Saint Volodymyr le Grand b
Ukrainian Orthodoxy
Orthodoxie ukrainienne

The Beauty of the Saints

Very Reverend Ihor Kutash

God's children lose their life but save their souls

Thaddeus, Apostle of the Seventy

It seems quite appropriate to preface a meditation on the life of a Saint with a quote from the particular Servant of God who is the subject of that meditation. Try as I might I could find no quotation to attribute to the Saint whom the Orthodox Church commemorates on September 3 (which is August 21 on the Julian Calendar): St. Thaddeus, Apostle of the Seventy.

One reason for this is that a large part of the Christian family maintains that he actually did not exist! They maintain that he and the Holy Apostle Jude of the Twelve (June 19/July 2 - about whom I have written earlier) are actually one and the same person. This would be a great honour and an important correction if it were in fact the case. However the Church Historian Eusebius of Caesarea (275-339) distinguishes St. Thaddaeus of the Seventy from the Apostle Jude, who was also called, as I have written, called Thaddaeus (and even Levi or Lebbaeus) to distinguish him from the other Jude of the Twelve – Judas Iscariot – who betrayed the Lord.

It is certainly no honour to be relegated to oblivion! On the other hand, as noted by Dr. Harold Buls, the noted Lutheran theologian, whose birthday January 4 (1920), coincides with the celebration of the Synaxis of the Seventy Holy Apostles (those observing the Julian Calendar celebrate it on January 17 Gregorian Calendar): "God's children lose their lives but save their souls". He was commenting on Matthew 16:25 (

Whereas historians of the Churches of the West deny the validity and accuracy of any list of these Seventy Apostles - who are mentioned without any names in the Gospel of St. Luke (10:1-20) - the Orthodox Church respectfully insists on listing their names in the Church Calendar, and St. Thaddaeus is eighth on this traditional list. The list itself is attributed to St. Dorotheus of Tyre (ca. 255-362), Eusebius’ teacher, who was martyred at the behest of the emperor Julian the Apostate at the age of 107 years!

Even if these two Church fathers are right and the later scholars are in error, this denial to St. Thaddaeus of distinctness from the illustrious St. Jude (Thaddaeus) of the Twelve is no tragedy from the perspective of the Kingdom. His would simply be one more sacrifice for the Kingdom. God’s children do not insist on being remembered by those who survive them – especially not for their sanctity and perfection, for they see themselves, in the words of St. Paul, as "first among sinners" (I Timothy 1:15). It is enough that God remembers them.

However, because we are convinced that the Lord does remember His people and the Church is His Bride, the Orthodox do not hasten to "purify" the Church calendar of those who may have come into it through human error. On the contrary we seem to prefer, in this instance (as ought, in fact, to be normal with Christians), to err on the side of charity rather than on the side of severity, at the risk of appearing overly traditionalistic and unscholarly.

As is normal for those on the Church Calendar there is a vita (Slavonic - "Zhyttiye") for St. Thaddaeus of the Seventy. We read that he was of Jewish descent, and he was born in the Syrian city of Edessa (modern Sanliurfa in Turkey). Thaddaeus may be a Hellenized version of the name Judas, by the way. Visitors to this city may see a mosque (built on the site of an earlier Christian temple) which is held to be the birthplace of the Holy Patriarch Abraham, the spiritual father of Christians, Jews, Muslims and many others. The city is consdered to be the Ur of Biblical times. There is a pool of sacred fish around the mosque complex, in keeping with the tradition that Nimrod tried to burn Abraham’s body but God turned the fire into water and the coals into fish.

One day when Thaddaeus came to Jerusalem for a festival, he heard the preaching of St. John the Forerunner, Jesus’ cousin according to the flesh. After being baptized by him in the Jordan, he remained in Palestine. He later met the Saviour and became His follower. He was chosen by the Lord to be one of the Seventy Disciples, whom He sent in pairs to preach in the cities and places where He intended to visit.

After the Ascension of Our Lord to Heaven, St. Thaddeus preached the good news in Syria and Mesopotamia. He had earlier been in his native Edessa to preach the Gospel and there converted King Abgar, the people and the pagan priests to Christ. His preaching was supported by many miracles (about which Abgar wrote to the Assyrian emperor Nerses). Eusebius writes that King Abgar had sent an emissary to the Lord Himself to ask for a healing of an infirmity he had. The Lord responded with a letter which He dictated and as well as a napkin on which He imprinted an image of His Face – a source of the celebrated Icon of the Holy Face "Not-Made-by-Hands". Eusebius reproduced these letters in his history (he does not mention the napkin however) and there was a time when they even formed part of the liturgy of the Church.

St. Thaddaeus ordained priests in Edessa and built up the Church there, supported, as some hagiographies note, by the other Thaddaeus, Jude the Brother of the Lord. When King Abgar wanted to reward St. Thaddeus with rich gifts, he refused and went preaching to other cities, converting many pagans to the Christian Faith.

He also went to the city of Beirut to preach and founded a church there. It was in this city that he reposed peacefully in the Lord in the year 44. (The place of his death is indicated as Beirut in the Slavonic "Menaion", but according to other sources he died in Edessa. According to an ancient Armenian tradition, St. Thaddeus, after various tortures, was beheaded by the sword on December 21 in the Artaz region in the year 50).

Through the prayers of His holy Servant the Apostle Thaddaeus, may the Lord grant us the grace to work selflessly for His Kingdom in our daily lives and to be patient and joyful when our efforts are not recognized – for it is then that we truly do them for the Lord and not for our own glory and honour.

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