16 November 2017

Remembering Holy Apostle Matthew (rightly)

It’s been a habit of mine in past years to mark the feast-day of Saint Matthew by bringing to the fore his love for the Iranian people, both in his telling of the story of the Magi in the Gospel which bears his name and in his preaching the Gospel among that nation. Today as well that emphasis would not come amiss, as Iran struggles with the fallout of a great natural disaster. If possible, gentle readers, consider contributing on this Saint Matthew’s Day to the Child Foundation, a four-star charity which is assisting the victims of the Kermanshah Earthquake.

But it’s worth noting also, that in Orthodox hagiography and historiography, including in the Golden Legend, Saint Matthew was also responsible for evangelising among the Æthiopian people and bringing the Gospel into sub-Saharan Africa. Some parts of Africa, of course (and notably Æthiopia) have been Christian far longer than Europe has; to characterise African Christianity solely as the legacy of European missionaries is not only an insult to Saint Matthew, but also the very crudest sort of intellectual imperialism. Even now it is necessary to point out that the African churches are defending and advancing the whole of the Christian legacy even as Europe is abandoning it either for sæcular liberalism, or for an equally-sæcular race-nationalism.

Turning the entirety of sub-Saharan Africa into a political football for Western sexual identity politics and power projection (the two of which are never as far removed from each other as Westerners may think) has backfired spectacularly. This effort has spurred more Africans – on the whole more conservative than European whites – to begin to realise the importance of virtue ethics and the ethics of care when it comes to protecting themselves from the continuing colonial encroachments of their long-time oppressors. As I have said before – and I plan to get into this in further depth at a later time – African Christianity going back to Saint Matthew has had radical implications. It is not an accident and not some fluke of history that Marcus Garvey, Léopold Senghor, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere and other great lights of pan-Africanism and African socialism were also drawn to traditional, apostolic Christianity.

If we’re going to remember the Holy Apostle Matthew today, let us do it rightly. Let us use it as an occasion for reflection and repentance. Let us reach out a hand to a suffering nation, a nation which taught us philosophy and right honour for the one God, many of us now still consider an enemy, but which Saint Matthew considered brothers and sisters in the Lord. Let us think back on our ill-treatment of our black African brothers and sisters, and instead of preaching to them now on what they should do and what they shouldn’t within their own countries, let us listen. They have been our brothers and sisters in the Gospel, since long before our barbarian ancestors living like wild animals in the northern woods of Europe had even heard the name of Jesus, the Christ. Let us remember the Holy Apostle Matthew and his missions to Persia and Æthiopia, then, in a respectful and attentive manner.

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