June 11, 2015

Holy Apostle Barnabas as a Model for our Lives

St. Barnabas the Apostle (Feast Day - June 11)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The Apostle Barnabas was a "Jewish Levite, an offspring of Cyprus." Originally his name was Joses, but the Apostles renamed him Barnabas, which means "son of comfort", namely son of consolation, because he had the gift of comforting people and supporting them in the faith, and "he comforts those who turn their hearts to the Lord."

He belonged to the chorus of the Seventy Apostles and ranked first among them. He was "the first of the seventy, equal to the twelve" (Apolytikion of the Apostle Barnabas). Because of his fiery zeal and exceptional gifts, he was held in great honor by all and were confident in his judgement. This is evidenced by the fact that during the period when there was mistrust and skepticism towards the good intentions of the Apostle Paul, because of his past as a persecutor of Christians, the Apostle Barnabas discerned in the person of the Apostle Paul a fervent preacher of the Gospel, and managed to dissolve suspicions and coldness and brought him into brotherly communion with the other Apostles.

Together with the Apostle Paul we find him first in Antioch, which was a broad and fertile mission field. Then they journeyed to Cyprus, Pamphylia, Pisidia, Iconium and Lycaonia, having as their assistant the evangelist Mark, nephew of Barnabas, but who abandoned them in Perge in Pamphylia. The journey lasted three years, with many trials, persecutions and dangers that nearly led to death, but also had satisfactory fruition among both Jews and Gentiles.

The new journey they organized together did not bear fruit so they followed a separate course. The cause of their dispute and separation was on the one hand the insistence of Barnabas to bring Mark with them, who had previously abandoned them, and on the other hand the refusal of Paul to take back the apostate. Of course, this dispute did not cause their relationship to cool, but they just followed their separate ways, choosing to agree to disagree. The journeys of the Apostle to the Nations is known from the Acts of the Apostles. The Apostle Barnabas receieved Mark and went to Cyprus, where he served, according to tradition, as the first Bishop of the Church of Cyprus. He is its founder and patron.

According to oral testimony, he also preached the Gospel in Alexandria, Rome as well as in Milan in southern Italy, where he is considered the founder of the Church there. The last days of his life he spent in Salamis, Cyprus where he suffered martyrdom. The Jews stoned him to death, probably between 57-60 A.D. His tomb is near Salamina, next to the Monastery that bears his name, which today is not in operation and abandoned since 1974, due to the Turkish occupation of the island.

In the Old testament God, through the mouth of the Prophet Isaiah, urges the Priests to console His people. That is, their words towards the people should be comforting. They were to target the hearts of people, consoling and supporting them. And their words were to have the strength to comfort and heal; it was not enough to speak nicely, but they should have the Grace of the Comforter, which is given according to the degree of purification to all those who struggle and are purified of their passions through repentance and through the life in Christ in general. This injunction is always timely, since people are in pain in every era, and they face many temptations and difficulties, thus needing support and genuine consolation.

Anthony the Great says that a person is a field for the action of three wills. First, is the will of God, which is perfect and salvific. Second, is our human will, which is neither good nor evil. Third, is the will of the devil, which leads to loss.

The words of people dominated by the devil are devastating. They create turmoil in the soul and sow hatred between people. The words of people who do not have the energy of the Holy Spirit or the evil spirit does not cause harm to others, but neither does it do good. However, the presence and the words of those who have acquired the Holy Spirit, have divine power and energy, and provide much help to the people of God. It supports them, truly comforts them and heals them. Their words are not empty and hollow, but are "phrases of eternal life" that regenerate and enliven.

The effort to acquire the Holy Spirit, which according to Saint Seraphim of Sarov is the purpose of the Christian life, must be made by all the faithful, clergy and laity, as the commands of God are the same for everyone. And truly there are lay people, such as monastics, who have received the Grace of the sacramental priesthood, who are, because they have the spiritual priesthood, the life-creating Grace of the Holy Spirit, and they have the ability to heal people, to truly comfort them and support them. And there are ordained priests who do not have this ability.

Those who have the spiritual priesthood are "sons of comfort", and they have the ability to enter the depths and substance of human problems and diagnose the actual cause. In this way they can effectively help people. Hence they are the undeniable hope and authentic consolation of God's people.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ἀπόστολος Βαρνάβας", June 2002. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.