Saint Andrew’s Day


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(November 30) 

Almighty God, who didst give such grace unto Thy holy Apostle Saint Andrew,…
Romans 10:9-21
Matthew 4:18-22

Although Matthew’s Gospel portrays Andrew and his elder brother Peter being called by Jesus simultaneously, John 1:35-42 (the choice of Matthew rather than John on this occasion is inexplicable) describes Andrew, the disciple of John the Baptist, being called before Peter, as the first of all of Jesus’ Disciples. Accordingly, the Greek Orthodox Church designates him the Protocletos which, Together with the traditionally accepted accounts of his journeys and death, explains his huge popularity as a patron of countries including Scotland, Greece, Russia and Romania and of such occupations as rope making and singing. And although Peter played a much more prominent role than his younger brother there is still an attractive, if speculative, symmetry in their careers: Peter founded the Patriarchate (ultimately the Papacy) of Rome and Andrew founded the Patriarchate of Constantinople; Peter became the anchor of the Western Church and Andrew, in addition to his role in Constantinople, is supposed to have reached the mouth of the Volga and paved the way for Russian Christianity; Peter is supposed to have begged to be crucified head down, Andrew is said to have begged to be crucified at 45 degrees to the ground, iconised in the Saltire Cross.

Whereas Peter receives full but equivocal coverage in the New Testament, we know very little about Andrew: as the Collect says, he came swiftly and willingly to Jesus (John 1:40-42; he proposed to Jesus, with that mixture of bravado and caution which is often seen in younger brothers, that the five loaves and two fishes might be of some use (John 6:8); and he was part of the intermediate chain when some Greeks wanted to talk to Jesus (John 12:22); and he is mentioned once in Acts 1:3. Yet even that handful of references is more than some of his fellow Apostles can boast.

The passage from Romans contains a quantity of appropriate markers: public confession of the Resurrection without shame; no difference between Jew and Greek; the importance of the preacher; the ends of the earth; the centrality of Moses and Isaiah. It particularly emphasises personal witness and this must have been of crucial importance to the emerging church. We only have written testimony of very few pioneers but whether or not Christian expansion can be specifically tied to known people and places, e.g. Andrew at Astrakhan, we can chart the rapid expansion brought about by people other than Paul who not infrequently arrived at places where Christianity had arrived before him. In the specific case of the Black Sea coast, whether or not it was actually Andrew who sowed the seed, the Church of Smyrna was thriving by the early 90s (cf Revelation 2:8-11; the Epistles of Bishops Polycarp and Ignatius of Antioch). It is impossible, even with Acts and the Epistles, fully to imagine the condition of Apostleship: the vivid memories of Jesus, the inner dynamic of the Holy Spirit, the courage to move outside familiar territory and culture, the danger of travel, the hostility of Jews and Greeks, the thrill of conversion.

The central theme of the Gospel and Andrew’s life is that of being first. Whatever reticence we may possess (in the case of English people the collective attribute is surely exaggerated) is now fortified by a contemporary suspicion of leadership; the motive of self aggrandisement has been hopelessly entangled with the necessity of clarity such that when people are direct in their speech or action they are accused of being arrogant. Yet more than a century of being equivocal for Christ has served no good purpose; those who resent the Christian mission are not likely to be less hostile just because we are less direct. Andrew was speaking first to Jews before whom he appeared as a traitor and then to Greeks who would automatically have considered him, as he actually was, an intellectual inferior; yet Christianity is neither for the unthinkingly conservative nor the clever. Its demands are radical, simple and necessarily manifest themselves in different ways at different times. To be first is to risk hostility aimed directly and pointedly at the person and the message; Those who stand back can modify what they wish to say in the light of reaction to earlier participants and persuade themselves that they have preserved their integrity; but the best guarantee of preserving integrity is to be first and fearless.

A highly specific way of being first which refers back to Andrew and his fellow workers is the need to forge theology which engineers the Good News into new places and situations without subverting the message. The term ‘engineering’ is used deliberately here; the radical change in transport from the horse to the car provides swifter travel. It might be opposed by those who prefer slow or more picturesque transport but as the purpose of travel is to get from one place to another, for all their drawbacks cars are more effective than horses. The same kind of change can affect the way we formulate our human responses to the mystery of the divine. The conservative spirit (cf. Armstrong) naturally seeks reform through restoring a better past but the problem for us is that the 39 Articles, written in that spirit, were heavily dependent upon their theological and political contexts: some will be able to assent to every word; others may feel that, for example, the text is hostile to or at least does not adequately deal with ecumenism. Even in the age of spiritual conservatism theology never ossified; we must see that it does not do so in our world of change.

Starting Points for Sermons and Discussions:

  1. Trace the traditionally assigned journeys of Andrew
  2. Describe the life and letters of Polycarp and Ignatius of Antioch
  3. From a theological rather than a tactical standpoint, discuss the merits of direct speech and the softened formulae of diplomacy
  4. Discuss static and dynamic models of theology
  5. Should Scotland have a patron saint from Scotland?

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