He died as he had lived - afraid of nothing, and full of praise for the Holy Father and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. Crucified upside down after having been betrayed by a group of pagan priests in Armenia, St. Bartholomew the Holy Apostle continued to preach the Good News of Christianity to everyone in earshot!
He was dying in a far-off land, around 80 A.D., and yet his heart was bursting with love and also with forgiveness for his killers. For this Great Apostle, nothing could diminish the sheer joy of having been allowed to serve Almighty God.
His life was a dramatic spectacle - an adventurous saga that ranged from the deserts of Palestine to the mountains of Phrygia to the great forest-covered plains of India, and everywhere in between. During his amazing odyssey as a defender of Jesus Christ, this fervent and bold-hearted Apostle would drive demons from the tiny body of a king's daughter and fight a giant serpent (worshipped as a god by pagans) to the death. He would also restore the sight of a man who had been blind for more than 40 years.
The story of St. Bartholomew begins at Cana, in the Galilee region of Palestine, where he was born a few years after Christ, according to most Church historians. Converted while listening to the preaching of Christ's disciples in Galilee, Bartholomew (also known as "Nathaniel") would soon become one of the Lord's most trusted Apostles.
After the miracle at Pentecost, where each of the Original Twelve was assigned to carry the Good News to a different country, Bartholomew would for a while become a close companion of his fellow-Apostle, Philip. Accompanied by Philip's sister - the highly esteemed virgin Mariamna - the two apostles would preach together in many countries in Asia Minor and elsewhere.
At the city of Hierapolis, located in the Roman Province of Phrygia (today part of modern Turkey), these three missionaries confronted an enormous serpent that was confined to a temple and worshipped by the local pagans. Instead of bowing down before the gargantuan reptile as commanded, however, Bartholomew and Philip began to pray fervently. Threatened with death, they continued their orisons ... until the great snake suddenly went into massive convulsions and finally rolled over on its back, dead as a stone!
Amazed by this outcome, but still not fully trusting the Christian Apostles, the wary Phrygians took the saint to visit a local unfortunate who had been blind for more than 40 years. His name was Stachios, and when he begged the kindly Bartholomew for help, the saint did not disappoint him. The faithful Apostle prayed to the Son of God ... and the blind man's eyes opened wide. A moment later, he began to proclaim loudly: "I can see, I can see!"
Once the onlookers realized what had happened, pandemonium ensued. Who could explain the event these idol-worshippers had just witnessed? There was no denying the power of St. Bartholomew's God, and many of the area residents began to convert to Christianity as a result. Others, meanwhile, were bringing sick friends and loved ones and those possessed by demons to pray with the kind-hearted Apostle from Palestine. Seeing this, however, the pagan priests began to mutter among themselves; increasingly, they feared that the idol-worshippers were about to turn away from their ancestral gods... which meant that they would no longer need their priests!
At last the aggrieved clerics managed to convince the civil authorities that all three missionaries should be arrested. But when the Roman ruler of the Province ordered that their garments should be searched carefully (he feared that they might be hiding magic potions in their underclothing!), the chaste and modest Mariamna exploded into revolt. Spontaneously, she burst into roaring flame ... and although she herself was not even singed, several of those who had been pawing over her garments were burnt beyond recognition!
Seeing all of this, the pagan priests immediately called for the Christians to be killed. Hung from crosses, the two men were slowly dying, when a ferocious earthquake shattered the Phrygian landscape, killing their judges and the Roman Governor in a Rash. This miracle caused a wholesale panic among the remaining soldiers and priests, who quickly cut the saints down from their crosses. Although the lion-hearted Philip was already dead, and now wears the Crown of Martyrdom in Heaven, St. Bartholomew was saved by Providence at the last moment.
Indeed, he had many years of life remaining. After eventually leaving Phrygia with Mariamna (who died peacefully, soon thereafter, in Likaoneia), he would work many wonders and bring many to Christ in far-off India) before moving on to Armenia to continue the Lord's work. At the town of Derbend, he would drive the demons of madness from the Emperor Polirnios' young daughter - only to be betrayed by the monarch's jealous brother, Astyages. In the end, this tyrannical ruler would issue orders to crucify the missionary from Palestine. Before St. Bartholomew's suffering was over, he would have the skin flayed from his body and then behead him.
The last chapter had ended; and the saga of the Great Apostle was over. He died around 85 A.D., according to Church historians, but his miracles had not ended yet. Buried by local Christians inside a lead casket, he was eventually flung into the ocean during a local battle. But the casket floated ... all the way to the island of Lipara, where the local Bishop, Agathon, received a revelation in a dream and hurried down to the beach to claim the casket of the Great Apostle. After giving thanks to Almighty God, he arranged for the remains to be buried in his own churchyard.
Later still, a white-clad apparition of the saint appeared in a Christian church and confronted Venerable Joseph, the Hymnographer, who had been praying to God for help in writing a series of Christian hymns, or canons. Smiling peacefully, the Great Apostle told the songwriter: "Let heavenly waters of wisdom flow from your tongue!" (That was all that John needed to hear, apparently, because he went straight to work and wound up writing more than 300 majestic canons!)
A warm and affectionate preacher blessed with enthusiasm for life, the Great Apostle Bartholomew took great relish in traveling everywhere throughout the known world, and in learning everything he could about the cultures in which he was doing his best to teach the Good News of Jesus Christ. A faithful servant of Jesus and a Martyr who ended his life while praising God and forgiving his executioners, he wonderfully illuminates the sacred admonition that tells us we should at all times put our trust in God.
Trusting to the end, this Great Apostle and Venerable Martyr continues to inspire Christians, wherever two or more of them are gathered in His Holy name!