The Holy Spirit descended as tongues of fire upon each of the heads of the Apostles on Pentecost. Then they went forth preaching the Good News throughout the entire world. On June 11, the Orthodox Church celebrates two great Apostles: Bartholomew and Barnabas.
Bartholomew was from Galilee and one of the Twelve Apostles. Some of the Fathers of the Church, such as St John Chrysostom and St Epiphanius of Cyprus, regard Bartholomew as the same person as Nathanael. Matthew, Mark and Luke all mention Bartholomew, yet John who only mentions Nathanael, says nothing of Bartholomew.
Barnabas was a native of Cyprus and one of the Seventy. In Luke 10:1 the Lord appointed seventy men to go out as apostles, to spread the Gospel. Barnabas was chosen as one of the Seventy. Originally his name was Joses, but named Barnabas by the Apostles which is translated Son of Encouragement (Acts 4:36). He was a Jew of the tribe of Levi and a student of Saul of Tarsus (the future Apostle Paul).
It was Barnabas who sought out Paul when everyone else was afraid of him. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared him to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus (ibid 9:27). He went to Tarsus to find Paul and then brought him along to Antioch where they spent a year preaching. A great number of the Hellenists (pagan Greeks) believed and turned to the Lord. It was in Antioch where the disciples were first called Christians (ibid 11:26). Later on, they both went to Seleucia and then to Cyprus.
Arriving in Salamis which is today called Famagusta, Paul and Barnabas preached the Word of God in the Jewish synagogues. At Paphos they encountered a sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus. The false prophet tried to sway the Proconsul Sergius from the true Faith. Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? “And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.” And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord (ibid 13:9-12).
Paul and Barnabas then departed Cyprus to go to Pisidia, Iconium, Galatia, Lystra and Derbe. They even returned back to Antioch mentoring to their flock there, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the Kingdom of God (ibid 14:22).” Then after some time, Paul and Barnabas separated. Paul took Silas and went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches (ibid 15:41).
Barnabas, on the other hand, took John called Mark and returned back to Cyprus. It is for this reason that Barnabas became known as the founder of the episcopal See in Cyprus. However, among the Greek-Cypriots, he is not as widely known as the Apostle Andrew. Andrew is indeed a beloved saint in Cyprus and many are named after him. However, he was not the one who established the Church there. The legend is that en route to the Holy Lands, the Apostle Andrew went off course and landed at the tip of Cyprus, called Karpass Peninsula. On coming ashore, Andrew hit the rocks with his staff and a spring of water gushed forth. The water had healing power and restored the vision of the ship’s captain who was blind in one eye.
Certainly, this story is reminiscent of Christ healing the blind man at the Pool of Siloam. Thereafter, this site became a place of pilgrimage. A fortified monastery was built there in the 12th Century, followed by a small chapel in the 15th Century. Unfortunately, after the invasion of Cyprus in 1974, both the monastery and chapel were wrecked by the Turks and remain in a state of disrepair. Karpass Peninsula is better known as Apostolos Andreas or Cape Apostolos Andreas.
In 62 AD, Barnabas was stoned to death by the Jews in Cyprus. At the Third Ecumenical Council, held in the year 431 AD at Ephesus, Cyprus was granted autocephaly. Per the decree of Canon 8, it was no longer under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch. The autocephalous status was later reaffirmed at the Council of Trullo in 692 AD.
In 478, Saint Barnabas appeared to Archbishop Anthimus of Cyprus and revealed to him where he was buried. After digging up the ground at the indicated spot, they found the body of Barnabas incorrupt. Upon his chest was the Gospel according to Matthew written in Greek by Barnabas’ own hand. The Gospel was brought to the Emperor Zeno who confirmed later that year the autocephaly of Cyprus. The archbishop was granted the “three privileges”: to sign his decrees and encyclicals, like the Emperor, in vermilion (brilliant red color), to wear tyrian purple under his vestments instead of black and to use an imperial scepter instead of the episcopal staff.
The imperial scepter is a staff with a cross atop a golden sphere at its height. The traditional episcopal staff usually has at its height a pair of sculptured serpents or dragons curled back to face each other, with a small cross between them. This symbolizes Moses’ bronze serpent on a staff. And the Lord said unto Moses: Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole; and it came to pass, that every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and set it upon the pole; and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked unto the serpent of brass, he lived (Numbers 21:8-9). Thus, this signifies that a bishop is the protector of his flock.
To thy Lord, O Barnabas, thou wast a genuine servant; and among the Seventy Apostles, thou wast the foremost; and with Paul, thou shonest brightly in thy wise preaching, making known unto all men Christ Jesus, the Saviour. For this cause, we celebrate thy divine memorial with hymns and spiritual songs. (Festal Kontakion)
He Has Ascended!
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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