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The Greek word commonly used for Gospel is Evanghelion.
In the New Testament it means the glad news of salvation, first brought to earth by the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, and afterward delivered by the Apostles by word of mouth to the world.
Toward the end of the first century or the beginning of the second, the word was applied to the books containing "the glad news," and their authors were called "evangelists." The word Gospel is from the Anglo-Saxon godspel, an abbreviated form of good-spell, which means "good tidings."
From the earliest period of ecclesiastical history only four Gospels were recognized as inspired and canonical. They contain the Gospel in four forms, those of Saint Matthew, Saint Mark, Saint Luke and Saint John, which are historically accepted by the Church and chronologically sanctioned by tradition.
The Gospel readings have been selected by the Official Orthodox Church and assigned to be read on each Sunday of the year during the Divine Liturgy.
The Sunday Gospels is an anthology of passages compiled from all four Gospels for the edification of the faithful. The order of the Sunday Gospel readings is arranged by the Patriarchate of Constantinople and sent to all the Orthodox Churches around the world.
The Gospels are read in the following order:
St. John's Gospel
Read from Easter Sunday until the Sunday of Pentecost, with the exception of the Sunday of Myrrh-Bearers. On that Sunday the Gospel according to St. Mark is read.
St. Matthew's Gospel
Read for seventeen consecutive Sundays after the Pentecost.
St. Luke's Gospel
Read from the first Sunday after the Elevation of the Cross through the Sunday of the Prodigal son.
St. Mark's Gospel
Read on the Sundays between those assigned for Matthew's and Luke's Gospel. It is also read on five Sundays during Holy Lent.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO SAINT JOHN
Saint John, "the disciple whom Jesus loved," was the last to write a Gospel.
When first called by Jesus to become a disciple he was young man, and lived to an advanced old age. At Ephesus, where he lived until about A. D. 100, he wrote his Gospel at the request of the Elders. Later, while exiled on the island of Patmos, he wrote the Apocalypse.
John and James were the sons of Zebedee from the town of Bethsaida. They were fishermen by trade. We know that they were disciples of St. John the Baptist, and from him they learned that Jesus was the Messiah. They were among the first Jesus invited to follow Him.
John was particularly close to Jesus, as his title "beloved disciple" and his position at the Last Supper clearly indicate. It was to him that our Lord entrusted the care of His Mother. Tradition assigns him the symbol of an eagle, because from the very beginning of his Gospel he soars above the things of the earth and time and dwells upon the divine origin and nature of Jesus.
The purpose of his Gospel is stated in chapter 20, verse 31: "...that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name." To establish this truth, John recounts certain of our Lord's miracles and the teachings that were associated with them. He assumes that his readers are familiar with the other three Gospels, and on some points completes their narratives.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO SAINT MATTHEW
Saint Matthew, one of the twelve Apostles, is the author of the first Gospel. He was the son of Alpheus and was called to be a disciple while sitting in the tax-collector's place at Capharnaum. He is to be identified with "Levi" in Mark's and Luke's Gospels. His apostolic activity was at first restricted to the communities of Palestine. Nothing definite is known about his later life.
Matthew wrote his Gospel to fill a sorely felt need for his fellow countrymen, both believers and unbelievers. Writing for the people of Palestine, he composed his narrative in his native Aramaic, the "Hebrew Tongue." Soon afterward, at about the time of the persecution of Herod Agrippa I in 42 AD, Matthew left Jerusalem and went to other lands. It is possible that his Gospel was written either between the time of his departure and the Council of Jerusalem, that is, between 42 and 50 AD, or even later. However, since he depicts the Holy City with its altar and temple as still existing, and without any reference to the fulfillment of our Lord's prophecy, it is evident that it was written before the destruction of the city by the Romans in 70 AD.
Tradition holds that Matthew's Gospel was translated into Greek during his lifetime, or certainly before the close of the first century. The original has been lost in the course of time. The Greek text, however, is in substantial conformity with the original. Matthew's Gospel was the only book of the New Testament written in a language other than the Greek.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO SAINT LUKE
According to the Church historian Eusebius, St. Luke was born in Antioch, Syria. He was a Gentile by birth (Col. 4, 10-14) and a physician by profession (Col. 4.14).
Luke was one of the earliest converts to the faith and later became the missionary companion of St. Paul, who he accompanied on part of his second and third missionary journeys. Little is known with certainty about his subsequent life.
The unanimus tradition of the Church ascribes the third Gospel to St. Luke. This Gospel was written before the destruction of Jesuralem in 70 AD, for it does not refer to the fulfillment of Christ's prophecy.
The purpose of the Gospel is indicated clearly in the prologue, chapter 1, verses 1-4. Indirectly, however, it was intended for the Gentile converts. St. Luke wished to give them a deeper and more accurate knowledge of the truths of their new faith. There are some aspects that are stressed more by St. Luke than by the other evangelists. Many of these show the influence of St. Paul. The theme of the universality of salvation is interwoven through the Gospel. Divine forgiveness and salvation are offered to all.
In portraying living characters, St. Luke shows his skill as an artist, and he has provided an inspiration to painters for centuries. As a historian he is comparable with the great Greek and Latin writers. In his Gospel there is a steady movement of events from Nazareth to Jerusalem. He supplements the history of the Gospels in his second book, the Acts of the Apostles.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO SAINT MARK
The second Gospel was written by St. Mark, who, in the New Testament, sometimes is called John Mark. Both he and his mother, Mary, were highly esteemed in the early Church. When persecutions against the followers of Christ increased, his mother's house in Jerusalem served as a meeting place. St. Mark associated with St. Paul and St. Barnabas (who was Mark's cousin) on their missionary journey around the island of Cyprus. Later he accompanied St. Barnabas alone. We also know that he was in Rome with St. Peter and with St. Paul. Tradition ascribes the founding of the Church in Alexandria to him.
It is historically certain that St. Mark wrote the second Gospel sometime before 60 AD, and that he wrote it in Greek for the Gentile converts to Christianity.
Saint Mark's purpose was to show the Romans that Jesus was the Savior and that He was Divine. To this end he devotes more attention to the miracles of our Lord than to His sermons, and gives only a few of the parables at length. However, he describes in some detail the events he narrates, and leaves the impression of an eyewitness. His language is simple and accurate, earnest and full of charm.
Saint Matthew's, St. Mark's and St. Luke's Gospels, though different in many ways, possess a striking resemblance in content and form. They adopt a simple and convenient plan for the life of Jesus. When placed in parallel columns or otherwise compared, they provide at a glance the same general view of our Lord's Life. Hence they are called the "Synoptic Gospels."
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