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An icon of St. Luke the Evangelist

St. Luke, whose feast day is observed on October 18, is called "beloved physician" by St. Paul and "Paulís disciple" by St. John Chrysostom. A Gentile, who was born in Antioch, Luke has left us two New Testament books, namely, his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. His Gospel covers over 30 years of Jesus' earthly life, while the Acts covers over 30 years of Church life from its beginning. In Acts 1:1, Luke explains that in his gospel he has dealt with "all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day when He was taken up, i.e., until His Ascension into heaven."

Luke's Gospel is dedicated to a certain Theophilus who was a high ranking Achaian (ancient Greece) government official. Indirectly, however, Luke's gospel was intended for the Gentile converts. Luke wrote to confirm in their minds the truth of what they had received in the way of religious instruction before their Baptism. Luke wishes now to give them a deeper and more complete knowledge of the teachings of their newly adopted religion and at the same time to show them on what a firm basis their faith is founded. In doing so, Luke also hoped that many other Gentiles, particularly members of the Roman court circle, would become amenable to embracing the Christian faith.

Since Luke's Gospel was written for Christians of a Gentile background its major theme is the universality of the Gospel Message. Salvation is described as "a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles" (2:32). At the end of the Gospel, the risen Lord instructs His disciples to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins "to all nations" (24:47). More than the other Gospels, it, thus, underscores for the believer, the significance of mission and evangelization.

Anxious to write an orderly account about Christ's lifetime on earth, Luke, as he tells Theophilus, had for a long time sought out eyewitnesses of the events he wished to record. As Luke himself was not one of the original disciples of Jesus, his gospel is anchored on the testimony of these witnesses. His sources, as is clear from the prologue to his gospel (1:1-4) were both written and oral in nature. There is no doubt that Luke consulted the narratives that "many" had written of Christ before writing his own gospel. Of times, therefore, in icons of St. Luke, he is shown copying from scrolls, which served as resource material for his own gospel project. In one such icon, written for the Royal Doors of a church in France, the iconographer, Fr. Gregory Kroug (1909-1969) - born in Russia but immigrated to France where he lived the rest of his life shows St. Luke as resembling the Apostle Paul. A disciple of Paul, Luke accompanied him on parts of Paul's 2nd and 3rd missionary journeys, and went to Rome with him where Paul died as a martyr for his faith. For that same icon project, Fr. Kroug shows the evangelist Mark, also copying from scrolls, as resembling St. Peter whose disciple he was. Traditionally, in Royal Door icons of St. Luke, the figure of a calf is included as a symbol of Christ's sacrificial and priestly office, which St. Luke so aptly has recorded in his Gospel.

Luke also relied heavily on the oral tradition of the early Church, which he obtained especially from the women disciples of our Lord. These Christ ministering women were his main source of information for the first two chapters of his Gospel which the theologians refer to as the "Infancy Gospel" dealing with the stories and events connected with the births of St. John the Baptist and the Christ Child.

After Paul's death, Luke left Rome, traveling through Libya and into Egypt, preaching about Christ. Continuing his missionary work, he then traveled to the far distant shores of Northwest Asia Minor, to Bithynia and from there to Boeotia, inland Greece, where he founded several local church communities, ordaining priests and deacons to serve their spiritual needs. A bachelor, he was able to travel from place to place, and in the process he healed many that were infirm in body and soul. St. Luke was 86 years old when he had fallen asleep in the Lord in Achaia. When he died there flowed from his holy body a secretion or balm which, when usedas an ointment, healed those suffering from eye diseases. Miracles of healing continued at his gravesite which the faithful from nearby and afar would visit, praying to him to be healed of their diseases. Years later when the persecution of Christians ceased, the remains of St. Luke were moved to Constantinople, on orders issued in 357 by Constantius, the son of Constantine the Great. His relics now lie there, buried beneath the altar in the Church of the Holy Apostles, together with the remains of the apostles Andrew and Timothy. They were taken during the fourth crusade to Italy and recently returned to Greece.

Our Orthodox Church tradition speaks of St. Luke as the Church's first iconographer. It was St. Luke, we are told, who wrote the first icon of the Holy Theotokos, bearing in her arms the Christ Child. He then wrote two other icons of Her and brought them to Her to learn whether she was pleased with them. When She saw the icon, She said: "May my grace and that of Him who was born of me be with these icons." Luke, also, wrote icons of the Saints Peter and Paul. Thus, the sacred art of iconography by which our Orthodox Churches are adorned had its beginning with Luke.

Luke's interest in iconography, again, according to Holy Tradition was aroused by the miraculous not-made-by-hand image of Christ. Those reading this article may already know the story but it is worthwhile repeating. At the time when our Lord Jesus Christ was teaching and preaching on earth, the fame of His healing reached the ears of an ailing Persian prince named Abgar. Though many doctors were consulted, nobody could cure Abgar. In a dream, he saw Jesus of Nazareth and dreamed that he was healed by Him. So when he awoke, Abgar began to think how he could reach Him. Too ill to travel the distance required, Abgar called his court artist and ordered him to go to Palestine, find this man Jesus and to bring back a likeness of Him. Abgar felt that even by looking at His picture he would be healed. The artist went and found Jesus among a great crowd which had gathered around Him to heal their sick and hear Him preach. The artist started on his assignment but try as he would he could not paint thelikeness of Christ. Christ, of course, knew all the time what the painter was trying to do and why, but He let him try. At last Christ sent His disciple to call the artist to Himself and asked what he was about. The artist fell at Jesus' feet and told Him about Abgar. Then Our Lord took a white linen cloth, pressed it to His Face and gave it to Abgar's court artist. And there, imprinted on the cloth was the beautiful image of Jesus' Face. The artist, there upon, hastened home with the precious cloth. When Abgar saw the image of Christ's Face imprinted on the cloth he fell down on his knees, prayed before it and was healed. Soon there after, Abgar became a Christian. In the Kontakion for his feast day, St. Luke is referred to as "a genuine disciple of the Word of God. May we, through his intercession, be enlightened and inspired to live by it.

Kontakion in Tone #2

Let us praise the godly Luke:
he is the true preacher of piety,
the orator of ineffable mysteries
and the star of the church,
for the word who alone knows the hearts of men,
chose him, with the wise Paul,
to be a teacher of the Gentiles!

OSA Messenger
Father Michael G. Kovach
Spiritual Advisor OSA