On September 26th, the Orthodox Church celebrates the translation of the Apostle John. The word translation in Greek is μετάσταση which means a changing of place. When the time came for his departure from this life, John went to the outskirts of Ephesus with the families of the disciples. He instructed them to prepare a cross-shaped grave and to cover him with soil; his face was covered with a cloth.
Later on, some of John’s other disciples heard of his passing and went to his grave, now finding it empty. There is another feast dedicated to St John on May 8th. Every year on this day a fine dust emits from his grave. Those who partake of it are miraculously healed of their maladies. The Μετάσταση of St. John is very similar to the Dormition, Κοίμηση of the Theotokos. Τhe word κόιμηση means the falling asleep.
Apostles were gathered from all ends of the Earth and escorted on clouds to be at the Dormition of the Theotokos in Jerusalem. The Apostle Thomas, however, did not make it in time. Arriving after three days, Thomas asked the other Apostles if he could take one last look at the Theotokos. So, they opened Her grave, finding only grave wrappings. At that moment they all knew that Her body was taken up to Heaven. The Theotokos did have an actual physical death, yet, Her body was transferred in whole to Heaven. Similarly, with the Apostle John, he died an earthly death but his body was transferred, thus, translated [μετέστη] into Heaven.
In the Festal Apolytikion for the Dormition Feast of the Theotokos, both aforementioned words are mentioned: ‘Εν τή Γεννήσει τήν παρθενίαν έφύλαξας, έν τη Κοιμήσει τόν κόσμον ού κατέλιπες Θεοτόκε. Μετέστης πρός τήν ζωήν, μήτηρ υπάρχουσα τής ζωής , καί ταίς πρεςβείας ταίς σαίς λυτρουμένη, έκ θανάτου τάς ψυχάς ήμών. (In birth, you preserved your virginity; in death, you did not abandon the world, O Theotokos. As mother of life, you departed to the source of life, delivering our souls from death by your intercessions). Hence, translation and falling asleep (Dormition) have the same meaning.
Enoch and Elijah, on the other hand, were taken up into Heaven, not having physically experiencing death. They both are the Second Forerunners of Christ and will return just before His Second Coming. According to Tradition, they will experience their earthly deaths by being martyred by the Antichrist.
Some accounts say that the Apostle John lived to age 95, others say he lived past age 100. For many years, he was the last remaining eyewitness of the earthly life of Jesus. In fact, many even believed that he would never die. Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you (Jn 21:20-22)?” Since he laid his head on the Jesus’ breast, John is known as: Bosom-friend (Φίλου ἐπιστηθίου) of the Lord.
The Apostle John along with his brother James (the Greater) are the sons of Zebedee, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, “Sons of Thunder (Mk 3:17).” Their mother, Salome was one of the Myrrhbearers: Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices, that they might come and anoint Him (Mk 16:1).
The Apostle John along with his brother James and Peter were the three who witnessed the raising of Jairus’ daughter by Christ and His Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. Yet, even among the three, John was closest to the Lord. At the Last Supper, John laid his head upon the breast of the Lord. He also followed after Jesus when they arrested Him in the Garden of Gethsemane to the court of the High Priests Caiaphas and Annas. From there, John followed Jesus to Golgotha.
At the foot of the Cross, Christ entrusted John with his mother: now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home (Jn 19:25-27). Throughout his Gospel, John never mentions his own name or speaks in the first person.
The Prophet Ezekiel envisioned four living creatures: this was the likeness of their faces: the face of a man, the face of a lion on the right side of the foursome, the face of an ox on the left, and the face of an eagle (Ezek 1:10). St Gregory the Great says that John is the eagle who “stretched toward the very substance of divinity.” Each creature is a type of Christ who became a man (Matthew) in the incarnation, an ox (Luke) on the Cross, a lion (Mark) in the Resurrection and an eagle (John) in the Ascension.
These same living creatures are also mentioned in Revelations 4:6: and in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was a flying eagle. An eagle flies upward toward Heaven, just like Christ did in His Ascension.
The Apostle John holds the extremely rare title of theologian, with St Gregory being the other to hold that title. Saint Gregory was one of the Three Hierarchs, and very much a champion of the 4th Century in Trinitarian Theology. John, preceding St Gregory by nearly three centuries laid the foundation for Trinitarian Theology. John was the only Evangelist to be an eyewitness to Jesus’ ministry which is why the other Gospels are called Synoptic Gospels.
In his Gospel, John is unambiguous about the Persons of the Holy Trinity and Their relationship to one another. They are Three Persons in one nature. The Father is the source of the Trinity, He is Unbegotten [Αγέννητος]. The Son is eternally Begotten (Οnly-Begotten Son-Μονογενής Θεός) of the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeds[εκπορεύεται] from the Father. The Son is αγένητος (uncreated) and so is the Holy Spirit. Of course, the Father is uncreated as well but He is solely Unbegotten, since He is the source of the Godhead.
The theme throughout John’s Gospel and three Epistles is Love, since God is Love (1 John 3:16). It is for this reason that John has become known as the Apostle of Love. He constantly taught that without love man cannot come near to God.
While in exile on the island of Patmos, Christ revealed to John the Apocalypse: and He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw (Rev 1:2). His disciple, Prochorus wrote down all that John exclaimed to him. The Apocalypse is the last book of the New Testament, speaking about the tribulations that are to occur in the end times.
Despite having experienced several brutal tortures for the Faith under the Emperor Nero and being exiled, John lived a full life and was the only Apostle not to have been martyred.
Beloved Apostle of Christ our God, hasten to deliver a people without defense. He who permitted you to recline upon His bosom, accepts you on bended knee before Him. Beseech Him, O Theologian, to dispel the persistent cloud of nations, asking for us peace and great mercy (Festal Apolytikion).
A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.
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