by the Late Very Rev N Patrinacos
Like most of the other disciples, John, the son of Zebedee, was a Galilean fisherman. He was among the earliest disciples ‘called to follow Jesus’. The behaviour of the two brothers, John and James, (Mark 9:38; Luke 9:52-56), revealed their fiery nature for which they earned the name from Christ ‘Sons of thunder’. They are portrayed as having claimed for themselves special honours, but also as having stated to be ready to face death for Christ. In the lists of the Twelve, John always appears among the first four. We have every reason to believe that he was one of the inner circle of three, as it appears from the story of Jairus’s daughter, the Transfiguration and the scene at Gesthemane. That John was the unnamed ‘beloved disciple’ is supported by the following: he leaned on Jesus’ breast during the Last Supper; it was he who alone remained faithful at the Cross and was entrusted by Christ with the care of His Mother; he was the first (after the Magdalene) to believe in Christ’s Resurrection at the Tomb; he first recognised the Lord at the Sea of Tiberias; of the three prominent members of the Twelve – Peter, James, and John – only John appears to answer the description of the ‘beloved disciple’. He was, according to Acts 1:18, one of the small group who waited in Jerusalem after Christ’s Ascension. He appears twice in company with Peter: when the two went up to the Temple to pray and healed the lame man; when they were sent to Samaria to investigate the progress of the Gospel there and bestow on the newly baptised the Holy Spirit by the ‘laying on of hands’. The earliest mention of the name of John in the New Testament occurs in the Epistle to the Galatians 2:9, where St. Paul states that when he visited Jerusalem, John together with Cephas (Peter) were reputed to be pillars of the mother Church.
We have a strong tradition supported by early authorities which connects John the Apostle with the city of Ephesos. According to Eusebios of Caesarea – perhaps the earliest historian of the Church true to name – Polycrates (bishop of Ephesos at the end of the 2nd century) claimed his city to be the home of John, of that particular John ‘who reclined in the bosom of the Lord’. Irenaeus the bishop of Lyons and a contemporary of Polycrates, said that when a youth he himself had heard Polycarp (bishop of Smyrna) speak of having known John in person. Irenaeus concludes that this John, the disciple of the Lord, lived in Ephesos until the reign of Trajan and published his Gospel there. According to tradition, during the persecution of Domitian, John was exiled to the small island of Patmos (one of the present Dodecanese Islands) where he put in writing his Christian visions in the form of the Revelation as we have it today. According to the same tradition, John died in Ephesos about the year 104 A.D. over 100 years old. His evangelical symbol is the Eagle, apparently because of the ‘high flying’ introductory ideas of his Gospel and because of the sky-dwelling visions’ of his Revelation. His memory is celebrated by the Orthodox Church on May 8 and September 26. [Anglicans celebrate him on Dec. 27.]
from The Orthodox Messenger, Sept/Oct 1997