A reflection on St. Andrew the Apostle inspired by the oil painting of Fr. George Leonard Shultz (1896 – 1971). This same reflection was published in the Times-Standard on December 5, 2020: “St. Andrew’s Cross Marks the Spot of God’s Advent”
The symbol associated with St. Andrew the Apostle is the X-shaped cross, also known as the saltire cross. I love the simplicity of this symbol and its ubiquity in flags, especially the Scottish flag. The letter “X” was used among the ancient Greek-speaking Christians as a symbol for Christ since “X” is the first letter of “Christos.” Appropriately, this first letter of Christ is associated with St. Andrew, the first disciple called by Christ. Known by Eastern Orthodox Christians as Protokletos (which means “the first called”), Andrew introduced his brother Simon to Jesus and thus became instrumental in his brother’s growth and transformation into St. Peter (John 1:41-42). According to legend, Andrew was also instrumental in introducing the Gospel of Christ to what is now Ukraine, Romania, and Russia, countries that now hail him as their patron saint (along with Scotland and Barbados).
After becoming the first bishop of Constantinople, Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross by a jealous king, but even while dying, he continued to preach. In his final words, Andrew urged his listeners to repent from greed and corruption in order to make room in their hearts for God’s arrival. Andrew encouraged his listeners to slow down, to de-clutter their lives, and to live simply so that others may simply live. The message of St. Andrew’s final sermon is the same message that Episcopalians hear at Advent, a season that calls us to remove the sinful clutter that accumulates in our hearts in order to make room for God’s Coming (adventus). So, it is no coincidence that the First Sunday of Advent is always the Sunday closest to the Feast Day of St. Andrew (Nov 30).
This year, St. Andrew’s Day happened to fall on “Cyber Monday,” a day when many of us are tempted to fall into the feverish frenzy of online shopping, hyper-consumerism and holiday commotion. I imagine that we are all feeling more anxiety than usual this year as we learn to navigate this holiday season in the midst of a global pandemic. In the din of all the stress and commercial clutter, St. Andrew and Advent invite us to slow down and clear out some space for God’s presence in our lives.
As I reflect on the simplicity of the apostle’s X-shaped cross carved into the frame of a portrait designed by Fr. George Shultz (1896-1971) at Christ Church Eureka, I feel invited to write an “X” on certain hours and days of my calendar in order to mark certain times as sacred moments for slowing down. In this way, I can prevent my heart from becoming overcrowded, like the Inn in Bethlehem, which did not have enough room inside when the divine arrived. Just as the “X” is used to mark the spot of treasure on a map, the simplicity expressed in the X-shaped cross of St. Andrew marks the spot of God’s Advent among us, by helping us slow down enough to see and make room for the God who comes to us in the sacrament of the present moment.