(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate St. Barnabas, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
Saints Barnabas the Apostle
The message of Jesus Christ was too vast an undertaking for the original twelve disciples and a task force of an additional seventy apostles was selected by the Messiah to represent him wherever their feet could carry them. It is not known which of these seventy holy men logged the most miles in the name of Jesus Christ, but of this number the most outstanding seems to be a man called Barnabas. It has been said before that inviting a comparison among the holy men who comprised the apostles of the Lord is to invite embarrassment, but owing to his close association with the incomparable St. Paul, the best-known of the seventy apostles – most of whose names are obscure – appears to be Barnabas.
A favorable mention in the Bible is an assurance of greatness and Barnabas is included in the holy “Who’s Who” in the eyes of God by being cited in the Acts of the New Testament, written by St. Luke, who says: “And Joseph, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, which is, being interpreted, the Son of Consolation, a Levite and of the country of Cyprus”(Acts 4:36). A native of Cyprus, Barnabas made his way to Jerusalem to find Christ, but not until he had sold all of his worldly goods, as indicated again in Acts. Therein it is stated that Barnabas “having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” This gesture assumes greater significance when it is remembered that the wealth of Barnabas was considerable.
Although the glorious Paul was a native of Tarsus, Barnabas stood on common ground with him when he received his religious training from the renowned rabbinical tutor Gamaliel, the teacher from whom Paul acquired, some years after Barnabas, his complete knowledge of the ancient covenant. It is also apparent that when Barnabas went to Jerusalem he sought out his cousin, who happened to be St. Mark and who lived with his mother Mary in the Holy City. With such a family background, together with an intensive religious training, it is no surprise that Barnabas became an apostle and that he was qualified to join in service to Christ with the greatest missionary of all: St. Paul.
It is generally acknowledged that without the missionary work of the noble St. Paul, Christianity might not have become the strongest spiritual force in the world, perhaps might not have even survived at all, but Paul had the tremendous help of the equally noble Barnabas, who brought Paul from Tarsus to begin his missionary work. A favorite among the apostles, Barnabas was present at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon all the apostles and inspired the greatest religious crusade in the history of mankind. It is no accident that following Barnabas’ missionary work in Antioch, that city became a center of the new faith of Christianity.
Barnabas then joined with Paul in a glorious partnership for the spreading of the word of the Messiah, a companionship whose joint efforts brought Christianity into every corner of Syria, Asia Minor, Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, Jerusalem, and even to Rome. This colossal achievement took months of unceasing labor, infinite patience and an unbridled enthusiasm for the truth of Jesus Christ which Barnabas and Paul shared in abundance.
After having briefly served as bishop of Milan, Barnabas returned to his native Cyprus as the vicar of Christ in the city of Salamina, where the Christian faith progressed with great strides, with Barnabas providing the impetus to sustain Christianity through conquests and upheavals that few countries have known. His success brought down on him the wrath of the pagan government and this servant of God was snatched from his sanctuary and burned to death. His body was not entirely consumed by the fire and his remains were cast into a ditch, to be recovered later and placed in a simple grave.
After nearly five hundred years, the patriarch of Antioch proposed removing the sacred remains of Barnabas to what he considered a more suitable site, a proposition vehemently opposed by Bishop Anthemios of Cyprus, who appealed successfully to the patriarch of Constantinople. The patriarch not only supported Anthemios but declared the Church of Cyprus to be autocephalous, which it remains to this day.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.