Andrew, Bishop of Crete,
Author of the Great Canon
He spent the first seven years of his life in silence. From birth he had been a mute, and there seemed to be little hope that he would ever speak. Deeply concerned, his parents had taken him from one healer to the next, but without results. At last they gave up their hope that he might recover and tried to accept his handicap, since it could not be remedied.
But then a wonderful thing happened – and it happened during a wonderful moment.
As young Andrew received Holy Communion at the Christian church in Damascus – the city of his birth and upbringing – his voice was miraculously restored. Soon he was talking and singing and laughing like any other child. Later, in a marvelous reversal of his early misfortune, Andrew around 650 A.D. would become a skilled orator who used his powerful speaking ability to defeat one of the greatest and most dangerous heresies in the history of the Holy Church. He would also become a gifted composer of hymns, and would create the Great Canon, one of the most beloved and accomplished songs of veneration in all of Christendom.
The son of two pious Christians, George and Gregoria of Damascus, Andrew proved to be a brilliant student. By the age of fourteen, he had already demonstrated a keen intellect and great self-discipline. He was also determined to join a monastic community and to begin an ascetic life dedicated to prayer and devotion to Almighty God. Toward that end, he traveled to the Holy City of Jerusalem around 665 and entered the great monastery of St. Sabas the Sanctified, which was renowned as the home of numerous learned monks and Desert Fathers who were masters of the kind of self-discipline and humility required for this arduous life of faith.
Once again, the young man soon displayed great command of his mental and spiritual faculties . . . to the point that the great Patriarch of Jerusalem was pleased to appoint him as his personal secretary. (Later, he would be known as the “Jerusalemite” out of respect for his many long years of service to the Church in the Holy City.)
St. Andrew spent a number of years in grueling study of Orthodox Church doctrine, and when the great Monothelite heresy exploded and threw the entire Church into turmoil, he was uniquely prepared to help defeat this false creed. The advocates of this exceedingly dangerous belief insisted that the Lord Jesus was entirely Divine and possessed no humanly mortal attributes. But Andrew and a few of his more insightful Churchmen knew better; helped by the Grace of God, they properly understood that Christ was “consubstantial,” with both divine and human natures that were separate and distinct.
As the debate over the heresy surged toward the boiling point, the Church Fathers decided in desperation to summon a great council that would determine the correct theological outcome of the dispute, once and for all. Held in Constantinople in 680 A.D., that huge convocation was known as the Sixth Ecumenical Council, and it would play a major role in determining the future direction of the Holy Church.
Because he was unable to attend the Council himself, the great Patriarch of Jerusalem wound up sending his secretary and Archdeacon – the humble and immensely learned Andrew of Damascus – to the gathering in his stead. Held under the rule of the Emperor Constantine IV (the Bearded One; 668-685), the turbulent synod was electrified by the skilled oratory and deft reasoning of a thinker who had once been a helpless mute!
From beginning to end, Andrew’s performance at this decisive Council seems to have been divinely inspired. Again and again, when differences of opinion and personal wrangling threatened to throw the proceedings into disarray, Andrew stepped forward to bring the warring parties together and build harmony and agreement where there had been conflict and resentment. By the end of the synod, the Archdeacon from Jerusalem had helped to defeat the Monothelites – while also establishing himself as a spiritual leader among the Holy Fathers who would shape the future of the Holy Church.
Later still, after returning to the Holy City and then serving for an extended period in Constantinople, the faithful Andrew would be appointed Bishop of Crete at the age of 51, and would spend many years assisting his flock and helping to overcome the large group of pagan idol-worshippers who had for many years held sway over the hearts and minds of the populace of the Greek island. He worked many miracles in which he healed the sick, thanks to the power of the Lord God. And his leadership was also instrumental on several occasions in driving off the hordes of attacking Saracens (invaders from Arabia) who were killing Christians at that time in many regions of the Holy Land.
Loyal and faithful to the end, Bishop Andrew did everything he could to assist the Church during this tumultuous period in the history of the Middle East. But his greatest gift to the Faithful may actually have been the many books of instruction, hymns and canons he wrote. One of the most affecting of these marvelous works was his Great Canon to the Birth-Giver of God, which is still read on the Thursday of the Fifth Sunday of the Great Lenten Season. The Canon is full of veneration for the Blessed Theotokos, the Virgin Mother of Jesus.
In many ways, St Andrew’s death seems as miraculous – and mysterious – as the Holy First Communion with which his life began. Traveling by ship from Constantinople back to his diocese in Crete, St. Andrew received a vision from the Almighty, and quietly informed his companions that he was about to die. Hoping to obtain treatment for him, the operators of the ship carried him ashore at the island of Mitylene, where he expired in the year 721, according to most historians of the period. He left behind more than 100 canons and troparia, along with a lifetime of faithful service to Almighty God.
Above all, the life of this steadfast bishop and thinker underlines the great value of service to God. St. Andrew never wavered in his determination to protect the true faith, and he never lost his passionate commitment to spreading the gospel through his melodious hymns and canons. Because His servant was so faithful, God sang through Andrew’s voice – which had once been mute!
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
The truth of things hath revealed thee to thy flock as a rule of faith, an icon of meekness, and a teacher of temperance; for this cause, thou hast achieved the heights by humility, riches by poverty. O Father and Hierarch Andrew, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.
Kontakion in the Second Tone
While trumpeting forth the songs of God with clarity, thou also didst prove a blazing light for all the world, O most righteous Andrew, who shonest with the light of the Trinity. Wherefore, we all cry out to thee: Cease not to entreat the Master for us all.