Matthew appears in the Gospels as a tax collector for the Roman government in the city of Capernaum. He was probably born in Galilee of a Jewish family, although the Jews of the day despised tax collectors as traitors and collaborators with the Roman oppressors and generally excluded them from the activities of the Jewish community. Pious Pharisees refused to marry into a family who had a tax collector as a member. Yet in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus notes that it was the tax collector rather than the prideful Pharisee who prayed an acceptable prayer, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner”, and went home justified.
In the Gospels of Mark and Luke, Levi, not Matthew, is called to discipleship, but Matthew always appears in the lists of the twelve disciples. In Mark and Luke, Matthew and Levi do not seem to be regarded as the same person; Origen and others distinguished between them as well. However, it is sometimes suggested the Levi was his original name and that Matthew, which in Hebrew means “gift from God”, was given to him after he joined the followers of Jesus. Mark calls him the son of Alphaeus, a man otherwise unknown and apparently not the Alphaeus who was the father of James the Less.
Since the second century the authorship of the first Gospel has been attributed to Saint Matthew. The name Levi does not appear in this Gospel, and in the list of the twelve disciples the name Matthew, who is identified as “the tax collector” (“publican” in older translations), comes after that of Thomas, which it precedes in the other New Testament lists.
Little is known of Saint Matthew’s life beyond the story of his call, when at the word of Jesus he left his desk and devoted himself to following Jesus. Tradition suggests that he was the oldest of the twelve disciples (and of the later Twelve Apostles). The fourth-century bishop and historian Eusebius writes that after the Ascension Matthew preached for fifteen years in Judaea and then went to foreign nations. Socrates Scholasticus writes that he labored in Ethiopia. Ambrose of Milan sends him to Persia and Isidore of Seville to the Macedonians, while others hold that he preached among the Medes and the Persians. Heracleon writes that Matthew died a natural death, but later tradition makes him a martyr, dramatizing his death by fire or the sword.
prepared from The New Book of Festivals and Commemoration
and Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)
We thank you, heavenly Father, for the witness of your apostle and evangelist Matthew to the Gospel of your Son our Savior; and we pray that, after his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
My son, do not forget my teaching,
but let your heart keep my commandments,
for length of days and years of life
and peace they will add to you.
Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good success
in the sight of God and man.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes, *
and I shall keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law; *
I shall keep it with all my heart.
Make me go in the path of your commandments, *
for that is my desire.
Incline my heart to your decrees *
and not to unjust gain.
Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless; *
give me life in your ways.
Fulfill your promise to your servant, *
which you make to those who fear you.
Turn away the reproach which I dread, *
because your judgments are good.
Behold, I long for your commandments; *
in your righteousness preserve my life.
2 Timothy 3:14-17
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom1 you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
The icon, Saint Matthew Tenders His Account, was written by Tobias Stanislas Haller, BSG, and is reproduced here with his generous permission.