That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
I John 1: 1-7 (Epistle on Feast of St. John the Theologian)
Christ is Risen!
The feast of St. John the Theologian is celebrated on May 8, which this year is a Monday. Because both the Epistle and Gospel passages are so profound, we will reflect on both of them, with the Epistle first for May 8 and the Gospel on May 9, even though it is the day after the feast.
Saint John the Theologian is also Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist. Saint John was one of the Twelve Disciples. He was “the one whom Jesus loved.” (John 20:2) This is why he is often called “the beloved disciple.” He was the brother of James, both of whom were the sons of Zebedee. They were both fishermen. Peter, James and John were the “inner circle” if you will, of the disciples. The three of them were present for the Transfiguration.
Saint John is the author of the fourth Gospel, hence his title “Evangelist,” a title given to the four Gospel writers—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. He also wrote three Epistles, I John, II John and III John. He also wrote the book of Revelation. Saint John is the only one of the twelve disciples to die of natural causes. He lived to be over 100. He died in exile on the Greek island of Patmos.
Saint John is one of only a few saints to be given the title “Theologian.” This is because his proclamation of the Gospel of Christ was not only narrative and didactic (teaching in nature) but was also highly theological. He explained who Christ is in a way that no one else had explained.
Matthew, Mark and Luke, in their Gospels, take a narrative approach. For instance, the Incarnation in the Gospel of Matthew talks about the witness of the Magi. In the Gospel of Luke, we read about the angels and the shepherds. Saint John describes the Incarnation in a mere five words: “And the Word became flesh”. (John 1:14) He begins his Gospel by speaking of Christ as the “Word” of God, who was present and participated in the Creation of the world. “The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the Beginning with God; all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” In very basic terms, all FOUR Gospels focus on why Christ is the Savior of our souls. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) focus on what Christ did. The Gospel of John focuses more on who Christ is. Hence the Gospel of John also includes the “I AM” phrases of Jesus:
I AM the bread of life. (John 6:48)
I AM the living bread. (John 6: 51)
I AM the light of the world. (John 8:12)
I AM the door. (John 10:9)
I AM the good shepherd. (John 10:11)
I AM the Resurrection and the Life. (John 11: 25)
The Epistle lesson from the feastday of St. John is taken from the first chapter of his first Epistle and begins in a very similar way to how he begins the Gospel. It is a “theological expose” on the person of Christ. He first gives testimony to how he and others interacted with Christ—they saw Him, touched Him, looked at Him. Secondly, John writes “so that you (the reader) may have fellowship with us.” (I John 1: 3) “Our joy may be complete” (1:4) refers to the joy that one gets from sharing the Good News of Christ. John’s joy is not merely that he knows Christ but that he shares Christ with others and brings others to Christ.
Saint John continues then to give a basic summary of the message of Christ—that to believe in Christ is to be allied with light and away from darkness. One cannot walk in darkness and also walk in the Light of Christ. To try to both is to life a lie. “But if we walk in the Light, as He is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1:7) This is one of the summary verses, similar to John 3:16, which in a few words gives us the crux of what it means to be a Christian. The two Great Commandments—love God and love our neighbor—are summarized in this verse. If we love God, we will walk in His Light. If we love our neighbor, we will have fellowship with one another. And if we do both of these things, then the blood of Jesus can cleanse us of all sin.
O Apostle, the beloved of Christ God, hasten to deliver us, a people that has no excuse. He accepts you supplicating Him, for He condescended at the Supper to let you lean on Him. Entreat Him, O Theologian, that He scatter the persistent cloud of hostile nations, and pray for us, for peace and great mercy. (Apolytkion of St. John the Theologian, Trans. By Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Love God. Love your neighbor. Partake in the Body and Blood of Christ so that you can be cleansed of all sin. This is the summary of the Christian faith and life.