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Hallo again to all.

We must confess that we have had a lifelong fascination with Christian relics, especially of the people who became the Twelve Apostles. We don't think of ourselves as experts or scholars in things apostolic, but for more than five decades we've read widely about them and their travels and fates. There are so many conflicting stories. We have visited places that claim to be apostles' tombs. There are so many conflicting claims. Now that so much of the source material and scholarship is available online to anyone who can read it, we know that the arguments and disagreement will continue forever.

We've been to shrines in four countries claiming to be the tomb of Andrew the Apostle, and read credible historical reports of the stealing and sending of Andrew's various remains back and forth to Patras, Amalfi, Constantinople, and several less-likely places. The remains of James, son of Zebedee, have through the centuries been claimed by Iberia, Galicia, Toulouse, and Jerusalem, but we have read credible-looking scholarly research that claims to prove that James was never in Spain.

The mummified right hand of St John Chrysostom

There isn't even worldwide agreement about how many apostles Jesus had, and whether they were all men. The arguments over the meaning of Romans 16:7 (ασπασασθε ανδρονικον και ιουνιαν, τους συγγενεις μου και συναιχμαλωτους μου, οιτινες εισιν επισημοι εν τοις αποστολοις,...) will never end, except among those certain that the King James Version is the actual original. We will probably never be certain whether the apostle mentioned there was really Junia or Junias, though almost all classical scholars read it as Junia. Alas, during the intervening millennia it became politically necessary for much of the church hierarchy to believe that it was Junias.

No modern bishop is going to claim apostolic succession rooted in Andronicus, Apollos, Barnabas, Junia, Silas, or Timothy despite their mention in scripture. Tradition has won this; scripture and reason fell far behind. There were twelve of them and they were all men. Anyone who argues otherwise is treated with some suspicion, even though they are probably correct.

Luckily, we don't care about any of these disputes. Where is St Andrew buried? Here and here and here: we've been to all of those places and stood with the other tourists to experience it. Yes, we've traveled to preposterous places and waited in long lines and miserable heat to see each possibly-fraudulent tomb. But our fascination is also with the fact that we, like so many other Christians, are fascinated by the tangible physical existence of the apostles and saints.

So why our interest? Standing in front of a shrine outside Ephesus, looking at an elaborate tomb reputed to contain the remains of John the Apostle, really does make us feel closer to Christ and more sure of our faith. We wondered whether or not to believe the claims that this is the same John who wrote the Gospel of John. We wondered why he is the patron saint of poison victims, editors, and theologians. We looked around at each of the hundreds of fellow pilgrims and wondered why each of them was there, what motivated them to journey from far and wide to join us in this place that has surely not been cleaned in twenty centuries except to gather and package the precious dust.

Almost everyone understands the term 'apostolic succession' as it applies to bishops and occasionally to the denominations within which they are bishops. There is an elaborate consecration ceremony to bring a bishop into apostolic succession; everyone in attendance weeps and glows and sings the hymns with unusual emotion. We will never be a bishop, but for us we have a strong sense of our own personal apostolic succession when we visit or remember purported apostolic tombs and imagine the generations of Christians between us. Leaving Ephesus, it felt like apostolic success.

See you next week.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

19 July 2015

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