How often have we come to the end of a good novel and wished that there was more to the story? The characters presented in the book remain alive in our minds and we want to know what would have happened next. Greater than any novels we could ever read are the stories presented to us in Holy Scripture. Here we read the unfolding story of our salvation, of the earthly life of our Savior, of the founding of the Church and of the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are fortunate that Holy Tradition provides us with more about some of the holy men and women who make “cameo appearances” in the Bible. St. Matthias is one such saint whose further witness to Christ is given to us by the Church.
The Apostles knew that Christ intended for them to be the leaders (bishops) of His Church and that he had purposely chosen twelve. After the Resurrection, the eleven knew that another man must be chosen to replace the traitor, Judas. The qualifications for one who would be a bishop as the Church expanded are outlined in the Epistle of St. Paul to Titus: “…if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.”
But there were even more requirements for this first new bishop as given in the Acts of the Apostles [1:21, 22]: “Of those men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” Two of the many followers of Jesus were found to meet all the qualifications – Joseph, called Barsabas, and Matthias. After praying for God to make the choice, the eleven cast lots and Matthias became the twelfth Apostle.
Matthias was present when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost and then his work of spreading the Gospel began. According to Tradition, Matthias preached first in Judea. He had been born in Bethlehem and had been a pupil of St. Simeon in Jerusalem, so this was his “home territory.” He then traveled to Ethiopia (preaching to “cannibals” as described in some accounts) to Macedonia (where he was imprisoned but miraculously escaped) and the modern-day country of Georgia.
Some accounts place Matthias’ death in Georgia (which claims a burial place), but others report that he returned to Judea where he was condemned by Ananias the high Priest who had already put the Apostle James to death. Matthias was stoned to death and then his accusers beheaded him in the style of the Romans. Matthias faithfully completed the intended work of Judas, who had fallen into the hands of the devil. Like all the other Apostles except St. John, St. Matthias gave his life in witness to Christ. We venerate this saint on February 24 (August 9 on the eastern calendar). Blessed Matthias, pray for us.
The story of Christ and His Church is an unending one. The characters in the story may come and go, the plot may take many turns here and there, but the story will continue until the end of time. Our Lord Jesus Christ has promised that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against His Church and that He will return at the last day to raise the faithful to new life.