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SAINT PAUL- THE LORD OF APOSTLES

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  • DR M.S.ALEXANDER, LEEEDS, ENGLAND.
    INTRODUCTION St Paul is regarded as a leader of the Apostles and we remember him during every Holy Eucharist by reading one of his lessons. The following is a
    Message 1 of 574 , Jan 12, 2004
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      INTRODUCTION
      St Paul is regarded as a leader of the Apostles and we remember him during
      every Holy Eucharist by reading one of his lessons. The following is a brief
      summary of his life based on Holy Bible and I hope it will stimulate the readers
      to read more about him and follow the foot steps of St Paul by visiting the
      places where he served as an Apostle of our living Lord, Jesus Christ. I have
      done this and words cannot express fully my reverence and respect for this true
      Saint.
      BACKGROUND
      When we first meet him in the Book of Acts (7:58-8:1) it is as Saul; and
      later, Acts 13:9 describes him as "Saul, who is also called Paul." As a Jew he
      bore the name of Israel's first king (1 Samuel 9:2, 17); but as a free citizen of
      the Empire, he also bore a Roman name. Many Jews of this period in history
      had two names, one Semitic and the other Greek or Roman. A child of the tribe of
      Benjamin (Romans 11:1; Philippians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 11:22), Paul proudly
      identified himself as an "Israelite" and a "Hebrew born of Hebrews, as to the
      law a Pharisee" (Philippians 3:5) "extremely zealous for the traditions of my
      fathers" who excelled his peers "in Judaism" (Galatians 1:14). But he was also
      proud to be "a Jew from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city" (Acts
      21:39). Tarsus was a Hellenized city, famous for its university, gymnasium,
      theatre, art school and gymnasium. It became the capital of the province of Cilicia
      during Pompey's reorganization of Roman Asia Minor in 66 BC. Later on, Mark
      Antony - famous as Cleopatra's lover - granted freedom and Roman citizenship to
      the people of Tarsus. In an age when most of the people living within the
      boundaries of the Pax Romana were slaves, Paul was born a free citizen of the
      Empire.
      St. Paul was "educated strictly according to the law of our fathers" at the
      rabbinical school conducted in Jerusalem by the great rabbi Gamaliel (Acts
      22:3). Gamaliel was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, "a teacher of the
      law respected by all the people" (Acts 5:34). Although Gamaliel is depicted in
      the New Testament as lenient towards Christians (Acts 5:33-39), his disciple
      Saul was active in the earliest persecutions of Christianity and attended the
      stoning of St. Stephen the deacon and first Christian martyr (Acts 7:58). Paul
      "persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men
      and women" (Acts 22:4).
      CONVERSION
      Intent on exterminating the new faith, Paul sought to travel to Damascus to
      undertake the persecution of Christians there. It was during his trip from
      Jerusalem to Damascus in Syria that his life would take a crucial turn when he
      encountered the risen Jesus in a vision of light that left him temporarily
      blind. This experience was revolutionary, caused a complete transformation and
      redirection of his life. As a result of this "revelation" (Galatians 1:12), Saul,
      the bloodthirsty persecutor of Christianity converted to the faith he once
      hated, was baptized by Ananias and received into the Church of Damascus, the very
      community he had set out to suppress (Acts 9:10-31). From this moment on, he
      became a "slave of Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:1) and in that slavery discovered
      "the glorious freedom of the children of God" (Romans 8:21).
      Luke recounts this Damascus experience three times in the Book of Acts: once
      in the narrative, Acts 9:3-19; and twice, in speeches, before a crowd in
      Jerusalem (22:6-16) and before Festus and King Agrippa (26:12-18).
      "Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord,
      went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues of
      Damascus, so that if he found any that belonged to the Way,
      men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem."

      "While I was on my way and approaching Damascus, about noon, I saw
      a great light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that suddenly shone
      around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground,
      I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language,
      'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'
      I answered, asking, 'Who are you, Lord?'
      The Lord answered, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.
      But get up and stand on your feet!
      I have appeared to you for this purpose:
      to appoint you to serve and testify to the things you have seen.
      I will rescue you from your people and the Gentiles - to whom I am sending
      you,
      to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light
      and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of
      their sins
      and a place among those who are being made holy by faith in Me."
      This vision of the glory of God - what later theologians and saints will
      call the uncreated light - is the call by which Paul becomes the Apostle to the
      Gentiles, the greatest missionary in the history of Christianity. It is
      through his missionary efforts that Christianity, originally a sect of Judaism,
      becomes a world religion.
      PREACHING, MISSIONARY JOURNEYS AND THE
      APOSTOLIC COUNCIL IN JERUSALEM
      After his encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus and baptism
      at the hands of Ananias, Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians that he
      "went away at once into Arabia," spending time in the desert wastes before
      returning to Damascus, where he remained for three years (1:17-18). By the time of
      his return to Damascus, the essentials of his teaching were crystal clear:
      God's promise to Abraham has been fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus. The
      risen Jesus is the climax of history for He is both the Messiah, the Christ, and
      "the power and wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:24). Teaching in the
      synagogues in Damascus that Jesus "is the Son of God," his preaching proved so
      controversial that there were plots to kill him. He escaped Damascus by being lowered
      over the city walls in a basket at night (Acts 9:19-25).
      Three years after his conversion, Paul journeyed to Jerusalem to meet with
      Peter and stayed with him for fifteen days. "But I did not see any other apostle
      except James, the Lord's brother" (Galatians 1:18-19). In Acts 9:26-30 Luke
      describes the suspicion with which the leaders of the Church in Jerusalem
      greeted Paul and that it was Barnabas who secured Paul's acceptance. From
      Jerusalem, Paul returned to Syria and ultimately went to its capital, Antioch, the
      third city in the empire after Rome itself and Alexandria in Egypt.
      It had been in Antioch of Syria that followers of the Way had first been
      called Christians (Acts 11:26) and it was this community that would commission
      Paul and Barnabas as missionaries (Acts 13:1-3).
      Luke organizes Paul's missionary activity into three segments or journeys.
      Paul's missionary journeys cover roughly 46-58AD, the most active years of his
      life, as he evangelized Greece and Asia Minor. Paul's first missionary journey
      is recounted by Luke in Acts 13:3-14:28 and lasted for three years, probably
      from 46 to 49AD.
      However, Paul's message created controversy wherever he went. Initially
      preaching and teaching in the synagogues of the various cities they visited, it was
      in Antioch of Pisidia that the conflict led Paul and Barnabas to declare that
      they were now "turning to the Gentiles" (Acts 13:46). This decision, to
      preach not only to the Jews but to all peoples, marks a decisive turning point in
      the history of Christianity. From that moment on the message of Jesus, the
      crucified yet risen Messiah, was clearly open to everyone and this was understood
      by Paul and Barnabas to be the fulfillment of the Old Testament scriptures
      (Acts 13:47-48). God had "opened the door of faith for the Gentiles" (Acts
      14:27).
      But it was in Antioch of Pisidia that Paul and Barnabas soon found themselves
      in conflict with other teachers in the Church, "believers who belonged to the
      sect of the Pharisees" (Acts 15:5), men "from Judea" who were teaching that
      "unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be
      saved" (Acts 15:1). When this leads to "no small dissension and debate, Paul,
      Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem" to consult
      "the apostles and presbyters" about the status of Gentile converts and whether
      or not it was necessary for them to conform to the Mosaic covenant (Acts
      15:1-5). This visit leads to the council of Jerusalem (circa 49-50AD). This
      council was to be a paradigmatic event in the life of the Church, the pattern for
      ecumenical councils yet to be called in the centuries to come. At this council
      there was "much debate" as Paul and Barnabas presented their Gospel before the
      assembled community, which included "James, Peter and John" who were
      "acknowledged" as "leaders" and "pillars" of the Church (Galatians 2:1-10). According
      to Acts 15:6-21, it was Peter's voice that carried the day in favor of Paul and
      Barnabas. But it was James, speaking on behalf of all, who announced the
      decision of the council: circumcision is not obligatory for salvation.
      After the council of Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas go their separate ways:
      Barnabas taking John Mark and sailing to Cyprus, Paul choosing Silas and
      traveling throughout Syria and Cilicia "strengthening the churches" (Acts 15:36-41).
      In the decade to come, Paul was to embark on two more missionary journeys,
      the second one from 50 to 53AD and the third and final missionary journey
      lasting six years, from 53 to 59 AD. During these journeys Paul would travel
      throughout the ancient Mediterranean world, preaching and teaching, establishing new
      churches everywhere he went. His Letters leave a trail of churches founded
      and/or nurtured by him: Ephesus, Corinth, Thessaloniki, Philippi. He preached in
      Athens and was to die in Rome, the intellectual and political centers of the
      Empire.
      Paul's letters are the oldest Christian documents that we have. Most modern
      scholars believe that Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians is the first
      book of the New Testament to be written, sometime in 52AD. His letters are also
      the largest collection of writings by any one person in the New Testament. In
      modern Bibles, they are placed in order of their length, with the longest
      letter, that to the Romans, being first and then followed by letters to individuals
      (Timothy, Titus and Philemon) last. Paul's letters are exactly that: letters,
      occasional writings meant to deal with specific issues in the churches to
      which he addressed them. They are not systematic theological treatises in the
      modern sense. And yet, they have provided rich and deep theological insights that
      have never been surpassed in the Church's history.
      IMPRISONMENT AND FINAL YEARS
      It is during his last visit to Jerusalem "to visit James" (Acts 21:18) that
      Paul is arrested near the Temple after a small riot and taken by a Roman
      tribune before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council. Paul defends himself before the
      Sanhedrin by playing on the dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees and
      their conflict over the resurrection. After a plot to assassinate Paul is
      discovered, Paul's case is transferred to Antonius Felix, the procurator of Judea,
      who keeps him in prison for two years, expecting a bribe. When Felix's
      successor, Festus, arrives on the scene, Paul appeals his case to Caesar, requesting
      a trial in Rome by virtue of his Roman citizenship. "You have appealed to the
      emperor; to the emperor you will go," Festus replied (Acts 25:12). Paul's
      journey to Rome was to be an eventful one that included shipwreck. The Book of
      Acts closes with Paul under house arrest in Rome still carrying out his ministry
      of teaching and preaching - faithful to his Master to the end.
      During his thirty-year ministry as an apostle what had Paul suffered for the
      sake of the Gospel? Already in 2 Corinthians, Paul describes some of what he
      endured to preach the Good News of Jesus risen from the dead: "Five times I
      have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten
      with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked. For a
      night and a day I was adrift at sea. On frequent journeys, I was in danger from
      rivers, from bandits, from my own people, from Gentiles, in danger in the city,
      in danger in the wilderness, in danger at sea, in danger from false brethren;
      in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty,
      often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily
      pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches" (11:24-29).
      Eusebius, the 4th century bishop of Caesarea who is often called the first
      Church historian, records that the apostle Paul was executed in Rome during the
      persecution of the emperor and madman, Nero. Nero's persecution of Christians
      lasted for four years, from 64 to 68AD. It was also during this persecution
      that the apostle Peter was executed. As a Roman citizen entitled to a quick
      death, Paul was beheaded. St. Gregory the Great, the 6th century pope, wrote that
      Paul's execution took place on the left bank of the Tiber River on the Via
      Ostiensis, the road to the port of Ostia, and is buried near the site of the
      basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
      This article is based on one of the best article on this subject I read in a
      Greek Orthodox publication.

      DR M.S.ALEXANDER, LEEEDS, ENGLAND.
    • Mark Sadek
      A brother asked Abba Sisoes, What shall I do, abba, for I have fallen? The old man said to him, Get up again. The brother said, I have gotten up again,
      Message 574 of 574 , Mar 7, 2004
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        A brother asked Abba Sisoes, "What shall I do, abba, for I have fallen?" The old man said to him, "Get up again." The brother said, "I have gotten up again, but I have fallen again." The old man said, "Get up again and again." So the brother said, "How many times?" The old man said, "Until you are taken up either in virtue or in sin. For a man presents himself to judgment in the state in which he is found."

        From the Desert Fathers.

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        "Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands! 2 Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before His presence with singing." Psalm 100:1,2

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