Nathanel, called Bartholomew

Apostle to the Armenians

Upon the 24th of August, Double of the 2nd Class

Symbols: Knife, flayed skin, the red of martyrdom, the Gospel book


Right dear are thy friends unto me, O God, and held in highest honour: their rule and governance is exceeding steadfast.

O ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who didst give to thine Apostle Bartholomew grace truly to believe and to preach thy Word: Grant, we beseech thee, unto thy Church, to love that Word which he believed, and both to preach and receive the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Flayed Man: A Brief Hagiography

There is a venerable tradition in the Church that draws a correlation between Nathaniel and Bartholomew. This came about because of the association of Nathanel/Bartholomew with the apostle Phillip. In the Synoptics Bartholomew is always mentioned in association to Phillip, while in S. John’s gospel this is done under the name of Nathanel. In tying this together it is significant to note that Bartholomew is a familial name meaning ‘son of Tolmai’ whereas Nathanel (Netan’el) means ‘The Lord has given’. This is in accordance with S. John’s emphasis on names and the importance of receiving names from Jesus, the most famous being Peter’s naming. Bartholomew went out to what was generally referred to in the ancient sense as India, which included Arabia, Persia, Ethiopia, and adjoining regions. He was martyred in Armenia upon converting the pagan king Polymias, his wife, and twelve cities within the country. This brought the ire of the pagan priests, who charged Polymias’ brother Astyages with eliminating the pesky apostle. Astyages had him flayed/skinned and then beheaded.

More than Skin Deep

The beautiful thing about the story of Nathanel is the moment in which he is brought to Jesus by Phillip. “Whence knowest thou me?” This question is followed by Christ telling him a secret, that only he could have known. “ When thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.” Jesus beheld Nathanel under the fig tree, meaning as he comprehended something secret. In light of this, the psalm from the introit “Lord thou hast searched me out and known me” comes into a clearer light.” When Jesus tells this secret thing, Nathanel cries out that Jesus is the Son of God. Because of his belief, Nathanel is rewarded by seeing Jesus at the Ascension, and with the crown of martyrdom. Those who took Nathanel’s life, who peeled back his skin, only revealed Christ whom they were persecuting. It is in the action of dying for the Lord that Bartholomew lives into his name Nathanel. We all have fig trees in which we find ourselves mulling over some secret desire, and God beholds us ‘neath such arboreal sanctuaries. The deepest parts of us long to be known and to have the light of the Son bring us from such secret musings. In the story of Nathanel we are brought into the reality that Our Lord gazes on our innermost parts. We who have our skin in place as a mask, can learn much from this saint, who skinned and revealed in martyrdom, was in the end, a reflection of the one who sewed his skin together in the womb. Let us ask him for the strength to have our weaknesses revealed, our lives peeled back, so that we may be before Him again, as He knew us in the beginning.

“​The veil is raised; who runs may read, By its own light the truth is seen,
And soon the Israelite indeed
Bows down t’adore the Nazarene.
So did Nathanael, guileless man,
At once, not shame-fac’d or afraid,
Owning Him God, who so could scan
His musings in the lonely shade;
In his own pleasant fig-tree’s shade,
Which by his household fountain grew,
Where at noon-day his prayer he made
To know God better than he knew.”

John Keble, The Christian Year, S. Bartholomew’s Day


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