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Apostle Paul: The Conversion of the Persecutor


"For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." (1 Corinthians 15:9)


Saint Apostle Paul, or Saul as he was called before his baptism, was named so by his parents in honor of his ancient ancestor king Saul. The apostle descended from the tribe of Benjamin and was the child from quite a wealthy family. There is an interesting fact that although Paul was a pureblood Hebrew, he had a Roman citizenship from his very birth. At that time, it was a great advantage for the residents of such a big and important city as Tars, where the future apostle was from.  

The Present day city or Tarsus (Tars)
According to the writings that have survived to this day, Saul was a disciple of Gamaliel, one of the most well known and educated Pharisee of that time, at whose feet the future apostle was brought up and taught the Law of Moses. Apostle Paul was a many-sided and well-educated person who was also familiar with the works of ancient philosophy and literature.

For the first time, Saul is mentioned on the pages of Acts – in the episode about the stoning of the first martyr archdeacon Stephen. It is known that Saul did not participate in that slaughter. Perhaps, the fact that he was still a minor and could not take part in executions according to the law was the reason for that. However, he was asked to watch the clothes of the Hebrews who put it off for the execution. Thus we can see that Saul approved the murder.

Later we see Saul as a participant of the persecutions of the Church. The Book of Acts tells us: “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (Acts 8:3). What is more, he even asked the archpriest for the letters for the Damascus synagogues stating that anyone who would find the followers of the apostolic teaching had to tie them and bring them to Jerusalem. Right on his way to Damascus, his conversion to Christ happened. When Saul was blinded with light, he fell to the ground and heard the voice: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Paul said, “Who are You, Lord?” – and then he got the answer: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 9:4-5). Paul went blind and was brought to Damascus. There he spent three days in fast and prayer, until he was baptized by Christ’s disciple called Ananias. The Lord appeared to him and ordered to baptize the former persecutor of Christians for “he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15).

The Road to Damascus
Saul was baptized, and at that very moment, he saw the light both with his eyes and his soul and “Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20).

Paul became one of the greatest apostles, who worked more than anyone else on preaching the Word of God and establishing Christian communities on the territory of Asia Minor and Europe. It is worth mentioning also that the largest part of the New Testament consists of 14 letters of Apostle Paul to various Christian churches. Although Apostle Paul was not one of the Twelve Apostles and did not witness the life and miracles of Jesus Christ as well as His Resurrection like other apostles did, the holy Church honors him for all his works as a Holy and All-praised Supreme Apostle.



What St. John Chrysostom says in his works:

“Blessed Paul, who gathered us today and enlightened the whole universe, was once struck blind at the moment of his conversion. But his blindness led to the further enlightenment of the universe. Since he looked at the world wrongly, God blinded him so that he could recover his sight to good use. He both proved His power by that, foretold the future sufferings and taught the way of preaching – the way by which he had to close his eyes, reject himself and all his previous life to follow Christ. This is why he exclaimed himself: “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise” (1 Corinthians 3:18). So, it was impossible for him to recover well without rejecting those intentions that bothered his mind and without devoting his life to faith.”



Reflections in the Holy Church Traditions:

Thou wast called from on high and not by mankind, when the earthly darkness had bedimmed thy fleshly eyes, and by this blinding, had brought to light and shown forth clearly the dismal gloominess of impiety, then the light from Heaven shined its lightning radiance upon the eyes of thy mind, O Paul, thereby revealing to thee the beauty of godly piety. Hence, thou didst come to know the One that doth bring forth light out of darkness, yea, Christ our God. Do thou therefore entreat Him to enlighten and to save our souls.

To be continued...


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