St. John, the Beloved Disciple

“Little children, love one another”

Were the constantly repeated words of St. John at the end of life (as reported by St. Jerome). This man, this saint, the St. John of the Mission of St. James Anglican Church, stands out from the many saints and martyrs of the Christian church of the same name, for he was one of the most important of Jesus’ Disciples, the author of the Fourth Gospel of the New Testament and (according to tradition) of Revelation, a pillar of the Early Christian Church, a witness to the crucifixion and resurrection, and (again according to tradition) charged by Jesus on the cross with caring for Jesus' mother after His death and ascension.

The Gospel According to John, Chapter 1, verses 1 through 18, regarded as the prologue, is a powerful inspiration for many."And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth." (Chap. 1:14, NRSV)

St. John (sometimes also referred to as St. John the Evangelist), along with his brother St. James (the Greater) was the son of Zebedee and Salome.It was John who followed another John (the Baptist) when the Baptist proclaimed “Behold the Lamb of God” referring to Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan.From that place near the Jordan River, this fisherman, John, followed his new master to Galilee.

St. John’s symbol is the eagle with a haloAlthough younger than his brother James, John gained prominence in Jesus’ band of Disciples, coming to be known as the “Beloved Disciple”.He was known as “Beloved” because he bore witness to the Gospel’s message over and over in the New Testament.

He was present at many of the important events of Jesus’ life and ministry.The ones that are recorded are to be found in the New Testament but there are additional stories that have come down through Christian tradition of the Early Church Fathers.John was at Jesus’ baptism; he was with Peter and James in the Garden of Gethsemane.He is depicted in art as the Disciple who sits next to Jesus at the Last Supper. Tradition holds thatJohn was the only disciple present at the Cross, but not all accounts agree with this. John was certainly highly revered by Jesus since it was John to whom Jesus entrusted his mother, Mary, as John stood vigil at the foot of the Cross.It was John, along with Peter, who first heard of Jesus’ Resurrection from Mary Magdalene and it was John who overtook Peter, as they both raced to the empty tomb.After Christ’s Resurrection and before his Ascension, John was the first to recognize his master, as Jesus returned at dawn to the shores of Galilee where John and Peter were fishing.

John’s talents were not limited to fishing. He was also a writer. While there is scholarly discussion on whether or not he was the writer of the letters and the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, he was the author of the fourth Gospel, the Gospel of St. John.This Gospel is very different than the first three, just as the Disciple who wrote it seems to have been very different from the other twelve.

John has been ultimately overshadowed by Peter. While Peter traveled to Rome, becoming identified with the only major Christian center to remain during the period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Islam, John as one of the early pillars of the Christian church remained in Jerusalem.He probably stayed there until the death of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

After her death as well as the deaths of Peter and Paul, John moved to Ephesus in about 97AD.

Ephesus was the second largest city in the Roman Empire. It is located on the western edge of modern day Turkey, near the Aegean Sea.It used to have its own harbor, but today is 5 kilometers inland. Another tradition holds that John brought Mary with him to Ephesus. There is an ancient structure called the House of the Virgin there, today. Archaeologists who have examined it believe most of the building dates from the 6th or 7th century, but its foundations are much older and may well date from the 1st century AD.

The Basilica of St. John was a great church in Ephesus constructed by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century, and its partially restored remnants stand over the believed burial site of St. John. Tertullian and St. Jerome both claim that during the persecution of Domitian, John was taken to Rome and placed in a cauldron of boiling oil which did not harm him.Surviving that ordeal, John was sent to work in the mines of Patmos.Some scholars believe from this that St. John and John of Patmos and the author of the Book of Revelation are all the same man. Tradition does claim that St. John was the only Disciple who lived to old age and who was not martyred for this faith.

It should be no surprise that the name St. John is a popular one for a church. We share that name with St. John’s Anglican in Petaluma, St. John’s Episcopal in Clayton, St John the Evangelist Orthodox Church in Orinda, and St John Vianney Catholic in Walnut Creek.King John of Magna Carta fame was also named for St. John, but chose St. Wulfstan as his patron saint.St. John’s feast day is December 27 and the Freemasons, choosing him as their saint, begin their yearly sessions after that date.St. John’s symbol is the eagle with a halo. The eagle has also been a symbol of the resurrection of Christ.

Sources of inspiration for the above biography:

Fonck, Leopold, "St.John the Evangelist", The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 8 New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910.15 Aug. 2010

Baring-Gould MA, The Lives of the Saints, 1914

The New Oxford Annotated Bible, NRSV, Augmented 3rd Edition

Article written by Susannah Faria