The name of the apostle and saint we celebrate today, Bartholomew, only appears in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, not in John. However, an apostle in John does not appear in the other three: Nathanael. Some point to this as an inaccuracy in the Scriptures, but perhaps something else is happening.
The people who are much brighter than me have come up with the following possible answer. As it turns out, Bartholomew is a family name, the last name, if you will. In Hebrew, it would be translated Bar-Talmai or “Son of Talmai.” Nathaniel is the first name. Could they be one and the same – Nathanael Bar-Talmai – Nathanael Bartholomew? The theologians state there is a strong case for this, mainly since Nathanael/Bartholomew is a friend of the Apostle Philip in all four Gospels. It is only a theory, but it is a well-supported one. Outside of being included in the list of the apostles and an incident in John’s Gospel with Philip, there is no other mention of him in the Gospels. What little information we have comes from the legends built around him.
In one of the legends, Bartholomew stays overnight in a pagan temple and proceeds to bind up the powers of the god/demon that worked its deeds there. Following that night, the god failed to respond to any more petitions, so the pagans went to another god and asked why their god could do no more works. The demon inside the idol replied, “Our god is bound with fiery chains and does not dare to breathe or speak since the moment the apostle Bartholomew came in.” When asked who this Bartholomew was, the demon responded, “He is a friend of almighty God, and he came into this province to rid India of all its gods.” Asked to describe him, the demon said, “His hair is dark and curly, his complexion fair, his eyes wide, his nose even and straight, his beard thick, with a few gray hairs… Angels walk with him and never allow him to get tired or hungry. He is always cheerful and joyous in countenance and spirit. He foresees all and knows all, speaks and understands the language of every people.” Even if somewhat exaggerated, that certainly sounds like someone you want to have around.
If accurate, his eventual martyrdom was quite horrible. One where we don’t need the details… it was terrible.
Perhaps the legends hold only a small bit of truth, but even if they are mostly fiction, they still teach us what kind of Christian person we should strive to become. That is the kind of person whom the demons fear to speak about or breathe around. The type of person always accompanied by angels. The type of person who has faith and hope that always leads to a cheerful and joyous spirit. And, most importantly, the type of person called a “friend of almighty God.”
St. Theodore the Studite, the abbot of a monastery in the 9th century, had a great devotion to St. Bartholomew and wrote a prayer for him. We’ll close with it today. Let us pray: ”Hail, O blessed of the blessed, thrice-blessed Bartholomew! You are the splendor of Divine light, the fisherman of holy Church, expert catcher of fish which are endowed with reason, sweet fruit of the blooming palm tree! You wound the devil who wounds the world by his crimes! May you rejoice, O sun illumining the whole earth, mouth of God, tongue of fire that speaks wisdom, fountain ever flowing with health! You have sanctified the sea by your passage over it; you have purpled the earth with your blood; you have mounted to heaven, where you shine in the midst of the heavenly host, resplendent in the splendor of undimmable glory! Rejoice in the enjoyment of inexhaustible happiness!” Amen.