The word of the day is “Luke.” In our reading of Colossians 4:10-18, St. Paul ends his Epistle with greetings from his companions. The Apostle mentions seven names, but the most important among them is Luke. He writes, “Luke, the beloved physician… greets you” (vs. 14).
The Orthodox accept church tradition that St. Paul is speaking of the writer of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Our reading confirms that this preeminent historian of the life of Jesus and the early church was with Paul in Rome. We can imagine that he not only tended to Paul’s physical condition but also provided moral support to him during his imprisonment. And he was not only beloved but an invaluable member of Paul’s evangelistic team.
A Classical Background
The church historian Eusebius reports that either Luke was from Antioch or he had connections with this hub of Paul’s missionary activity (Historia Ecclesiastica, III, iv, 6). Luke was a medically trained Hellenistic Jew who could write classical Greek as well as speak the “Common” Greek of the Roman world. He could read Hebrew and speak the language of Palestine, Aramaic. Thus, he was uniquely suited to write an “orderly account” (Luke 1:3) of the origins of Christianity and the spread of the Gospel in the Gentile world.
Luke would have impacted the growth of Christianity in the Roman world even if he had not written his historical works. Besides contributing these writings to our understanding of the faith, he was one of Paul’s closest associates. In summary, Paul and Luke had much in common, especially their Hellenistic Jewish background and their role as bridges between Judaism and the Gentile mindset.
Travels and Trials With Paul
Luke accompanied Paul in major turning points of the Apostle’s mission. According to one codex, Paul may have met Luke while on his first missionary journey (Acts 11:27, Codex Bezae D). But we know with certainty that Luke traveled with Paul on his second missionary journey. Luke writes in the first person plural (“we”) about joining the Apostle in bringing the Gospel from Asia Minor to Europe (Acts 16:10-17). He reports, “Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi… (Acts 16:11-13).
But Paul soon left Luke in Philippi. After five years, Luke joined Paul again. He was with Paul when the Apostle was arrested in Jerusalem. The physician then spent two years in Caesarea awaiting Paul’s trial (Acts 23:33 – 27:2). When Paul appealed to Rome, the Roman Governor Festus sent him to Caesar to be tried as a Roman citizen. Again, Luke accompanied him. On the way, the historian speaks in the first person plural (“we”) of the storm and shipwreck on the island of Malta (Acts 27:1-28:16). Then, as Paul says in our reading, Luke stayed with Paul during his imprisonment there. Holy Tradition also believes that Luke was also with Paul during his second imprisonment in Rome (65-67 AD).
The Lord did not merely support St. Paul’s mission to the Gentiles in spiritual ways. But the Holy Spirit sustained the Apostle in the human person of St. Luke. Luke’s feast day is October 18. But we should also think of him in connection with the mission of Paul. Even more, whenever we read Luke’s accounts of the words and work of the Lord Jesus and the Apostles, we honor him. The Kontakion hymn for his feast day sums up our admiration of this noble servant of Christ: “Let us praise the godly Luke: / he is the true preacher of piety, / the orator of ineffable mysteries / and the star of the Church; / for the Word, Who alone knows the hearts of men, / chose him, together with wise Paul, to be a teacher of the gentiles!” (Kontakion, Feast of St. Luke, OCA.)