18 October 2008

Saint Luke the Evangelist

Patrick Comerford

Saint Luke the Evangelist (18 October): Acts 16: 6-12a; II Timothy 4: 5-17; Luke 10: 1-9

This morning we remember and give thanks for Saint Luke (Hebrew: לוּקָֻא; Greek: Λουκάς) the Evangelist, traditionally remembered as the author of the Third Gospel and of the Acts of the Apostles. He is also mentioned in other places in the New Testament: the Epistle to Philemon (verse 24), Colossians 4: 14 and II Timothy 4: 11.

Saint Luke is also known as the “glorious physician,” and – especially in the Eastern Church – as an icon writer.

It is said that Saint Luke was born in Antioch in Syria (now in Turkey) to Greek-speaking parents. As a physician, Luke was said to have had a skill for healing, but left this behind around the year 50 AD and joined Saint Paul, after they met in Antioch.

Later traditions, often without historical foundation, claimed that Luke was one of the Seventy, mentioned in our Gospel reading this morning, one of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, or even someone who was closely related to Paul. But Luke’s own statement at the beginning of Acts freely admits that he was not an eyewitness to the events of the Gospel.

Yet, both the Gospel according to Saint Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are detailed in history, expression, and narration that are often thought to outshine other Christian literary works. Both are held in high regard by biblical historians and archaeologists for their historical accuracy and trustworthiness.

He may have accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys before staying on in Troas (Troy) after Paul’s departure recorded in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles this morning.

Saint Luke is recognised as one of the first iconographers, and in the East there are countless icons ascribed to him that depict the Virgin Mary holding the Christ-child, the most famous of them in the Mega Spileion monastery in Greece.

Tradition says he died “in Thebes, the capital of Boeotia” at the age of 84.

I find Luke an attractive and interesting Biblical figure not just as an evangelist, but as writer who provided fascinating accounts of his travels – in all he names 32 countries, 54 cities and nine islands – and as a key figure in the tradition of icons and iconography.

Without Luke, it would be impossible to imagine how we could know about the earliest missionary endeavours of the Church.

So much to be thankful for, indeed!

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This reflection was shared at the Eucharist in the college chapel on Saint Luke’s Day, 18 October 2008.

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