May 26, 2017

Holy Apostle Alphaeus of the Seventy with his son Abercius and daughter Helen

Holy Apostle Alphaeus, with Sts. Abercius and Helen (Feast Day - May 26)


To Alphaeus.
The mouth of the divine Alphaeus covered by the bitter grave,
The Word of God on his gaping mouth.

To Abercius.
Abercius was exposed as food to the bees,
Food perceived as the honeycomb of the Lord.

To Helen.
Your honor were the stones Martyr Helen,
By which you are perceived as seemly for the Bridegroom.

The Holy Apostle Alphaeus of the Seventy appears to have come from the Galilean city of Capernaum. In the Gospels, Alphaeus could refer to either one or two people, as he is separately only mentioned as being the father of the Apostle Matthew (Mk. 2:14) and the father of the Apostle James the Less (Mk. 3:18; Matt. 10:3), both of whom were among the Twelve Disciples. Though both Matthew and James are described as being the "son of Alphaeus" there is no Biblical account of the two being called brothers, in the same context where John and James or Peter and Andrew are described as being brothers.

Alphaeus is sometimes identified with Cleopas, based on the identification from parallel Gospel accounts of Mary the mother of James who was the third woman with Mary Magdalene and Salome wife of Zebedee beside the cross in Matthew, with Mary the wife of Cleopas who was the third woman in John's account. If Alphaeus is indeed Cleopas, then he was likely the brother of Joseph the Betrothed and brother-in-law of Mary the Theotokos, thus making him the lawful uncle of our Lord Jesus.*

However, the Alphaeus commemorated today is said to be the father of a son named Abercius and a daughter named Helen, thus adding to the mystery of the identity of who exactly this Alphaeus commemorated today is. For this reason it has been proposed that Alphaeus here mentioned is in fact James the Less or Matthew, added in the calendar today as a second commemoration or associated with a separate local tradition. As for Abercius, he is said to have been martyred by being spread out naked and stung by bees till he died. Helen was martyred by being stoned to death.

That Alphaeus is commemorated as an Apostle tells us that he worked with the other Apostles in spreading the gospel of Christ, though we have no details of this. According to the Synaxarion of Constantinople he is said to have reposed in peace, though in iconography he is depicted as being bound to a cross and shot through with arrows, thus dying as a martyr, and deepening the mystery of the identity of the Apostle Alphaeus.**


* According to the surviving fragments, which may be spurious, of the work Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord by Papias of Hierapolis, who lived c. 70–163 AD, Cleopas and Alphaeus are the same person: "Mary the wife of Cleopas or Alphaeus, who was the mother of James the bishop and apostle, and of Simon and Thaddeus, and of one Joseph [Joses]."

The Catholic Encyclopedia suggests that etymologically, the names Cleopas and Alphaeus are different, but that they could still be the same person. Other sources propose that Alphaeus, Clophas and Cleophas are variant attempts to render the Aramaic H in Aramaic Hilfai into Greek as aspirated, or K.

** Perhaps he was not an apostle at all, but a later martyr with his two children who happened to have a Hebrew name that was associated with the father of one or two of the Twelve Disciples. But this is just speculation.