Today is the day on which the Church commemorates the lives of Saints Timothy and Titus. There are a limited number of Biblical figures who have “Major Feasts” dedicated to them. They include all of the Apostles and Evangelists, Saint Stephen, Saint Joseph, Saint Michael, Saint James, and the Holy Innocents. Unfortunately, at least for them, the companions of Saint Paul do not rank their own Major Feast; we lump the two of them together and call it a Lesser Feast.
Saint Timothy is better attested than his companion. We know that Saint Paul “discovered” Timothy on his visit to Lystra during what we refer to as “the Second Missionary Journey.” Timothy was himself and believer and the son and grandson of devout Christian women. Though his father was a Greek, his mother was a Jew. Since one’s “Jewishness” was passed down from the mother, this made Timothy a Jew. As such, this young man had to be circumcised before he could begin ministering to Jews. Many youths on fire for the Lord today cry out and say, “I’ll do anything for You, Lord!” I wonder how many young men would go on missions trips if they had to go through a circumcision first! We know also that Timothy was present with Saint Paul in Corinth and Ephesus, that he bore the letter known as I Corinthians to the Church located there on behalf of Saint Paul and that he ministered as one of Saint Paul’s companions to the Churches located around the Aegean Sea. Finally, it is believed that, on his last trip through Ephesus, Saint Paul laid hands on Timothy and commissioned and ordained him to be the first bishop of Ephesus. Given the prominence of that city and his intimate connection to the Apostle, Timothy would have likely been regarded as an archbishop in fairly short order.
Towards the end of his first epistle, Saint Paul instructs his disciple:
“Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” (I Timothy 4:12-16)
Saint Titus, on the other hand, is a bit harder to pin down. Apparently, Titus was with Saint Paul prior to the Council of Jerusalem and second missionary journey. In Galatians 2, Saint Paul mentions that “not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.” (verse 3) He is not mentioned in the Book of Acts (I don’t think Saint Luke liked him. I have the same theory about Sosthenes.) but figures prominently in II Corinthians. In the first chapter of The Epistle to Titus, Saint Paul admits, “I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you” (verse 5). Appointing “elders” (translated from the Greek presbuteros from which we get “priests”) is the job of a bishop and so it is believed that Saint Titus was the first bishop on the island of Crete. Saint Paul even makes a comical remark about the Cretans saying, “One of them, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’” (1:12) It is an old logic puzzle: if a Cretan says “all Cretans are always liars,” then how can he be believed?
My intention today is not to provide a meditative thought for the day. Rather, I want to show that we see the beginnings of Apostolic Succession even in the later books of the Bible itself. With our belief in Apostolic Succession, we say that God sent Jesus, who commissioned the Apostles, who commissioned the Disciples, who commissioned the first bishops in the Church, but we have this feeling that there is no Biblical record to support this belief. There is plenty of extra-Biblical support, but no Biblical evidence. This is not the case. Our Lord appeared to Saint Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts of the Apostles 9); we know that in Antioch, prior to the First Missionary Journey, the elders “laid hands on” Saints Paul and Barnabbas (ordained them). Further, we know that Saint Timothy had a “gift” that was given to him “with the laying on of hands” and that Saint Titus was commanded by Saint Paul to “appoint elders in every city.” This is the succession of the Apostles that we talk about. It is not just an historical idea put forth by a Roman bishop; it is a Biblical concept put forward by the Lord. For whatever it is worth, around the end of the first century, when Saint Timothy was martyred for the faith, he was succeeded as bishop by a man named Onesimus. It is believed that was the same runaway slave that Saint Paul sent back to his master carrying The Epistle to Philemon.
Just and merciful God, in every generation you raise up prophets, teachers and witnesses to summon the world to honor and praise your holy Name; We thank you for sending Timothy and Titus, whose gifts built up your Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. Grant that we too may be living stones built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever. Amen.