Archpastoral Letter on St. Paul 2008
Prot. N. 187-March 18, 2008
The Gifts of St.
To the Very Reverend Protopresbyters, the Very
Reverend and Reverend Fathers, Beloved Clergy, Monastics and Faithful of the
Glory to Jesus
I rejoice that His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical
Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW, designated 2008 as a year-long commemoration of St. Paul the Apostle.
Along with the Church of Rome, the Orthodox Church is celebrating the life, the
leadership, and the legacy of this Great Apostle to the Gentiles, the Apostle
He was born several years after the Birth of
Christ in Tarsus, the capital city of the Roman province of Cilicia
in modern day Turkey.
He was raised in a strict and devout Hebrew home, his father training him to
work not only with his mind but with his hands in the occupation of
tent-making. But because of his early brilliance, he was sent as a young
teenager to Jerusalem to study in the Pharisaic
of Gamaliel, whom the
Jews considered one of the greatest teachers of all time.
Paul became a Pharisee himself. He was zealous
for the Hebrew faith, and in his zeal for truth and the glory of God, he took
offense at the new Christian Church which was on the rise. He took an active
part in the martyrdom of the first martyr and deacon St. Stephen (Acts
7.58-8.1): when Stephen was stoned, Paul stood nearby, watching over the coats
and robes of the men who hurled rocks at the defenseless, pious young man. Soon
after this terrible event, Paul organized and personally led the official
Jewish persecution of Christians in Jerusalem
and in the surrounding area (Acts 8.1-4).
On his way to arrest Christians in Damascus, Paul personally
encountered Jesus Christ. In an explosion of light that blinded his physical
eyes, the Risen Christ rebuked Paul for misplacing his love and zeal for God,
and for persecuting the very people who were most obedient to God. Moreover, the
Lord accused Paul of leading his persecution against Himself: "Why do you
persecute Me?" Jesus said to the trembling, blind man who now realized that he
had been terribly wrong (Acts 9.4).
Paul was met by the Risen Christ, in a cloud of
glory that is the Uncreated Light of the Holy Trinity - the same light that
surrounded the Transfiguration of the Lord on Mt. Tabor.
It is this very encounter in the bright certainly of the Resurrection that
makes St. Paul
an "Apostle." He responds to this vision of Christ with the complete
affirmation that the Jesus of history, Who was crucified, is Himself the Risen
Lord, the Eternal Son of God, the Word made Flesh, the Second Person of the
When Christ asked the Disciples, "Who do you
say I am?", Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of God" (Matthew
16.15-16). Paul said the same thing, with Peter. That is why St. Paul is an Apostle. That is why we
celebrate St. Paul
together with St. Peter.
In this earthshaking conversion on the Damascus
Road, and during the next three years in the Arabian desert where this former
Pharisee and ex-persecutor sojourned in solitude, St. Paul was taken up into
the "third heaven" where he was shown revelations that cannot be contained by
mere academic language or philosophy. These are St. Paul's own words in 2 Corinthians 12.2,
and we are meant to take them seriously.
He is not speaking of his mystical, apocalyptic
experience as a badge of celebrity and pride. Instead, he speaks of this
against his own ego. He speaks in favor of the single vision that is the
content of Christian revelation.
Paul and all the Apostles experienced the same noetic
vision as did all the Prophets and the Saints. St. Paul invented nothing in his preaching,
thinking or writing. He received the Apostolic Vision of the Trinity, the Dogma
of the Incarnation and the Miraculous Mystery of the Church, in which Divine
nature fellowships with human nature.
Paul spoke of this not as intellectual theory, but of
what he actually knew, out of the treasure of his heart.
This is important to state, because there are
many modern experts who insist that St.
Paul developed his teachings out of his own thinking.
The actual life, however, of St. Paul
overturns such a view.
Paul, the man who once persecuted Christians, became
the victim of persecution himself. He was beaten many times. He was imprisoned,
at one point, he was even left for dead.
A man does not suffer all of this for the sake
of his own ideas. On the other hand, he will suffer for the sake of the Son of
God, Whom Paul met, Christ Jesus risen from the dead. He will say, even at the
end, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1.21). He will
say "I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me" (Philippians 4.13).
A man who has met the Risen Christ, and has
seen Him and His vision, will proclaim the Gospel, and he will confess an
already existing truth. He does not manufacture his own religious theories. HE
speaks of what he knows. Such a man is an Apostle of the eternal Church of God. Such a man is the Apostle Paul.
He wrote fourteen out of the twenty-seven books
of the New Testament canon. He made three historic missionary journeys, during
which he established churches in numerous cities. He consecrated bishops like
Timothy and Titus to oversee the regional expansion of these churches, and to
ensure the continuity of the Orthodox Gospel.
He was also the first to apply the Gospel to
the world of philosophy. He understood that the Resurrection meant the
cancellation of all pagan religions, the resolution of all philosophical
questions, and the fulfillment of all sacrifice.
He was the first Christian rhetorician to the
secular world. He used language masterfully to take familiar cultural meanings
and use them for the sake of the Gospel. He used the familiar problem of
capture in war and being held for ransom as an image of redemption from sin. He
used the just as familiar courtroom setting as an image for Christ's obedience
to the Father, and that Divine obedience itself is what justifies fallen man.
He was the first to clearly identify the
doctrine of the Church as the Pillar of Ground of Truth. It is through the
Church that Christ is known as the Way, the Truth and the Life. St. Paul never shrunk
from insisting that salvation is only in the Church, and that religious truth
is found only in the brightness of the Apostolic Vision. It is in Jesus Christ,
the Word of God, that "all things hold together" (Colossians 1.17).
Paul established that theology for the Orthodox Church
is not the academic research into the Divine: this misunderstanding of theology
is one of the main problems of the Western Christian experience. Instead,
"theology" is nothing less than a relationship with God. It is an actual vision
of His Trinitarian glory. It is a spiritual witness of the Incarnation and
salvation. He established once and for all that philosophy, after the
Resurrection and exaltation of Christ (Romans 1.4), has become secondary to
theology and dogma. He described the form and nature of the Orthodox Church as
it stands forever, and not changed by the demands of civilizations and
sociologies. And, most of all, he clearly perceived that the Church is the
mystical Body of Christ, constituted by the Eucharist, initiated by Baptism,
enlivened and gifted by the Spirit, and headed by the Lord Jesus Himself.
The Apostolate of St. Paul has shone a bright
legacy upon the entire Church. It requires our best devotion, and our fervent
academic efforts. The Epistles of St. Paul have called forth over 250 sermons
by St. John Chrysostom. In the same manner, the legacy of St. Paul should call forth our own efforts.
I invite you, beloved, to set as a goal the
reading the Book of Acts for St. Paul's story,
and of all of St. Paul's
Epistles this year. Read them with care and inspiration. Use the Orthodox Study
Bible to assist your understanding.
I also invite the children and youth to Camp Nazareth
during the summer camping season. The religious instruction lessons will focus
on the dramatic stories of St. Paul's
career as an Apostle. The children and youth will hear of his conversion, his
midnight escape in a basket over the walls of Damascus, his earthquake escape
from the Philippian jail, his shipwreck in a tempest on Malta and his
miraculous immunity from a snakebite on that island, his constant faith in
Jesus Christ and his glorious martyrdom (about 68 AD, after serving the Lord
for 35 years).
Finally, I invite you to follow St. Paul, in all that he
thought, all that he taught, all that he believed and did. In 1 Corinthians
11.1, he told the Orthodox Christians at Corinth
to "follow me as I follow Christ," In Philippians 3.17 he wrote "Brethren, join
in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for
I invite you, in this year of our celebration
of St. Paul's
Apostolic legacy to follow his example, to enter into his pattern of
Christlikeness, to follow after him as he follow Christ.
Doing this, we will commemorate St. Paul, and we will
fulfill his bright legacy for all time.
Granting you my
Archpastoral Blessing, I remain
yours in Christ,
This Archpastoral Letter is to be read in
all Diocesan Parishes in lieu of the regular Sermon at the Divine Liturgy on
Sunday, April 13, 2008