July 4 is the memorial of St. Andrew of Crete.
St. Andrew was born in Damascus around the year 660. His parents’ names were George and Gregoria. Andrew is said to have been mute until he took his first communion, at the age of seven, in a church in the city where he was born.
He was considered gifted, in intelligence and in virtue, and was sent to the better schools of Damascus until he was 14 or 15 years old.
His parents then sent him to the Monastery of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. At that time, there was no patriarch of Jerusalem, the previous patriarch having recently died. Serving in the absence of a patriarch, Theodore accepted Andrew, tonsured him as a monk, and accepted him among the great basilica’s clerics and notaries. Near the end of Theodor's life, he raised Andrew to the position of assistant to the general treasurer, placing him in charge of the distribution of money to the community of the Holy Sepulcher.
Not long afterward, the Emperor Constantine IV brought the empire’s bishops and monks together at the Sixth Ecumenical Council, which affirmed two natures in the Incarnate Word, and restored the long broken relationship between Rome and Constantinople. The Council’s decisions were carried to the three Eastern metropolises, then under Arab domination, by their respective messengers. The Jerusalem church approved the decisions in a special meeting and sent Andrew, with two other monks, to convey to the emperor the approval of the see of St. James.
Andrew left at once for Constantinople, probably in the autumn of 685. However, upon arrival, he learned that the emperor had died, leaving power in the hands of the emperor’s son Justinian II. His mission completed, Andrew remained in Constantinople while the other two monks returned to Palestine. Andrew then continued his monastic life in Constantinople’s Monastery of the Blachernes, where he was ordained as a deacon of the Great Church, and possibly ordained as a priest. He was charged with overseeing philanthropic houses, and gained recognition for success in his work with the poor and elderly.
Around 711, Andrew was chosen to be the Archbishop of Gortyna, in Crete. Soon after his appointment, political disturbances and power struggles briefly tested the Church’s commitment to its recent Council’s decisions and upset its newly regained unity.
In October of that year, the newly elected Pope Constantine visited Constantinople and Nicomedia, celebrating mass before he left to return to Rome. Soon afterward, Emperor Justinian II was deposed and killed by rebels loyal to Philippicus Bardanes, and Philippicus briefly became emperor. During that time, Philippicus rejected the Sixth Council and replaced the Patriarch of Constantinople for refusing to sign Philippicus’s document rejecting that Council. Philippicus placed the new patriarch, together with Andrew and others, under pressure to accept the monotheletism that the Church had rejected at that Council. However, Philippicus had little support and he, in turn, was deposed in less than two years. His successor reversed his policies, restoring the doctrines of the Sixth Ecumenical Council.
As bishop of Crete, Andrew became a theologian, an orator and a hymn-writer. He introduced the canon into the liturgy, and may have even invented it, writing poetry for church music. The bishop, who had been unable to speak until he was seven years old, came to be considered one of the best preachers of the Greek Church. He gave homilies on feast days, many of which still survive. As a theologian, he is best known for his interest in the Virgin Mary, especially his view that Mary was in a unique way a daughter of God, and for his defense of the veneration of images.
By 715, with a new patriarch in Constantinople, the Eastern and Western Church were again in agreement, even while the Eastern and Western Empires had become irrevocably divided and Arab attacks plagued Constantinople. Part of the Isle of Crete fell under Muslim control, possibly in 715. Constantinople was besieged by Arabs from 717 to 718. Andrew’s work required him to encourage his people in the face of attacks both from Arabs and from Scythians (Bulgarians).
Andrew made discrete references to the ongoing wars in his homilies and panegyrics. During that era, he reformed the liturgy, rebuilt churches that had fallen into ruin, and built accommodations to care for travelers, the elderly, and the sick. In the wake of frequent wars, the people of Crete faced plagues and famines, adding to their hardships.
In 723, the emperor took action to remove Crete from direct papal authority and brought it into the see of Constantinople.
In 740 (or possibly in 725 – either year would have fallen in the eighth year of a 15-year “indiction” and possibly within the time when St. Andrew was bishop of Crete), Andrew journeyed to Constantinople to try to seek the court’s help in meeting the most immediate needs of the suffering people of his island. His mission was successful. He left Constantinople with his heart full of joy, returning home. Along the way, his ship had to put into port at the Island of Militine. There Andrew died, on July 4, 740. His relics were later moved to Constantinople, and were seen there as late as 1350 in a monastery that then bore his name.
Andrew is revered in the Orthodox churches. He is especially remembered for introducing the canon into the liturgy, which other composers later followed, and he is credited more as the innovator of the new musical form than as a great composer. In Greek Orthodox churches, Andrew’s lengthy Great Canon of Lent is sung in its entirety on Thursday of the fifth week of Lent, and its four parts are each sung on one of the first four days of the first week of Lent.
The best scholarly biographical information that I found is the article written by S. Vailhé and published in the periodical Echos d'Orient in 1902. I have linked below to the catalog of the library at St. John's University, which has a copy of the volume containing Vailhé's article. In case you have reached this page in the course of scholarly research and the link does not work, try the home page for the Clemens Library/Alcuin Library at the university's website, and contact the library for current information or arrange for an inter-library loan.
Henry, H.T., “St. Andrew of Crete” The Catholic Encyclopedia.
Nystrom, Bradley, “Christianity in Crete (to 827)", The Ecole Initiative.
Vailhé, S., “Saint André de Crète,” Echos d'Orient, Vol. 5, 1902, pp. 378-387.
Image: St. Andrew of Crete from the website of the Monastère Orthodoxe des Saints Elie et Elisée