In the Orthodox Church, St. John is one of three men to have the title "Theologian" added as a special designation to his name. When we reflect on his words in his first Epistle (appointed for today) and in the opening to his Gospel, we find a strong affirmation of the Trinity and the Incarnation as the center of his message. In his case it was the clarity of revelation expressed so powerfully that marks him as what we call, in the deepest sense, the Theologian.
Several years ago, I wrote these words: "A good theologian takes his readers by the hand and leads them up the Mount of Transfiguration, where they can see the revelation of divine glory in the human face of Jesus Christ. A good theologian helps us to encounter God, because he knows God. Though his work is too objective to indulge in autobiography, his footprints are discernable in his pilgrimage to Zion and the temple." Indeed, for the average theologian (small "t") who works in academic and ecclesiastical circles, published work is quite often objective in this sense, and is not autobiographical. Not so with St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, the Theologian. For most of us, we can understand the love of God only because of the Church that teaches, and that documents its teaching with the authority of scripture. We are taught that the man who died for each of us, to restore us to God from sin and death, and who appears now as our Mediator and Advocate, the resurrected Christ, has demonstrated God's love by his life, death and life.
St. John came at the beginning of the Church, and he learned of this love in a very personal way, a way that he wants to share with all of his readers as extended fellowship with him, and the other eyewitnesses of Christ's ministry in this world, and therefore with God and with his Son. Throughout his Gospel, John refers to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." The meaning of this can be reduced to a matter of some form of favoritism, or simple friendship. But, in light of the great themes of his writing, the apostle was more likely to have been letting us in on revelation that made him the Theologian. He saw in everything that Jesus taught and did that inexpressible love beyond all human imagination. He saw it as the Lord was going about teaching and healing. He saw it as the Lord washed the feet of the apostles on the night in which He was betrayed. He saw it as he stood and beheld the agonies of Christ dying on the cross, giving his life willingly. He saw it when the Lord appeared after his resurrection to extend grace and mercy. To John it was this love that opened his eyes so wide that he could write, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us."
And so, he tells each of us that God's love is so great that we can enter the fellowship of those who have heard, who have seen with their eyes, who have looked upon, and whose hands have handled the Word of life. He dwelt among us because of what was made known to this one apostle, that the Lord loved him. He could write of that love only in the great eternal and universal themes of his Gospel.
Saint John the Evangelist's Day.
MERCIFUL Lord, we beseech thee to cast thy bright beams of light upon thy Church, that it, being instructed* by the doctrine of thy blessed Apostle and Evangelist Saint John, may so walk in the light of thy truth, that it may at length attain to everlasting life†; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Epistle. 1 St. John i. 1.
THAT which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our bands have handled, of the Word of life; (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
The Gospel. St. John xxi. 19.
JESUS saith unto Peter, Follow me. Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, he shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.