Homily for St Andrew the Apostle

Who was he?

A 1st c. Jew, a Galilean, born in Bethsaida, son of a certain John or Jonas, brother of Simon Peter. Like him he was a fisherman by profession who, at the time the story opens, was living and working in partnership with him in the lakeside town of Capernaum.

And so it might have remained.

But this young man was sensitive to the plight of his people.  He shared their sorrow and, like others, he looked for “the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25). He was on a quest and so became a disciple of John the Baptist.

And through John the Baptist, by the River Jordan, he met Jesus. “Behold, the Lamb of God”, said John. And Andrew and another disciple followed the pointing finger. “What are you looking for?” asked Jesus. “Rabbi, where are you staying?” “Come and see.” So, John chapter 1, verses 35 to 39. A little later, back in Galilee, Jesus walked past the two brothers casting their nets, and called them to follow him. They did immediately.  “I will make you fishers of men”. So, Matthew chapter 4, verses 18 to 19. Andrew, then, is one of the first disciples. He is sometimes called the “protoclete”, Greek for “the first called”. In time he was appointed one of the twelve (cf. Mk 3:13ff.). Among them he seems to be one of the inner circle. In the four NT lists of the Twelve, he is always named second or fourth, one of the four closest disciples of Jesus. He was among the four who were privy to Jesus’ discourse on the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world (Mk 13).

There’s another strand too, noted especially by the Gospel of John. Andrew had the gift of bringing, introducing people to Jesus. He does not seem to have done this by great speeches or sermons, as a 1st c. tele-evangelist, so to speak. He did it simply, one to one or one with a few. After his meeting with Jesus, he tells his brother, “We have found the Messiah” (Jn 1:41), and brings him to Jesus. And in that meeting, Simon becomes Cephas, the rock on which the Church is to be built. The rest is history. Later, in John chapter 6, St Andrew points out the boy with five loaves and two fish. By the power of Christ, this would feed a multitude. It presages the Eucharist. Later again, in John chapter 12, there were the Greeks who wanted “to see Jesus” at Passover time. They approached Philip, a Greek-speaker. Philip told Andrew, and Andrew and Philip together tell Jesus. Again, he would lead them to Jesus who would see in them the future harvest of his death. Bringing his brother to Jesus, he was the first “home-missionary” (Jn 1). Bringing the Greeks, he was the first “foreign missionary” (Jn 12). It’s striking with what foundational events he connects: the call of Peter, the Eucharist, the conversion of the Gentiles.

Like the others, he must have run away at the time of Jesus’ arrest (cf. Mk 14:50). But like the others too, Judas aside, he was in the Upper Room that Easter Sunday evening (cf. Lk 24:36) and, with the others again, was filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:1ff).

As to his life after Pentecost, his missionary course, there are many traditions. The one accorded most credence is that he evangelised in northern Greece and in what was then “Scythia”, now, among other places, the north-eastern Balkans and Ukraine, and was finally martyred in Patras, Achaea, on the western seaboard of Greece. A great Cathedral there honours his memory. Traditionally, he was martyred on a saltire cross. The Collect for the feast sums up these years in two words: praedicator, i.e. proclaimer, preacher, and rector, literally ruler, effectively pastor. In other words, he did what we presume all the apostles and early Christian missionaries did: gather and establish communities by preaching, creating small islands of faith in the Lord. The reading from Romans 10 refers to this too.


Who is he now?

A transfigured man fully alive with the glory of the risen Christ. In this context, the Collect calls him intercessor, continuing in another mode his work of bringing people to Jesus. The life of the Church triumphant and of the Church militant interpenetrate, and St Andrew, though unseen, is not inactive. Through what we experience as time, he fulfills and ‘grows’ his mission: a fittingly universal, missionary, ecumenical, unifying one. He is still the man with the net.

He lives on in the four Gospels. Brief though the mentions of him be, they can still inspire. He “teaches us to follow Jesus with promptness, to speak enthusiastically about him to those we meet and, especially, to cultivate a relationship of true familiarity with him, acutely aware that in [Christ] alone can we find the ultimate meaning of our life and death” (Benedict XVI, 14 June 2006).

St Andrew lives in the Liturgy, being remembered for centuries and universally on 30th November. With that date, he is often the first saint and apostle to be kept in Advent, as the liturgical year begins – fittingly for the “protoclete”. In the Anglican Communion, there is talk of Andrewtide and there are special prayers for the missionary work of the Church around his feast.

He is a heavenly patron – of Scotland, of course, from the 8th c. – but prominently too of Eastern European, Orthodox countries: Russia, Ukraine, Greece, Romania, Georgia. Since the 6th c. he has been claimed as the founder of the see and patriarchate of Cionstantinople. What is historically questionable has, however, proved ecumenically suggestive. The “sister churches” of Rome and Constantinople have two apostolic brothers as their respective patrons, and delegates from the one attend the feast days of the other – on the 29th June and 30th November. And so St Andrew’s prayers are asked to bring the Catholic and Orthodox confessions together into full union with Christ. This is echoed in the hymn for Lauds of the Roman Office. As a gesture towards union, in 1964 St Paul VI returned the Vatican’s relics of St Andrew to the Greek Orthodox community in Patras.

His continuing presence is felt again wherever his relics are venerated: in Patras, in Amalfi and Sarzana in Italy, in the church of St Andrew and St Albert in Warsaw and in St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh.


And who is he for us?

So we come back to ourselves, here in Scotland. The historians tell of how the association began, and distinguish legend and credible fact. The ruins of his great Cathedral remain, with Mass celebrated there now and then. The city and University remain, and their beauty.

Let’s end, though, with a beautiful imagining by George Mackay Brown. In his Hymn for St Andrew’s Day, before any relics of St Andrew come to Scotland, Andrew comes himself. The poet traces the journey north:

‘The world is wide, to cast nets in.

The Holy Spirit

Fills his coat like a sail.

He speaks to fishermen on the Alpine lakes,

He lingers by Belgian rivers,

They listen, rough Breton fishermen,

Minglings of sea-wit, laughter, gull-talk.’

But still further north he goes:

‘Where are you taking me, Spiritus Sanctus?

‘Where are we bound, ruthless dove?’

He lands in Scotland.

‘Well, I am content. This place will do

With sinners, saints, mostly

Gray minglings, like fish in a barrow.

Alba, Pictland, Scotia,

The beach strewn with curraghs and sea-gear.’


“Well, I am content”. Let us be content too with being here and, inspired by St Andrew, cast the nets for Christ.

(St Mary’s Cathedral, 30 November 2020)


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