catholicism in Scotland, its glorious cathedral completed in 1148. Four centuries later later, it was ransacked by fanatical Presbyterian Protestant mobs in 1559, inspired by the apostate priest John Knox, soon after the Holy Mass was proscribed under the same Knox – the hatred of the sacrifice of the Mass is one of the binding threads of the early heretic. The cathedral’s prized religious and liturgical treasures were dispossessed and scattered – all that ‘Popish frippery’ – and the glorious stonework left to rack and ruin in the wind and rain.  The hauntingly beautiful relic that is left, showing it to be the largest church ever built in Scotland (390 feet long), still stands is a testament to the state of faith in the once faithful land, where I happened to be born.

The Faith itself was ruined spiritually by the ravages of this austere and bitter anti-Catholic Calvinism, with Scotland’s inevitable descent into secularism, hedonism and the vapid religion of soccer or, if you will, football.  I was glad to discover that the cathedral was longer than a football pitch, a sign at least of something.

But what was might be again, for the Faith never dies; there are always embers and pockets that may be fanned into flame, and, there are signs here and there of such a resurgences in Scotland, even if much is troubling. God always has a plan, and can act in a way we may not expect, like with Andrew quietly fishing on a morn in Galilee, when the incarnate God walked into his life.

For a window into the great soul of Andrew, we may hearken to the words of Saint John Chrysostom in today’s Office, meditating on Andrew’s exclamation to his brother Peter: We have found the Messiah, that is to say, the Christ

Notice how his words reveal what he has learned in so short a time. They show the power of the master who has convinced them of this truth. They reveal the zeal and concern of men preoccupied with this question from the very beginning. Andrew’s words reveal a soul waiting with the utmost longing for the coming of the Messiah, looking forward to his appearing from heaven, rejoicing when he does appear, and hastening to announce so great an event to others. To support one another in the things of the spirit is the true sign of good will between brothers, of loving kinship and sincere affection.

Sancte Andreas, ora pro nobis!