Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Luke—the author of the Gospel of St. Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. In his Gospel, St. Luke tells the story of the birth, life, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke tells us the story of the Church and how it spread throughout the world. I was surprised to find out that more than one-fourth of the New Testament—60 pages out of 230 pages in the Revised Standard translation—was written by St. Luke. Who was St. Luke and what does he have to say to us?
St. Luke was especially interested in children and in how people lived during their childhood. When St. Luke was writing in Chapter 18, verse 15-17, he told us that people were bringing their infants—their babies—to Jesus Christ; and the disciples did not like that, because there was some pushing and shoving and disorder. However, Jesus told them “Let the little children come to Me . . . for of such is the kingdom of God.” What do you children have that adults need? St. Cyril of Alexandria, the fifth century Patriarch of Alexandria, pointed out that children “live in a simple and innocent manner, practicing gentleness and . . . humility.” St. Augustine reminded us that children enter the Kingdom of God through Holy Baptism. Children, do any of you remember your baptism? . . . Even if you were too young to remember baptism, your parents’ decision that you should be baptised prepared you to follow Christ as you grow up, but the older you become the more the decision to follow Christ becomes your own decision. May your faith in Christ grow as you read the Bible and pray and grow older.
St. Luke’s interest in babies and children and growing up is especially clear in his Gospel, because he is the only evangelist who tells us about the birth and childhood of St. John the Baptist, about the visit of the angel Gabriel to Holy Mary, about Holy Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, about the shepherds coming to see Jesus, and about how Jesus was teaching in the Temple at the age of 12. To see how important St. Luke thought childhood experiences were, read the opening two chapters of his gospel. St. Luke is the only evangelist who describes the Incarnation fully—how the Holy Spirit came to Holy Mary and her response. Clearly, Holy Mary told St. Luke about her experience of the Incarnation. In Orthodox tradition, the first icon was drawn by St. Luke, showing The Theotokos—and it is a beautiful icon.
Now, both the Gospel of St. Luke and the Acts of the Apostles were written to one person—a Roman friend of St. Luke, Theophilus, so that his friend and many future readers would know that the instructions they had received from the disciples were true. As the Biblical commentator Raymond Brown has written, St. Luke wanted to “help . . . Christian readers [and] hearers [increase] in their own self-understanding”—to appreciate that they could learn about the teachings and life of Jesus Christ. For St. Luke, for the early Christians and for us, it is important to understand that Jesus was not a political revolutionary who sought to destroy the Roman Empire, but rather the person, Jesus Christ—the Son of God the Father, the Divine Word who reaches out to everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike. As Raymond Brown reminds us, the Gospel of St. Luke focuses on “Jerusalem the capital of Judaism,” but the Acts of the Apostles ends “in Rome, the capital of the Gentile world.”
In all probability, St. Luke himself was a Gentile—possibly the only one of the apostles and evangelists who was not Jewish. The historian Eusebius tells us that St. Luke was “by birth an Antiochene, by profession a physician.” St. Luke was, like us, an Antiochian Orthodox Christian. He practiced medicine and was especially aware of Christ’s power to heal people. As Father Raymond Farley has stressed, St. Luke knew that “the power of God was present to heal wherever Christ was.” For example, St. Luke tells us in Chapter 22, Verse 51 about how Christ healed Malchus, the servant of the Jewish High Priest, whose ear St. Peter had angrily cut off with his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Just as St. Luke reached out to teach his Roman friend, Theophilius, so he reaches out to us. St. Luke wants us to know that as Antiochian Christians we are a people who are following Christ and His Church in the fullness of Christian faith. Our faith is not an interpretation of Christianity, influenced by nationalism—not a weak belief merely singing songs about this “good guy” Jesus that ignores the importance of the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and the Ascension of Christ. We believe today in the power of Christ to come into each of our lives—however young or old we are—in large part because St. Luke explained so well who Jesus Christ is and how the early Church grew strong following Him. We too can grow strong in our faith in Christ and His Church, celebrating the Feast of St. Luke.
And so we ascribe as is justly due all might, majesty, dominion, power and praise to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, always now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Father Emmanuel Kahn