For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are ill-clad and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things. I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.
I Corinthians 4: 9-16 (Epistle from Feastday of the Holy Apostles)
The word “disciple” in Greek is the word “mathites” which means “student.” The word “apostle” comes from the Greek word “apostello” which means “to send out.” So an Apostle is one who goes out to spread the word of God. One must first be a disciple in order to become an “apostle.” In fact, in the Gospels, before the Resurrection, the followers of Jesus are referred to primarily as “disciples,” but after the Resurrection, and particularly in the book of Acts and in the Epistles of St. Paul, they are referred to as “apostles.”
If we are all called to be first disciples, and then apostles, what are the traits needed for these two roles. To be a disciple, one must be a good learner, a dedicated student of the Faith. To be an apostle, one must have a zeal for sharing the faith (through example) and a boldness for sharing the faith through words. It takes some zeal, some enthusiasm, to live the Christian life to a degree that one can be considered a role model. It takes some boldness, some courage, to actually speak about Christ with people and encourage them to know Him.
There are some other things that are needed, which we are told about in St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. Apostles need to be humble. Rather than be first, they must be content with being the last. (I Corinthians 4:9) They must not worry about how the world sees them—whether it sees them as a “spectacle” (4:9), as “fools” or as “weak”. (4:10) They must be content with being held with “disrepute” rather than “in honor.” (4:10) Being an apostle will not bring material gain. Rather it might bring the opposite. It might mean being “ill-clad, and buffeted and homeless.” (4:11) Apostles don’t just sit around enjoying themselves. They “labor, working with (their) own hands.” (4:12) Apostles also are not popular—the risk being “reviled,” “persecuted,” and “slandered.” (4:12-13) Indeed they will be seen by some as “the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things.” (4:13)
Being an apostle is certainly not for the uncommitted or lukewarm or faint of heart. Being an apostle is for the committed and the bold. Of course the precursor to being an apostle is being a disciple—this takes an investment of time to learn, and an investment of “discipline” in living the Christian life.
There is an expectation, on the part of the Lord, that we will embrace these roles, as disciples and apostles. That is why at each baptism, the Gospel account of the “Great Commission” is read, telling us to “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19) Because when we join the Church, that is not an end to itself but rather a beginning. The day we join the Church, we join the “army” of Christ and as His soldiers, we are cast first as students and then as recruiters.
One beautiful thing about the story of the Apostles is that most of them were not educated. They didn’t have seminary training. They were not accomplished in their field—most were fishermen with little education. And yet, faith, commitment, zeal, and boldness, mixed in with the Grace of the Holy Spirit, empowered them to be recruiters of Christians and leaders of the Church.
Not everyone Christian will go to seminary, or be called to be a priest. But every Christian is called to be a disciple and later an apostle. The priest may serve as the leader in the community, but the learning of the faith, teaching of the faith and spreading of the faith, are roles that all are called to fulfill.
O holy Apostles, make intercession to our merciful God, that He grants to our souls forgiveness of offences. (Apolytikion, Feast of the Holy Apostles, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Spend time each day being a disciple, a committed student. And work your way toward being an apostle, someone who models and speaks about the faith with others!