Background of St. Luke
The holy Evangelist Luke was born in the Syrian city of Antioch. His parents were not members of the Hebrew race; and the very name “Luke” bears witness to this in part, for it is an abbreviated form of the Latin name “Lucanus.” Furthermore, in one passage in his Epistle to the Colossians, the holy Apostle Paul makes a clear distinction between Luke and those “who are of the circumcision,” that is, the Jews (Col 4:10-15). In his own writings, however, Luke shows a thorough knowledge of the Law of Moses and the customs of the Jewish people. Hence, we may conclude that Luke had already adopted the Jewish religion before his conversion to Christ. Moreover, in his native land, which was renowned for the flourishing state of the arts and sciences, Luke had developed his intellect with various scholarly studies. From the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians, we learn also that Luke had studied medicine (Col 4:14). Tradition also informs us that he was a painter. He undoubtedly received an excellent education in general, for the quality of the Greek language in his writings is far more pure and correct than that of the other New Testament writers.
Coming to Christ
When rumor of the miracles and teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ spread from Galilee throughout Syria and the entire surrounding region, Luke journeyed from Antioch to Galilee, where the Lord Jesus Christ had begun to sow the seeds of His saving teaching. These seeds found good soil for themselves in the heart of Luke, and bore much fruit. The holy Luke was soon found worthy of a place in the company of the Seventy Apostles and, after receiving traveling instructions from the Lord and the power to work miracles, he went “before the face” of the Lord Jesus Christ, preaching the imminence of the kingdom of God and preparing His way.
At the Crucifixion
During the final days of the Savior’s earthly life, when, with the striking down of the Shepherd, the sheep of His flock also were scattered, the holy Luke abode in Jerusalem, lamenting and weeping for his Lord Who had voluntarily accepted suffering. In all probability, Luke also stood “afar off” among the others who knew Jesus, and looked upon the Crucified One. But soon after, his sorrow was turned into joy, for the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ consoled Luke on the very day of His resurrection, counting him worthy to see and converse with Him, as Luke himself informs us in his Gospel in great personal detail (Luke 24:13-32).
On the Road to Emmaus
Grieving over the death of His Master and in doubt concerning His resurrection, of which the myrrh-bearing women had informed him, Luke set out from Jerusalem for Emmaus in the company of Cleopas, another disciple of the Lord. Along the road to that town, he was accounted worthy to become the traveling companion of Him Who is “the way, the truth and the life.” Both disciples were walking and conversing with one another when Jesus Himself overtook them and walked with them. The Lord appeared to them, as the Evangelist Mark relates, “in another form” (Mark 16:12), and not in the form in which they had known Him before. Moreover, by the special providence of God, “their eyes were holden” (Luke 24:16), that they might not recognize the Lord Who had appeared to them. They supposed that their Companion was one of the pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover.
“What manner of conversation is this that ye have with one another, as ye walk, and are sad?” the Lord asked them. “Art Thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?” Cleopas asked in return. “What things?” Jesus asked again. “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, Who was a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and all the people; and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and have crucified Him. But we hoped that it had been He Who should have redeemed Israel; and besides all this, today is the third day since these things were done. Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, who were early at the sepulcher; and when they found not His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels, who said that He was alive. And certain of those who were with us went to the sepulcher, and found it even as the women had said; but Him they saw not.”
Then said the Lord to them: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?” And, beginning with Moses, the Lord Christ explained to them passages from all the prophets that told of Him in the Scriptures. Thus, conversing with the Lord, the disciples drew nigh to Emmaus without being aware of it. And since His conversation was pleasing to them, and their Companion made as if to journey further, they besought Him to remain with them, saying: “Abide with us; for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.”
Therefore He entered the town and sojourned with them in a certain house. When He reclined with them to dine, He took a loaf of bread from the table and, blessing it, broke it and gave it to them. No sooner did the Lord do this than His disciples immediately recognized Him. In all probability, the Lord had performed this action in the presence of His disciples previously; moreover, they may have recognized Him from the wounds made by the nails that had pierced His hands. But at that moment, the Lord vanished from before their eyes, and they said to one another: “Did not our hearts burn within us, while He talked with us along the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures?”
Back in Jerusalem the Risen Lord Appears once More
Desiring to share their joy with the other disciples of the Lord, Luke and Cleopas rose immediately from their meal and set out for Jerusalem. There they found the apostles and the other disciples assembled in one house, and, of course, they announced to them straightway that Christ had risen from the dead, and that they had seen Him and conversed with Him. For their part, the apostles reassured them, relating that the Lord had truly risen and had appeared to Simon. Then Luke and Cleopas recounted to the apostles in detail all that had transpired with them on the way, and how they had recognized Christ the Lord in the breaking of the bread. (*Partaking of Holy Communion, we also recognize Christ in “the breaking of the bread”.)
In the midst of their conversation, the risen Lord Himself suddenly appeared among the apostles, bestowed His peace upon them and calmed their troubled hearts. To convince those who thought that what they were seeing was not merely the ghost of their dead Teacher, the Lord showed them the wounds which the nails had inflicted upon His hands and feet, and partook of some food. Then the Evangelist Luke was again accounted worthy to hear from the Lord an explanation of all said of Him in the sacred Scriptures of the Old Testament, and received the gift of understanding the Scriptures (Luke 24:18-49).
St. Luke at Sebaste, Antioch, Greece, and Phillipi
After the ascension of the Lord, the holy Luke remained in Jerusalem for a time, with the other apostles; but later, as tradition bears witness, he went to Antioch, his native city, where there were already many Christians. Along
the road to Antioch, he passed through the city of Sebaste, the principal city of Samaria. There he proclaimed the glad tidings of the coming of the Messiah. There also, he found the incorrupt relics of St. John the Forerunner. When it came time for him to leave Sebaste, the holy Luke wished to take them with him to his native land, but the Christians there, fervently honoring the Baptizer of the Lord, would not permit Luke to remove all his holy relics. Then, St. Luke detached from them the right arm, under which Christ had bowed His head when He had received baptism from John. With this priceless treasure, the holy Luke arrived in his homeland, to the great joy of the Christians of Antioch. And he left that city only when he became the traveling companion and fellow laborer of the holy Apostle Paul, who, in the words of several ancient writers, was even one of his kinsmen. This took place during the Apostle Paul’s second missionary journey. At that time, St. Luke and the Apostle Paul traveled to Greece to preach the Gospel, and the holy evangelist was left behind by the Apostle to the Gentiles to establish and organize the Church in the Macedonian city of Philippi. Then, for a period of several years, the holy Luke labored to spread Christianity throughout those parts.
With the Apostle Paul
When, at the end of his third missionary journey, the Apostle Paul again visited Philippi, Luke, on his instruction and as the choice of all the faithful, went to Corinth to collect alms for the poor Christians of Palestine (cf. 2 Cor 8:18-19). When he had finished what he had been sent to do, St. Luke departed with the Apostle Paul for Palestine, stopping along the way to visit the Churches on the islands of the Aegean archipelago, along the coast of Asia Minor, in Phoenicia and in Judaea. When the Apostle Paul was kept under guard in prison in the city of Caesaria of Palestine, the holy Luke remained by his side. And he would not forsake him even when he was sent to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. Together with the Apostle Paul he endured all the difficulties of their voyage across the sea, and nearly lost his life (cf. Acts, chapters 27-28).
The Gospel of St. Luke and the Book of the Acts of the Apostles
On arriving in Rome, the holy Luke again stayed by the Apostle Paul’s side and, together with Mark, Aristarchus and several other of the apostles’ companions, preached Christ in the capital city of the ancient world (this is evident from information given in St. Paul’s Epistle to Philemon). In Rome, the holy Luke wrote his Gospel and the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. In his Gospel, he described the earthly life of our Lord Jesus Christ, not only on the basis of what he himself had seen and heard, but also taking into account all that had been handed down by those “who from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the Word” (Luke 1:2). The holy Apostle Paul guided him in this labor and afterwards approved the Gospel written by St. Luke. In the same way was the Book of the Acts of the Apostles written, as the tradition of the Church says, at the command of the Apostle Paul.
With St. Paul in Rome unto his Martyrdom
After two years in chains in the dungeons of Rome, the Apostle Paul was released and, departing from Rome, visited several of the Churches he had founded before. At this time, the holy Luke was again his companion. But before long, the Emperor Nero initiated a cruel persecution against the Christians in Rome. The Apostle Paul then returned to Rome, that by his discourse and example he might encourage the persecuted Church, make it steadfast, and, if it so pleased God, share with the faithful the crown of martyrdom. He was arrested by the pagans and imprisoned again. Yet even then the holy Luke did not forsake his teacher, and he alone, among all the apostles’ fellow laborers, stayed at his side during that period of time which was so terrible that the apostle compared himself to a victim doomed to be slaughtered. “I am now ready to be offered,” he wrote to his disciple Timothy, “and the time of my departure is at hand. Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me; for Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me” (2 Tim 4:6, 10-11).
St. Luke in Italy, Dalmatia, Gaul, Macedonia, and Achaia
It is quite possible that Luke was also a witness to the martyrdom of the Apostle Paul in Rome. After the repose of his teacher, the holy Luke, as the tradition of the Church informs us, spread the Gospel of Christ in Italy, Dalmatia, Gaul, and especially, Macedonia, in which he had labored before for several years. He also evangelized Achaia, which borders on Macedonia.
St. Luke in Egypt
When he was already quite elderly, the Apostle Luke undertook a journey to far away Egypt and there labored greatly and endured many afflictions for the holy name of Jesus. He arrived in Egypt, having first passed through all of Libya, and in the Thebaid of Egypt converted many to Christ. In the city of Alexandria, he ordained as bishop a certain Abilius to be a successor to Annas, who had been ordained by the Evangelist Mark, and had carried out his ministry for twenty-two years.
The Martyrdom of St. Luke
Returning to Greece he again set up churches there, primarily in Boetia, ordained priests and deacons, and healed those sick of body and soul. Like his friend and mentor, the Apostle Paul, St. Luke fought the good fight, finished his course and kept the Faith. At the age of eighty-four, he died a martyr’s death in Achaia, crucified on an olive tree in lieu of a cross. His precious body was buried in Thebes, the principal city of Boetia, where his holy relics, which were responsible for a multitude of hearings, were to be found until the second half of the fourth century; they were subsequently transferred to Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Empire.
The Holy Relics of St. Luke
The location of the relics of the holy Apostle Luke became known in the fourth century because of the healings worked there. Many cures were worked through them especially for those who suffered from diseases of the eyes. The Emperor Constantius, the son of the holy Emperor Constantine the Great, the equal of the apostles, on learning from the Bishop of Achaia that the body of St. Luke lay in Thebes, dispatched Artemius, then Prefect of Egypt, to translate the relics of the holy Luke to the capital, which Artemius accomplished with great solemnity.
A Miracle at the Transfer of St. Luke’s Holy Relics
During the transfer of the holy relics of St. Luke from the seaside to the church, the following miracle took place. A certain Anatolius, a eunuch who was one of the imperial chamberlains, was afflicted with an incurable illness. He had expended a great deal of money on physicians, yet had not obtained a cure; but then, approaching the precious relics of the Apostle Luke with faith in their miraculous power, he entreated the holy one for healing. He drew near the honored reliquary of the saint and, to the extent of his ability, helped to carry it. And what happened? The disease left him before he could walk many steps. After this, he joyfully carried the precious reliquary to the Church of the Holy Apostles, where the relics of St. Luke were enshrined beneath the altar together with the relics of the holy Apostles Andrew and Timothy. There they became a well-spring of miracles and were venerated with particular love by the Orthodox Christians.
St. Luke, the First Iconographer of the Church
The writers of the ancient Church inform us that St. Luke, acceding to the pious desire of the early Christians, was the first to paint the image of the all-holy Theotokos, holding in her arms the pre-eternal Infant, our Lord Jesus Christ; and later painted two other icons of the all-holy Theotokos and brought them to the Mother of God for her approval. On seeing the icons, she said: “May the grace of Him Who was born of me and my mercy be with these icons!”
The holy Luke also painted on boards the images of the holy pre-eminent Apostles Peter and Paul, and was thus himself the initiator of the good work of iconography, to the glory of God, the Mother of God and all the saints, unto the adornment of the holy churches and the salvation of the faithful who piously venerate them. Amen.