St. Bartholomew, Apostle
The Gospel gives us no other account of St. Bartholomew, than that he was joined by our Saviour to those men whom He called as Apostles, and chose to convert mankind. Hence, with the others, he followed the Divine Teacher, and learned from Him the doctrine which he afterwards preached to the nations. The life of this saint, after the ascension of Christ, is described by authentic writers as follows. When the Holy Apostles, after the Holy Ghost had descended upon them, dispersed to preach the gospel to the whole world, St. Bartholomew was sent into East India and the neighboring countries. He repaired thither, not without great hardship, and wandering through cities and villages, he everywhere converted great numbers of the heathen. Having provided all these places with priests, he journeyed to Greater Armenia.
Arriving at the capital of this state, he repaired first to the grand temple of the idol Asteroth, where he found a great many blind, deaf, lame, and otherwise disabled persons, who were praying to this god to restore their health. Some were helped, others not. The devil, as he afterwards confessed, at the command of St. Bartholomew, had first, by witchcraft or other means, made these persons blind, deaf, or lame, and when they sought help in his temple, he destroyed the spell cast upon them, or used natural means to restore their health, while they believed that their god had helped them. Satan used also to speak by the image of this idol, and reply to those who questioned him. From the moment, however, when the Holy Apostle entered the temple, the devil had become silent, and answered not a word.
To the Armenians, this silence was incomprehensible; hence they asked the idol of another temple the reason of it. Satan, by the mouth of the image, said that Bartholomew, an Apostle of the true God, was the cause of it, and that the same would happen to him as soon as this Apostle should come into his temple. The idolatrous priest desired to know who this Apostle was, and by what means they could recognize him. Satan described him most minutely, adding that he prayed a hundred times during the day and as many times during the night. They immediately sought for St. Bartholomew, and found him just after he had delivered a man possessed of the devil; for Satan cried with a loud voice, that he was tormented by the prayers of St. Bartholomew, and forced to give way. After the idolaters had thus become acquainted with the Saint, they began to deliberate what they should do with him.
Meanwhile, Polymius, the king, whose daughter was also possessed by the Evil One, and who had heard of the deliverance of the one mentioned above, sent to the Apostle, humbly requesting him to come and free his daughter in a like manner. Bartholomew said a short prayer, after which he commanded Satan, in the name of Jesus Christ, to leave the body of the possessed, which was instantly done. The joy of the king and the whole court, and the astonishment of the people of the city, were indescribably great. The king, to show his gratitude to the Saint, offered him a large sum of money and many other presents. St. Bartholomew accepted nothing, saying: “I am not here to seek gold and silver, but to convert the people, and lead souls to the knowledge of the true faith and to heaven.” After this he began to speak to the king and courtiers of the only true God, and explained to them how the only-begotten Son of God, by His sufferings and death, had redeemed the world. He told them fearlessly, that the gods which they all worshipped were false gods, nay, nothing but spirits of hell, and to prove this he proposed to force the devil himself, who until now had spoken to them through the idol, publicly to confess the same.
The king, went on the following day, with all his courtiers, to the temple. St. Bartholomew came also, and asked the idol Asteroth, in the name of Jesus Christ, to say who he was. The devil began to lament and to howl, but at last, forced by the divine power, confessed that he was one of the spirits of hell, who had, until then, wickedly deceived the king and the people. He said further, that there was only one true God, Who was He whom St. Bartholomew, His Apostle, preached and adored. All present looked at each other and knew not what to think or what to say. The holy Apostle then commanded the devil to leave the idols, and destroy them all, without exception, throughout the whole city. The devil obeyed, and the idols of the city fell from their altars and were dashed to pieces. This sufficed to convince the king that St. Bartholomew was a proclaimer of the truth, and after being instructed in the Christian faith, he and his wife and children were baptized. The example of the king was followed by the whole court, and by most of the inhabitants of the capital; and not long after the twelve principal cities of the state became converted to Christianity. To preserve so large a number of faithful in the church, St. Bartholomew ordained many priests, and appointed them to take charge of the new converts.
This glorious victory of the gospel left only the idolatrous priests stubborn in their error, and as, after the downfall of their idols, they were despised and derided, they thought of means to revenge themselves on the holy Apostle. And when many plans had failed, they turned their eyes upon Astyages, a brother of King Polymius, who reigned over the other part of Armenia, and accused St. Bartholomew before him as an enemy and disturber of the land, who had even succeeded in seducing the king and the whole court, and who was intent upon entirely exterminating the ancient worship of the gods. Astyages, in whose weak mind idolatry had taken deep root, resolved to avenge the wrong which had been done to the gods. He called the holy Apostle to his court under the pretext of hearing his instructions. No sooner, however, had the holy man made his appearance, than the tyrant threatened him with the most cruel torments and the most terrible death, if he did not immediately sacrifice to the gods.
Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew
St. Bartholomew endeavored to convince him of the nothingness of his gods, but the tyrant would not listen, and commanded the executioners to seize the Saint, and tear the skin from his whole body, and thus slowly put him to death. The order was executed, and the holy Apostle was flayed alive. During this inhuman torture the Saint ceased not to praise God and to proclaim the true faith. God preserved his life miraculously until the skin was torn from his whole body, and as he still continued to declare the true God, the tyrant had him beheaded. The Almighty, however, visibly punished the king and the idolatrous priests, who had instigated this fearful cruelty. They all became possessed of the Evil One, and after having been tormented by him for thirty days, they were strangled. The holy body of the Martyr was placed by the Christians in a leaden coffin, and was buried with all due honors. In the course of time the pagans cast the leaden coffin with the relics of St. Bartholomew into the sea; but the waves miraculously supported it and carried it to the island of Lipari, the Christian inhabitants of which received the sacred deposit with joy, and placed it in a church erected for the purpose. Thence this sacred treasure was brought to Benevento, and finally, in the reign of Otho II., it was transported to Rome, where it is kept at this day in great honor.
I. Bartholomew, the holy Apostle, threw himself on his knees a hundred times during the day, and as often at night, to pray to the Almighty. An Apostle found leisure for this, though overburdened with work and assured of divine aid in all his undertakings. You have not so much work, neither are you assured of divine aid, and yet you seldom take refuge in prayer to the Almighty. What is the reason of this? You are perhaps, one of those negligent persons, who do not even think of their morning and evening prayers, but like dumb brutes rise and lie down again. Of course, it never comes into your mind to pray during the day. Do you call that, I will not say, a Christian, but even a rational life? Will you go on in this manner? I do not require of you to bend your knees a hundred times during the day and night, but I advise you to pray more frequently and more devoutly than you have done heretofore.
Before all things, do not omit to turn your thoughts to heaven, morning and evening, if only for one short prayer. If ever you omit to do this, let it be on those days when you need no benefits from the Almighty. But when will such a day dawn? Surely, never as long as you live; for there is no day in which neither your soul nor your body may be exposed to such dangers as to require the assistance of the Most High. Hence it is no more than your duty to pray in the morning most fervently for this divine assistance. And as no day passes on which the Almighty bestows no grace on you either in soul or body, it is therefore no less your duty at the close of the day to offer Him your grateful thanks. During the night, you are as little secure from the persecutions of the evil one, and of wicked men, as during the day; hence, you need God’s protection at night as well as in the day. But how can you expect this aid, if you do not even ask for it? “We rise in the morning,” says St. Chrysostom, “and know not what may happen to us through the day; we live surrounded by danger: why then, do we not call on God for help?” Let it at least be done morning and night, and also during the day, while you are at your work.
Hear the words of St. Lawrence Justinian: “Nothing is so powerful to overcome the rage of our enemies as continual prayer. But as other affairs do not permit us to pray continually, we ought to pray during our work. He who is occupied with good works, prays to God with a loud voice, though his tongue is silent. We ought, nevertheless, to endeavor, before we begin our day’s labor, to send a prayer on high. For, as a soldier without his weapons dares not enter the field of battle, so a Christian should begin nothing without arming himself with prayer. When going out and returning home, prayer should accompany him. He should not lie down to rest before having recommended himself, soul and body, to the Almighty.”
II. St. Bartholomew rather suffered himself to be flayed than offend God by sacrificing to an idol. The martyrdom was inhuman, the pain inexpressibly great. But all this had an end; all was soon over. Had he acted differently, had he offended God, he would have escaped this dreadful torture, but he would now be suffering much greater pains, and such as never end; as the tyrant and those idolatrous priests suffer, who were the cause of his martyrdom. They were tormented during thirty days on earth, and after that, they have suffered in hell until now, and will suffer for all eternity. Hence, tell me, if you had to suffer, either with the holy Apostle, or with the idolatrous priests and the tyrant, with whom would you rather share the pains? I believe that you would certainly prefer to be flayed with St. Bartholomew; for, his sufferings, although so terrible, ended, and, in comparison with the pains of hell, were but very trifling. I ask you further: why then have you so frequently offended God when you had not to fear torments?
Why have you voluntarily placed yourself in danger of being cast forever into the torments of hell? Ah! you cannot have considered the pains, the torments which attend the sinner in hell! Think seriously of it in future, and you will not sin, and will therefore escape hell. To think frequently of hell, is a powerful means to escape it; and to forget it, casts many into the whirlpool of sin, and thence into hell. St. Chrysostom writes of the rich man as follows: “If this man had thought of the fire of hell, he would never have sinned: but never calling it to mind, he sinned, and thus was cast into the flames.” Hence I advise you to think often of hell.
Be Thou, O Lord, eternally praised and blessed, for having communicated Thy spirit to the holy prophets and apostles, disclosing to them admirable secrets, redounding to Thy glory and our great good. We firmly believe their word, because it is Thine. Give us, we beseech Thee, the happiness to understand their instructions, and so conform our lives thereto, that at the hour of death we may merit to be received by Thee into the mansions of eternal bliss.