Judea to Constantinople, Pontus, and the Caucasus

RTE: Can you trace St. Andrew’s routes for us?

GEORGE: Yes, according to local tradition, St. Andrew first preached in Judea to the Samaritans and in Gaza, which at the time of Christ was inhabited by Greek Philistines. If you compare the Masoretic text to the Septuagint, the word “Philistine” is translated as “Greek.” This is clear and it is acknowledged by historians.

After Gaza, he went to Lydda in Palestine, where St. George would later be martyred, to Antioch, and then to Ankara and Edessa, today’s Urfa in Turkey, which was an important center for the first Christians. Abgar, King of Edessa, became a Christian and this is where the icon of the Lord, “Made-Without-Hands” is from. According to the sources, this may have been the first Christian kingdom on earth, perhaps as early as 35 or 36 A.D. just a few years after the Crucifixion. After Edessa, some traditions say that St. Andrew went to the Greek town of Byzantium (later Constantinople) in 36 A.D. and appointed the first bishop, St. Stachys,[1] who was one of the seventy disciples of the Lord. Then he preached in Bythinia, Cappadocia and Galatia, up through Greek Pontus, which today is northern Turkey. Then traditions say he turned to Georgia, Armenia and the Caucuses. This was the first trip, after which he returned to Jerusalem.


Jerusalem to Central Asia

The second trip was quite different. He followed the same route from Jerusalem, but after Antioch he took a ship to Ephesus to meet St. John. On the way he touched on Cyprus for a few days, at the Cape of St. Andrew. I’m not sure if he met any Cypriotes, it was only a stopping point for the ship. According to Cypriot tradition, because the crew and passengers needed fresh water and this was a desert place, he went ashore and prayed until water poured forth from a rock.

After Ephesus, he went to Antioch, then to Nicea where he stayed for some time. From there he went to Pontus again, and to Georgia. From Georgia, several traditions say that he passed down to Parthia (Persia) through Kurdistan, and then further to the Cynocefaloi in the desert of Gedrozia (now Balochistan) near the coast and the present Pakistan-Iranian border.

RTE: Who were the Cynocefaloi?

GEORGE: This is an extremely interesting subject as these people are mentioned in many early texts. Cynocefaloi translates literally as “the dog-head people.” They are also spoken of in the Life of Saint Makarios, which locates the tribe in a desert far beyond Syria. Tzetzis, a Byzantine historical commentator, refers to them as inhabitants of India, of which modern Pakistan would have been a part. In the Greek Life of St. Christopher (who some speculate came from this area), it is said that that he came to the Roman world passing through the Persian desert, and Marco Polo mentions them as inhabitants of the Indian Ocean. So they could be the same primitive tribes that Alexander the Greek found on his way to the sea coast of the Gedrosian Desert (modern Makran in Pakistan).

Our main source for the Cynocefaloi is Ktesias (5th century B.C.), a well- known ancient geographer, pharmacist and historian from Knidos, whose writings were taken seriously by Byzantine Church fathers, for example by Patriarch Photius the Great (see his Myriobiblos). In Ktesias’ book “Indica,” which St. Photius himself used, there is a whole text dedicated to the Cynocefaloi, “an Indian tribe.” These ancient folk tales (Ethiopian, Slavic, Persian, Arabic, Armenian, Greek, etc.) all refer to the dramatic contact of Alexander the Great and the Cynocefaloi.

RTE: This also explains why I’ve seen many old Greek icons of St. Christopher with a dog’s head. At first I was shocked, it seemed like blasphemy and I wondered what on earth the Greeks were thinking. No one was able to explain it, except that St. Christopher’s life from the Menaion says that he was so tremendously ferocious-looking that when Emperor Decius saw him, he fell off his throne from fright. Do you think there was a connection?

GEORGE: Exactly. The sources say that St. Christopher came across the Persian Desert. These people lived on the other side of the desert.

I have my own theory, although this explanation is not in the old texts that cite these people, because the sources assume the reader is already familiar with the place names and locations. Several sources say that St. Andrew was in this northeast region of Pakistan, and we know that there were peoples in this area who slashed their cheeks from mouth to ear, so that all the teeth showed. Marco Polo saw this tribe, whom he called the Cynocefaloi. He said that they looked like mastiffs; that is, they didn’t have elongated heads like German shepherds with the long nose, but like mastiffs. You can imagine – a mastiff has a round, flat face shaped more like that of a human. They cut the cheeks, filed the teeth, cropped the ears, and reshaped the skulls of their babies so that they would grow into a very ferocious aspect. All of this was to protect themselves from the constant invasions of the area.

If you go to some sub-Saharan tribes today along the Nile in Rwanda, or along the Amazon, or in New Guinea, the faces of some tribal peoples can frighten you terribly. They systematically mold their faces into something ferocious – the shape of the head, cheeks, teeth…. These people were ferocious in looks, but not ferocious in their ways. They were simply a primitive people who needed to protect themselves

According to the Syriac text, when St. Andrew went to these people they were transformed into normal human beings. In my opinion this means that after their baptism they simply stopped doing these things. In Deuteronomy it is forbidden to scar or mutilate the face, so this would have been part of the apostolic heritage that St. Andrew taught to this people.

The Syriac sources say that when St. Andrew first saw them he was horrified. He panicked and fled back to the shore to jump into the boat, but as he reached the shore he smelled incense and realized that the Lord Himself had guided the boat there. He even questioned God at first, “Why did you bring me to this place?” (He is a man you know. St. Andrew is a man like all of us, but he is special.) But when the people came to him, they were kind, they gave him hospitality. They were just fine primitive people, as are many tribes in the Amazon today, even those who fight each other.

We hear of this nowadays from people who have come into contact with “barbarian” tribes with strange customs, according to our cultures. Because they accept these people, they in turn are accepted by them. In Papua, New Guinea, in the Amazon, in the jungles of Africa, these people often embrace westerners who settle and live with them in a matter we can hardly imagine, with real love and tenderness. This happened to the apostles as well. The real problem for the apostles was when they were in the “civilized” world, not amongst primitive peoples.

So, from this place some sources say that St. Andrew went back through Pakistan and Afghanistan on the Silk Road to Sogdiana, now Samarkand and Bokhara in Uzbekistan, and not far from the border of western China – “Soh-Yok” in Chinese, which means “the ancient provinces.”

We ask now how he could have possibly gone to Sogdiana, but since archeologists and historians have found the route of the Silk Road, it is obvious that it was very accessible. All of the ancient biographers of his life say that he was in central Asia, but they don’t speak of any adventures in those places, so this means that either the texts were destroyed or nothing of note happened. Usually we only write down the difficult or the very miraculous, so if his visits were peaceful, perhaps the accounts didn’t survive.

RTE: Is Sogdiana anywhere near the Chinese region where they recently found first-century Christian inscriptions and tombs?

GEORGE: No, those tombs are at the other end of China, but there was possibly a Chinese disciple of St. Thaddeus of the Seventy, whose name is St. Aggai in the Syriac tradition. This Aggai is said to have preached in Parthia, in Sogdiana, and in central Asia: Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and India. He found the tomb of St. Thomas in southern India, and after venerating the fragrant relics of St. Thomas, he died. His name in the Chinese sources may have been Wang-Hai – the important thing here is that according to the sources he was a silk producer and we know that no one could be a silk producer at that time unless he was Chinese. So, perhaps St. Aggai was the first Chinese disciple of an apostle of Christ. These newly-discovered Christian tombs and monuments date from about 75 A.D., so these really were apostolic times.

There are also traditions from the Yellow Sea, near Shanghai, of St. Thomas having been in China. This is not physically impossible because the area where modern-day Kazakhstan borders Mongolia and China was the cradle of the Huns, the eastern Scythians, and the Sacas. Gundophorus, the king of India who met St. Thomas, was a Sacan king, and the Sacan empire was vast, stretching from Siberia to China and India. People knew these routes, they were well-traveled.

The Proto-Bulgarians who followed the Huns even had a church dedicated to St. Andrew, although after later invasions they had to be re-Christianized. Also we have the Hephtalit Huns, a barbaric Turcik tribe who were the first Christian nation in central Asia (third-fourth century).

It is very important to understand that there are three separate traditions of St. Andrew’s missionary journeys to western China, eastern-central Asia, and Kalbin (Khalbinski Hrebet, a mountainous area on the borders of present-day Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Russia.) One of these traditions is from Kazakhstan, another is Syriac, and the third is from the Bulgars of the Russian steppes, who migrated through Greece and eventually settled in

Italy, filling their villages with churches dedicated to St. Andrew.

According to Epiphanius,[2] a ninth-century monk historian of Constantinople, St. Andrew also went north of China, to the land of the Scythian Massagetae and Masakas (the cradle of the Bulgarians and Turks at the junction of present day Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Altai), the Proto- Bulgarian tribes, the Ungric and Trocharians, and also to the mountains of Kalbin in Altai, Siberia.

The route from Sogdiana to the land of the Massagetae was a route that Romans, Jews, and Greeks didn’t use. It was a road that the nomadic tribes used when they collected payments from the Chinese for protecting the Silk Road. Regional traditions say that St. Andrew was there, and he seems to have been accepted by these nomads, who were considered to be some of the most savage people of that time. I don’t think he was treated badly, because there are no records of misadventures in these places. This was eastern Scythia, not western Scythia which was Ukraine and Russia, and the Chinese were very afraid of the eastern Scythians. The Trocharians who lived here were Nordic, white people with blue eyes, blond hair and red beards who were living in China and in Mongolia.

RTE: A decade ago I saw people like that a little further north near the Mongolian border in Altai, Siberia. Along with the Altai who have obvious Mongol roots, they are a second native ethnic group. The Russians call them “Turks,” although they know they aren’t from Turkey, to differentiate them from the Mongolians and Chinese.

GEORGE: Yes, exactly. These people moved up into Altai through Mongolia. They were from below Kalbin, in northern Asia.

RTE: I was recently told by a woman from the Urals that there is a wide- spread Siberian tradition that St. Andrew preached as far north as the present-day village of Kazanskoe in the Russian Urals, and prophesied that there would be widespread Christianity there someday. The village has a church dedicated to him.

GEORGE: Yes, and there are many other Russian traditions about his visiting Altai, Novgorod, Karelia, and Kiev.

St. Andrew returned from Altai, and, still following the footsteps of local traditions, he would have taken a different route to the Caspian Sea through the steppes where, according to many early traditions and texts, he preached to the Alans. From there he went to Kurdistan, where he was nearly martyred. He escaped, however, and returned to Jerusalem.



[1] St. Stachys, first bishop of Byzantium (later Constantinople), feast day October 31.

[2] Hieromonk Epiphanius: Ninth century historian and priestmonk of Moni Kallistraton in Constantinople, who wrote a life of Saint Andrew: “Epiphanii Monachi et Presbyteri – de Vita et Actibus et Morte Sancti, et Plane Laudandi, et Primi Vocati Inter Apostolos Andrae” [in P.G. Migne, vol. 120]. He is also the author of the old- est extant Life of the Theotokos (P.G. Migne, vol. 120.). Epiphanius deeply venerated St. Andrew and tried to recreate his journeys based on ancient sources. Traveling extensively in the areas St. Andrew was known to have been, he gathered many local traditions and texts connected with the apostle’s missionary journeys. It was a magnificent work for his era. Some of his passages concerning the martyrdom of St. Andrew are identical with the apocryphal “Acts of Andrew,” and it is very likely that he also used Leucius Charinus’ text.



About sooteris kyritsis

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