|St. Matthew the Apostle (Feast Day - November 16)|
"You save, Jesus, even tax-collectors by Your grace,"
Cried out Matthew from the midst of the flames.
Without sense of toil Matthew was killed in the fire on the sixteenth.
The holy Apostle and Evangelist Matthew, the son of Alphaeus, otherwise known as Levi, lived in the Galilean city of Capernaum. He was a wealthy man who held the position of tax-collector, and was despised and shunned by the majority of the Jews. One day, as the Lord Jesus was passing through the city and Matthew was sitting in his customs booth, He said to him: "Come, follow Me!" Matthew not only physically heard these words, but they spoke to his heart as well, so the publican left his booth and followed after Christ, and forsaking all he was numbered among the Twelve Disciples. The Scribes and Pharisees were scandalized that Jesus did not shun sinners and publicans, but rather sat and ate with them, and when the Lord heard them murmuring such things, He said to them: "It is not the healthy that have need of a physician, but the sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
Having received the power of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and receiving divine wisdom, the catechumen and newly-illuminated Christians of Jerusalem besought Matthew to write for them a record of the acts and teachings of the Lord during His earthly ministry. Thus, eight years after the ascension of Christ, he fulfilled their common desire, and wrote the Gospel that bears his name in the Hebrew (Aramaic) dialect. This was later translated into Greek by the Apostle James, copied by the Apostle Bartholomew, and the Apostle Barnabas requested from the Apostle Mark to have a copy of this Gospel placed over his chest at his burial in Cyprus, which was later recovered at the discovery of the Apostle Barnabas' relics, and displayed in the imperial palace in Constantinople.
After departing from Jerusalem, Matthew preached the glad tidings of the Gospel in many lands. He traveled all about Ethiopia (some say it was Parthia), which had fallen to him by lot, and enlightened it with the light of the knowledge of the Gospel. Finally, guided by the Holy Spirit, he arrived in the land of the cannibals. There he entered a city known as Mirmena and, having converted several souls to Christ, he appointed Platon, his fellow traveler, to be their bishop, and built a little church. Then Matthew sought to find some solitude, so he ascended a mountain and with fasting he prayed for the conversion of all the people, living for a time in a cave. After some time the Lord appeared to him as a young man, Who held a staff in His right hand, and greeted him. Giving Matthew the staff, the Lord told him to plant it at the doors of the church he constructed, and explained that this staff would become a lofty tree with abundant fruit, and from its root a spring of water would flow, from which when the cannibals washed themselves and ate of the fruit, they would become comely and forget their bestial habits and become good and meek persons.
Taking this staff Matthew descended the mountain and carried out what was commanded of him. On his way to the church he built, the wife and son of Fulvian, prince of that city, were possessed by demons. Encountering the Apostle along the way, they cried out against him with wild, threatening voices: "Who sent you here with that staff, for our destruction?" The Apostle rebuked the unclean spirits and expelled them; and those who were healed fell down before the Apostle and meekly followed him. Bishop Platon also went forth with his clergy to meet him. Straightway, as soon as he planted the staff, the tree grew and the water gushed forth in the presence of many, and having preached to the people in their own language he baptized them in the miraculous spring. As the Lord had promised, all the cannibals who were baptized received not only bodily cleansing, but purification and beauty of soul as well, having put off the old man and arrayed themselves in Christ, the new Man.
Having been informed of what had transpired, Prince Fulvian of Mirmena became enraged at the Apostle because the whole city was going over to him, forsaking its gods. The prince commanded his warriors to lay hold of Matthew and to stretch him out face down upon the ground, and to affix his hands and feet to the ground with spikes. When this was done, on the tyrant’s command the servants assembled a great quantity of branches and brushwood; and they brought pitch and brimstone and, placing all of this on the holy Matthew, set it afire. Yet when the fire rose up in a great flame and all thought that the Apostle of Christ had already perished therein, suddenly the fire died out and the flame was extinguished, and the holy Matthew was seen alive and unharmed, glorifying God. Refusing to acknowledge the power of God in what had transpired, that is, that the herald of Christ had been preserved alive and unharmed from the fire, Fulvian made an iniquitous accusation against the righteous man, calling him a sorcerer, saying: “It is by sorcery that Matthew has quenched the fire and remained alive in the midst thereof!”
Then he gave orders that yet more wood be brought; and they doused him with dolphin oil, pitch and tar, and tinder was set beneath and the pyre was kindled. Furthermore, he commanded that twelve of his golden idols be brought, and setting them in a circle about the fire, he called upon them for aid, that through their power Matthew might not be delivered from the flame, but might be reduced to ashes. But the Apostle prayed to the Lord of Hosts in the midst of the fire, that He show forth his invincible power, reveal the impotence of the gods of the pagans, and put to shame those who put their trust in them. Suddenly, the flame of the fire shot forth upon the golden idols with a loud clap as of thunder, and they melted like wax from the heat thereof; and many of the unbelievers that were standing about were burned as well. And from the burning idols there issued forth a flame in the form of a serpent, and it stretched itself towards Fulvian, threatening him to such an extent that he was unable to flee or save himself from the danger, until with humble entreaty he called upon the Apostle to deliver him from destruction. The Apostle rebuked the fire, and straightway the flame died down and the figure of the fiery serpent vanished. Fulvian wished to bring the Saint out of the fire with honor, but the latter, having prayed, “Lord, into Your hands I surrender my soul!” departed into heavenly glory.
Then the prince had the honorable relics of the Apostle Matthew placed in a golden bier and arrayed his body in a costly vesture, and it was carried into the palace. Though the prince did not yet have perfect faith, so he sealed the relics in an iron coffer and had it cast into the sea, saying to his nobles that if Matthew is saved from the sea as he was preserved in the fire, then he would forsake all his gods and worship the God of the Christians.
Soon after the relics were cast into the sea in the iron coffer, the Saint appeared to Bishop Platon at night, saying: "Tomorrow go to the shore of the sea, to the east of the prince's palace, and there take up my remains, which will be borne to the dry land." In the morning the Bishop went accompanied by a multitude to the indicated place, and saw the coffer riding upon the waves, and the people praised the Lord. Then the prince and his nobles came and fully believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who preserved His servant Matthew, and falling down before the relics of the Saint, he begged forgiveness and expressed his heartfelt desire to be baptized. Bishop Platon catechized him and baptized him, and renamed him Matthew by divine command. And having received the name of Matthew, the prince strove to imitate him in every way, purging his kingdom of the idols. The Apostle also commanded in a vision to Bishop Platon that the prince be made a priest and his son a deacon, and after three years Bishop Platon would repose and have as his successor the prince. And so it came to pass that after three years Bishop Platon reposed and Bishop Matthew replaced him, and having shepherded the flock of Christ for many years, he also departed to the Lord.
Apolytikion in the Third Tone
O Apostle Matthew, who did hear the voice of the Word, and receive the light of faith, you did abandon the office of publican and did proclaim Christ God's self-emptying. Entreat that those who honor you may be granted forgiveness and great mercy.
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
When you did cast away the publican's balance, and did take the yoke of righteousness, and become a merchant rich in wisdom, you did preach the true Word and did rouse the slothful by describing the Last Judgment.
When the Master called you to forsake all things, O blessed Matthew, you did not delay in obeying Him; and you recorded the tidings of salvation for publicans and sinners, and all that trust in Him.