Conversion of St. Paul (January 25)
Paul, who was known as Saul before his conversion, was born at Tarsus in Cilicia to Jewish parents. A Roman citizen, he was educated in Jerusalem under the tutelage of Gamaliel, a Pharisee. He became a Pharisee, himself, and fully embraced the law of Moses. Paul became an avowed enemy of the infant Church and engaged in the persecution of Christians. It is noted that he was present at the stoning death of St. Stephen. Between the years of 34 - 36, Paul was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem. His encounter with Christ would change his life and have a dramatic effect on Christianity.
Paul described to the people of Jerusalem what happened as he set out for Damascus: "I set out with the intention of bringing the prisoners I would arrest back to Jerusalem for punishment. As I was traveling along, approaching Damascus around noon, a great light from the sky suddenly flashed all about me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?" I answered, "Who are you, sir?" He said to me "I am Jesus the Nazarene Whom you are persecuting." My companions saw the light but did not hear the voice speaking to me. "What is it I must do, sir" I asked, and the Lord replied, "Get up and go into Damascus. There you will be told about everything you are destined to do." But since I could not see because of the brilliance of the light, I had to be taken by the hand and led in Damascus by my companions. "A certain Ananias, a devout observer of the law and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came and stood by me. "Saul, my brother," he said, "recover
your sight." In that instant I regained my sight and looked at him. The next thing he said was, "The God of our fathers long ago designated you to know His will, to look upon the Just One, and to hear the sound of His voice; before all men you are to be His witness to what you have seen and heard. Why delay, then? Be baptized at once and wash away your sins as you call upon His name." Profoundly influenced by this grace of God, the converted apostle preached Christ to the nations. Today the feast of Paul's conversion ends the Church Unity Octave - an annual eight-day period of prayer for Christian unity. Inspired by Father Paul Wattson, founder of the Society of the Atonement, this observance has spread from the United States to various other lands and is celebrated in many Protestant and Orthodox as well as Catholic Churches.