Christians recognize 12 principal disciples of Christ, but did they all start following Jesus at the same time? In this lesson, we'll examine the life of Andrew and see what the scriptures tell us about his role in the early Church.
Andrew the Protocletus
It's a big deal to be first. We can only imagine how Neil Armstrong felt as the first person to step on the moon, or how Washington felt being sworn in as America's first president. Now imagine being the first follower of what became the most popular religion in the world.
According to the Christian Bible, Jesus Christ had 12 principal followers. One of them, however, had to be first. That person was Andrew, known in ecclesiastic traditions as the Protocletus, or the first called. Disciple, apostle, and saint, Andrew holds a special place in Christian cultures. After all, it's a big deal to be first.
The Calling of Andrew
Very little is known about any of the 12 apostles before they are called to follow Jesus in his ministry. What we do know is that Andrew was born in Bathsaida, a small town on the Sea of Galilee. He seems to have been a fisherman by trade, along with his younger brother, Simon (later renamed Peter).
There are different accounts of exactly how Andrew came to be the first disciple. The Gospel of Matthew claims that Jesus was walking along the shore and saw Simon and Andrew fishing. He then called them and promised to make them fishers of men. The Gospel of Mark tells a similar story, while the Gospel of Luke only mentions Simon and not Andrew (at least not directly).
John gives us a different tale. In his Gospel, Andrew and Simon are already disciples of John the Baptist. John the Baptist recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and tells his followers to become disciples of Jesus instead. Andrew does and later brings his younger brother to Christ as well.
Biblical scholars disagree on exactly how to reconcile these stories. Some say that it's a matter of chronology (one event happened before the others), but all scholars agree that what really matters is that Andrew and Simon become the first disciples.
John's account is interesting, however, because it illuminates something about Andrew's treatment in the Bible. In all four Gospels, Andrew is rarely mentioned by name. He's simply one of ''the 12'' although biblical scholars believe he was very close to Jesus and respected among the disciples. Whenever Andrew is named, however, it is nearly always in a story about bringing somebody into a relationship with Christ, just as he did with Simon Peter. This has given Andrew an important place in Church memory, and in many sects he is venerated as the example of evangelism.
Andrew After Christ
As Christians know, all four Gospels climax with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ and, after his final departure, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon his followers. This is a big moment in Christian history as it identified the disciples as apostles sent out to spread the word of Christ and to form new congregations everywhere they went.
So where did Andrew go? While his brother made his way to Rome, Andrew went toward Eastern Europe. According to most interpretations of the scriptures, he focused his efforts around the Caspian and Black Seas. In Russian Orthodox traditions, he's said to have made his way as far as Kiev and Novgorod.
Eventually, Andrew ended up in the still-small city of Byzantium, later Constantinople. He established the first Christian community in Byzantium and appointed a man named Stachys as the first bishop. This is significant as Constantinople would later rise to challenge even Rome as a center of the Christian faith. Thus, Peter became seen as the founder of the Church in the West and Andrew as the founder of the Church in the East.
The Death of Andrew
While working around Byzantium, Andrew made several trips into Greece. His last one was to the city of Patras. In Patras, Andrew preached and performed miracles of healing, enabling him to found a church there as well. According to tradition, one of the women he healed was the wife of the Roman proconsul (governor) of the province, Aegeates. This is believed to have occurred during the reign of Nero, when Roman persecution of Christians was really taking off, and so Aegeates had Andrew sentenced to death by crucifixion.
Andrew, like his brother, apparently refused to be crucified in the same manner as Christ, seeing himself as unworthy of that honor. Instead, Andrew was bound (not nailed) to an X-shaped cross and crucified upside down. According to some sources, this was so that he could see the sky as he died and anticipate his arrival in heaven.
Andrew's remains were treated as semi-sacred, and pilgrims of the early Church flocked to Patras to pay their respects. These relics were later transferred to Constantinople in the 4th century, and some were taken to Scotland by a monk who believed to have been visited by the saint in a dream. This is why St. Andrew is the patron of Scotland today and why Scotland's flag bears the X-shaped cross of the martyr. Wherever they are around the world, relics of St. Andrew continue to attract pilgrims every year. After all, of the disciples, he was the first.
All right, let's take a moment to review what we've learned. In Christian traditions, Andrew was the older brother of Simon Peter, a fisherman, a disciple of John the Baptist, and the first disciple called to follow Jesus Christ (namely the Protocletus, or the first called). Beyond this, Andrew is rarely mentioned by name, but when he is, it's nearly always in the context of bringing someone into a relationship with Christ. After the resurrection of Christ, Andrew focused his apostolic efforts in Eastern Europe, eventually founding the first Christian church in Byzantium. He died a martyr in Patras, Greece, and was crucified upside down on an X-shaped cross. In Christianity today, he is revered for doing something that would have been extraordinarily hard for anyone to do: being first.