The first act of the apostles after the Ascension of Jesus was to find a replacement for Judas. With all the questions, doubts, and dangers facing them, they chose to focus their attention on finding a twelfth apostle. Why was this important? Twelve was a very important number to the Chosen People: twelve was the number of the twelve tribes of Israel. If the new Israel was to come from the disciples of Jesus, a twelfth apostle was needed.
But Jesus had chosen the original twelve. How could they know whom he would choose?
One hundred and twenty people were gathered for prayerand reflection in the upper room, when Peter stood up to propose the way to make the choice.
Peter had one criterion, that, like Andrew, James, John, and himself, the new apostle be someone who had been a disciplefrom the very beginning, from his baptism by John until the Ascension. The reason for this was simple, the new apostlewould must become a witness to Jesus’ resurrection. He must have followed Jesus before anyone knew him, stayed with him when he made enemies, and believed in him when he spoke of the cross and of eating his body — teachings that had made others melt away.
Two men fit this description — Matthias and Joseph called Barsabbas. They knew that both these men had been with them and with Jesus through his whole ministry. But which one had the heart to become a witness to his resurrection. The apostles knew that only the Lord could know what was in the heart of each. They cast lots in order to discover God’swill and Matthias was chosen. He was the twelfth apostle and the group was whole again as they waited for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
That’s the first we hear of Matthias in Scripture, and the last. Legends like the Acts of Andrew and Matthias testify to Matthias’ enthusiastic embrace of all that being an apostle meant including evangelization, persecution, and death in the service of the Lord.
How does one qualify to be an apostle?
Clement of Alexandria says that Matthias, like all the other apostles, was not chosen by Jesus for what he already was, but for what Jesus foresaw he would become. He was elected not because he was worthy but because he would become worthy. Jesus chooses all of us in the same way. What does Jesus want you to become?
In His Footsteps:
Have you ever felt like an afterthought, a latecomer? Or have you ever resented someone new who was added to your group? Try to see your community as not complete without the newcomer, whether you or someone else. Welcome any newcomers to your parish, work, or family community this week as someone chosen by God.
Saint Matthias, pray that we may become worthy witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus in the way we live the eternal life we have right now.
Saint Matthias (Hebrew transliteration Mattityahu) (d. 80), according to the Acts of the Apostles, was the apostle chosen by the remaining eleven apostles to replace Judas Iscariot following Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and suicide. His calling as an apostle is unique in that his appointment was not made personally by Jesus, who had already ascended to heaven, and, it was made before the descending of theHoly Spirit upon the early Church.
There is no mention of a Matthias among the lists of disciples or followers of Jesus in the three synoptic gospels. According to Acts 1, in the days following the Ascension of Jesus, to the assembled disciples, who numbered about one hundred and twenty, that they nominated two men to replace Judas: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:23-26)
No further information about Matthias is to be found in the canonical New Testament. Even his name is variable: the Syriac version of Eusebius calls him throughout not Matthias but “Tolmai”, not to be confused with Bartholomew (which means Son of Tolmai) who was originally one of the twelve Apostles;Clement of Alexandria says some identified him with Zacchaeus; the Clementine Recognitions identify him with Barnabas; Hilgenfeld thinks he is the same as Nathanael in the Gospel of John.
According to Nicephorus (Historia eccl., 2, 40), Matthias first preached the Gospel in Judaea, then inAethiopia (made out to be a synonym for the region of Colchis, now in modern-day Georgia) and was stoned to death in Colchis. A marker placed in the ruins of the Roman fortress at Gonio (Apsaros) in the modern Georgian region of Adjara claims that Matthias is buried at that site.
The Synopsis of Dorotheus contains this tradition:
Matthias in interiore Æthiopia, ubi Hyssus maris portus et Phasis fluvius est, hominibus barbaris et carnivoris praedicavit Evangelium. Mortuus est autem in Sebastopoli, ibique prope templum Solis sepultus. (“Matthias preached the Gospel to barbarians and meat-eaters in the interior of Ethiopia, where the sea harbor of Hyssus is, at the mouth of the river Phasis. He died at Sebastopolis, and was buried there, near the Temple of the Sun.”)
An extant Coptic Acts of Andrew and Matthias, places his activity similarly in “the city of the cannibals” in Aethiopia.
Alternatively, another tradition maintains that Matthias was stoned at Jerusalem by the Jews, and then beheaded (cf. Tillemont, Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire ecclesiastique des six premiers siècles, I, 406-7).
According to Hippolytus of Rome, Matthias died of old age in Jerusalem.
Clement of Alexandria observed (Stromateis vi.13.):
Not that they became apostles through being chosen for some distinguished peculiarity of nature, since also Judas was chosen along with them. But they were capable of becoming apostles on being chosen by Him who foresees even ultimate issues. Matthias, accordingly, who was not chosen along with them, on showing himself worthy of becoming an apostle, is substituted for Judas.
Surviving fragments of the lost Gospel of Matthias attribute it to Matthias, but Early Church Fathers attributed it to heretical writings in the 2nd century.
The feast of Saint Matthias was included in the Roman Calendar in the 11th century and celebrated on the sixth day to the Calends of March (February 24 usually, but February 25 in leap years). Owing to the reform of the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints in 1969, his feast was transferred to May 14, so as not to celebrate it in Lent but instead in Eastertide close to the Solemnity of the Ascension, the event after which the Acts of the Apostles recounts that Matthias was selected to be ranked with the Twelve Apostles.
The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates his feast on August 9.
The Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer liturgy celebrates Matthias on February 24. According to the newer Common Worship liturgy, he is celebrated on May 14 with a Festival, although he may be celebrated on February 24, if desired. In the Episcopal Church as well as some in the Lutheran Church, including The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and The Lutheran Church–Canada, his feast remains on February 24. In Evangelical Lutheran Worship, used by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as well as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, the feast date for Matthias is on May 14.
It is claimed that St Matthias the Apostle’s remains are interred in the abbey of St. Matthias, Trier, Germany, brought there through Empress Helena of Constantinople, mother of Emperor Constantine I(the Great). According to Greek sources, the remains of the apostle are buried in the castle of Gonio-Apsaros, Georgia.
According to old tradition, St. Matthias’s Day (February 24) is said to be the luckiest day of the year. This is because Matthias was the saint who was chosen by lot to replace Judas Iscariot. It has therefore been seen as a good day on which to buy lottery tickets or to participate in activities such as that.
Matthias is especially invoked against temptations of the flesh.
- “Saint Matthias”. Catholic Saints. 2009. Retrieved May 14, 2010.
- Acts 1:18-26.
- The Ethiopia/Aethiopia mentioned here as well as in the quote from the “Synopsis of Dorotheus” is that region identified with an ancient Egyptian military colony in theCaucasus mountains on the river Alazani. Its inhabitants were described as being black and or swarthy with curly or woolen hair.
- See “Egyptian Colony and Language in the Caucasus and its Anthropological Relations,” by Hyde Clarke, 1874
- “The Traditions of Matthias”. Earlychristianwritings.com. Retrieved 2011-05-12.
- “Calendarium Romanum” (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 92; cf. p. 117
- “web site”. Oremus.org. Retrieved 2011-05-12.
- The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod web site[dead link]
- Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2007), 15