The Overlooked Holy Apostle, Matthias
Of the Holy Apostles chosen by Christ, one seems always to be overlooked. Of course, he was not amongst the original Twelve, but replaced Judas, as the twelfth apostle. His name is the Holy Apostle Matthias. St. Matthias replaced Judas and took his rightful position among the eleven others. I write this article primarily because he is so overlooked and unknown, and also in a personal way, because he is the apostle whose name I took as a monastic.
At one of the summer sessions at Camp Nazareth, 100 children were asked the question, "Name one of the twelve apostles." The number one answer, (which was picked by more than half of the children), was the Apostle Paul. This was disturbing to me since St. Paul was not one of the original twelve apostles, and also, on Pentecost Sunday, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Twelve Apostles, (including Matthias), St. Paul was not even a Christian at that time! In fact, St. Paul was present for the stoning of the first martyr of the Church, St. Stephen, after Pentecost had taken place. St. Paul became a Christian, and a renowned Missionary Apostle, after he met the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus.
The children at Camp cannot be held entirely responsible for choosing St. Paul as one of the twelve apostles, because so often in our icons in churches, St. Paul is depicted as one of the twelve, instead of St. Matthias. I am sure this is because of St. Paul's great missionary accomplishments and the fact that Saints Peter and Paul are placed together representing the apostles to the Jews and Gentiles, respectively. The Apostle Matthias also preached to the Jews and the Gentiles and he is depicted in iconography with a battle sword placed over a book, symbolizing his struggles to preach the Gospel.
The choosing of St. Matthias as the twelfth apostle is recorded in the first chapter of the Book of Acts.
"For it is written in the Book of Psalms: 'Let his dwelling place be desolate, And let no one live in it'; and, 'Let another take his office.'
"Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His Resurrection.
"And they proposed two: Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and MATTHIAS. And they prayed and said, 'You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.' And they cast lots, and the lot fell on MATTHIAS. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles" (Acts 1:20-26).
From the account in the Book of Acts, when Judas fell from the company of the Holy Apostles and hanged himself, the Apostolic College had lost its fullness of twelve. The Apostle Peter addressed the gathering of Christians, which numbered 120, and said that it was now necessary to have someone fill the place of the betrayer, Judas. Peter wanted someone who had been with the apostles during the time of the Lord's public ministry. Two were put forward "and the lot fell on MATTHIAS" (Acts 1:26).
There is not an extensive amount of information on the life of the Holy Apostle Matthias, as some of the other apostles, but nevertheless, there is much to be found. The Holy Apostle Matthias was born in Bethlehem and was a descendant of the tribe of Judah. He grew up with the study of religious writings and the law of God in Jerusalem. He was taught at the feet of Simeon, who is best known for receiving the Christ-child in the temple. The beautiful hymn we sing at Vespers was the greeting that Simeon had at the meeting of the Lord.
"Now let Your servant depart in peace, O Master, according to Your word, for mine eyes have seen Your salvation, which You did prepare before the face of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the nations and the glory of Your people Israel" (Luke 2:29-32).
The Apostle Matthias was a follower of Jesus from the very beginning of the Lord's public ministry. St. Matthias loved Christ and followed the many journeys and miracles that the Lord performed. Jesus chose Matthias to be one of his seventy disciples, seeing his purity of soul and zeal for the Lord's work.
"... the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go" (Luke 10:1).
Many do not know that Matthias was originally Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus climbed the sycamore tree because he could not see Jesus due to the crowd of people and his short stature (Luke 19:1-10). He repented of his former life after meeting the Lord. St. Clement of Alexandria, in his writings in the Stromata, points this out.
"So Zacchaeus, whom they call Matthias, the chief tax collector, when he had heard that the Lord had esteemed him highly enough to be with Him, said, 'Behold, half of my present possessions I give as alms, and Lord, if I ever extorted money from anyone in any way, I return it fourfold.' At this, the Saviour said, 'When the Son of Man came today, he found that which was lost'" (Stromata 188.8.131.52).
It is also interesting to note, and ironic (as far as anything in God's providence is ironic), that the Gospel of Zacchaeus Sunday comes one week before the preparation Sundays for Great Lent, and the Epistle reading recording the choosing of Matthias to replace Judas comes on Bright Monday, the day after Pascha!
After the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday, lots were also cast to decide where the Apostles would travel and preach the Gospel of Christ. St. Matthias was chosen at that time to preach to the Jews in Judea, but afterwards, he also preached the Gospel to the Gentiles.
An apocryphal story tells us that the Apostle Matthias preached the "Good News" to the inhabitants of Ethiopia and Macedonia. In Ethiopia the heathen dragged him over the ground, beat him, hung him from a pillar and tore his stomach with an iron blade and burned him with fire. St. Matthias suffered many trials in the name of Christ.
One of the towns that Matthias preached in was called the "city of the man-eaters." This was a town where cannibalism was practiced. It is recorded in the Anti-Nicene fathers that Matthias was captured by these man-eaters. When Matthias entered this town, the men of that city took hold of him and thrust out his eyes and made him drink poison and sent him to the prison where he sat for thirty days waiting to be eaten and die. The Lord appeared to Matthias and said, "Be of good courage, our Matthias, and be not dismayed; for I shall not by any means forsake you." The Lord gave Matthias back his eyesight, as well as the other prisoners with him who had suffered the same fate, and promised that He would send the Apostle Andrew to release him and the others. The Lord wanted Matthias to stay in the prison until the arrival of Andrew so that the other souls would be edified by his preaching of the Gospel. The Apostle Andrew was sent to rescue Matthias, and as Andrew approached the gates of the prison, the doors opened of their own accord. Matthias and the others were released.
Toward the end of his travels Matthias returned to Galilee to preach to the Jews once again. The Jews, filled with malice and anger, seized Matthias and presented him to the High Priest, Annas. The High Priest, Annas, who hated all Christians and was responsible for the death of James, the first bishop of Jerusalem, ordered that Matthias be stoned. When Matthias was taken to be stoned he said to the Jews,
"You hypocrites, rightly did the Prophet David speak to those like you: 'they shall hunt down the soul of the righteous man, and the innocent blood shall they condemn'" (Psalm 93:21).
After Matthias spoke these words, two witnesses who claimed that he blasphemed picked up stones to be the first two to stone him. St. Matthias asked that these stones be buried with him as a testimony of his suffering for the Lord. They stoned St. Matthias to death, and as an added insult, they also beheaded him to express that he was an enemy of Rome.
Such was the faith and conviction of the Holy Apostle Matthias. Through the prayers and intercessions of the Holy Apostle Matthias, may the Lord have mercy on us and save us!
- Very Rev. Hieromonk Matthias (Moriak)