Conversion of Saint Paul
O GOD, who, through the preaching of the blessed Apostle Saint Paul, hast caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world; Grant, we beseech thee, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show forth our thankfulness unto thee for the same, by following the holy doctrine which he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jeremiah i. 4, Psalm 67, Acts ix. 1 & St. Matthew xix. 27
Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?
Jeremiah i. 4.
Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the LORD said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD. Then the LORD put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.
Acts ix. 1
AND Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink. And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, and hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight. Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake. And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.
St. Matthew xix. 27
PETER answered and said unto Jesus, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.
Scripture from 1928 Book of Common Prayer & KJV
Other homilies Chrysostom on Acts ix 1 | Chrysostom on Matthew
Acts IX. 10, 12
"And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, and hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight."
What may be the reason that He neither drew any one of high authority and importance, nor caused such to be forthcoming for the purpose of instructing Paul? It was, because it was not meet that he should be induced by men, but only by Christ Himself: as in fact this man taught him nothing, but merely baptized him; for, as soon as baptized, he was to draw upon himself the grace of the Spirit, by his zeal and exceeding earnestness. And that Ananias was no very distinguished person, is plain. For, "the Lord," it says, "spake unto him in a vision, and Ananias answered and said, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to Thy saints at Jerusalem." (v. 13.) For if he spoke in objection to Him, much more would he have done so, had He sent an Angel. And this is why, in the former instance, neither is Philip told what the matter is; but he sees the Angel, and then the Spirit bids him go near to the chariot. But observe here how the Lord relieves him of his fear: "He is blind," saith He, "and prayeth, and art thou afraid?" In the same way Moses also is afraid: so that the words betokened that he was afraid, and shrunk from the task, not that he did not believe. He said," have heard from many concerning this man." What sayest thou? God speaketh, and thou hesitatest? They did not yet well know the power of Christ.
"And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on Thy name." (v. 14.)
How was that known? It is likely that they, being in fear, made minute enquiries. He does not say this, as thinking that Christ does not know the fact, but, "such being the case, how," says he, "can these things be?" As in fact those (in the Gospel) say, "Who can be saved?"-( Mark x. 26.) This is done, in order that Paul may believe him that shall come to him: "he hath seen in a vision:" it hath showed him beforehand: "he prayeth," saith (the Lord): fear not. And observe, He speaks not to him of the success achieved: teaching us not to speak of our achievements. And, though He saw him afraid, for all this He said it not. "Thou shalt not be disbelieved:" "he hath seen," saith He, "in a vision a man (named) Ananias:" for this is why it was "in a vision," namely, because he was blind. And not even the exceeding wonderfulness of the thing took possession of the disciple's mind, so greatly was he afraid. But observe: Paul being blind, in this way He restored to sight. "But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name's sake."
(v. 15, 16.) "Not only," saith He, "shall he be a believer, but even a teacher, and great boldness shall he show: 'before Gentiles and kings'
such shall be the spread of the doctrine!-that just as He astonished (him) by the former, so He may (startle him even more) by the latter. "And Ananias went, and entered into the house, and laid his hands upon him, and said, Brother Saul"-he straightway addresses him as a friend by that name-"Jesus, Who appeared unto thee in the way in which thou camest"-and yet Christ had not told him this, but he learnt it from the Spirit- "hath sent me unto thee, that thou mayest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost." (v. 17.) As he said this, he laid his hands upon him. "And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales." (v. 18.) Some say this was a sign of his blindness. Why did he not blind his eyes (entirely)? This was more wonderful, that, with his eyes open, he did not see: (v. 8) which was just his case in respect of the Law, until the Name of Jesus was put on him. "And he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And having taken food, he recovered strength." (v. 19.)
He was faint, therefore, both from his journey and from his fear; both from hunger, and from dejection of mind. Wishing therefore to deepen his dejection, He made the man blind until the coming of Ananias: and, that he might not imagine the blindness to be (only) fancy, this is the reason of the scales. He needed no other teaching: that which had befallen was made teaching (to him).
"And he was with the disciples which were at Damascus certain days. And straightway in the synagogues he preached Jesus, that He is the Son of God." (v. 20.)
See, straightway he was a teacher in the synagogues. He was not ashamed of the change, was not afraid while the very things in which he was glorious afore-time, the same he destroyed. Even from his first appearance on the stage here was a man, death-dealing, ready for deeds of blood: seest thou what a manifest sign (was here)? And with this very thing, he put all in fear: for, said they, Hither also is he come for this very thing.
"But all that heard him were amazed, and said: Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ." (v. 21, 22.)
As one learned in the Law, he stopped their mouths, and suffered them not to speak. They thought they were rid of disputation in such matters, in getting rid of Stephen, and they found another, more vehement than Stephen.
(Recapitulation.) But let us look at what relates to Ananias. The Lord said not to him, Converse with him, and catechize him. For if, when He said, "He prayeth, and hath seen a man laying his hands upon him," (v. 11, 12.) He did not persuade him, much less had He said this. So that he shall not disbelieve thee, "he hath seen in a vision." Observe how in the former instance neither is Philip told all immediately. Fear not, He saith: "for this man is a chosen vessel for Me. (v. 15.) He more than sufficiently released him of his fear, if the case be so that this man shall be so zealous in our cause, as even to suffer many things. And justly he is called "a vessel" (or, instrument)-for reason shows that evil is not a physical quality: "a vessel of election" (or, chosen instrument), He saith; for we choose that which is approved. And let not any imagine, that (Ananias) speaks in unbelief of what was told him, as imagining that Christ was deceived: far from it! but affrighted and trembling, he did not even attend to what was said, at hearing the name of Paul.
Moreover, the Lord does not tell that He has blinded him: at the mention of his name fear had prepossessed his soul: "see," he says, "to whom Thou art betraying me: 'and hither for this very purpose is he come, to bind all that call upon Thy Name.' I fear, lest he take me to Jerusalem: why dost Thou cast me into the mouth of the lion?" He is terrified, even while he speaks these words; that from every quarter we may learn the energetic character of the man. For that these things should be spoken by Jews, were nothing wonderful: but that these (the believers) are so terrified, it is a most mighty proof of the power of God.
Both the fear is shown, and the obedience greater after the fear. For there was indeed need of strength. Since He says, "a vessel of election," that thou mayest not imagine that God is to do all, He adds, "to bear My Name before Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel. Ananias has heard what he most desired-that against the Jews also he will take his stand: this above all gave him courage. "For I," saith He, "will show him how great things he must suffer for My Name's sake." At the same time also this is said by way of putting Ananias to the blush: If he, that was so frantic, shall suffer all things, and thou not willing even to baptize him! "It is well," saith he: "let him continue blind" (this is why he says these words): "he is blind: why dost Thou at all bid me open his eyes, that he may bind (men) again?" Fear not the future: for that opening of his eyes he will use not against you, but for you (with reference to that saying, "That he may receive his sight" (v. 12), these words are spoken): for not only will he do you no harm, but he "will suffer many things."
And what is wonderful indeed is, that he shall first know "how great things he shall suffer," and then shall take the field against the perils.-"Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus"-he saith not, "Who made thee blind," but, "Who appeared with thee in the way, hath sent me unto thee that thou mayest receive thy sight" (v. 17): observe this man also, how he utters nothing boastful, but just as Peter said in the case of the lame man, "Why look ye on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made him to walk," (ch. iii. 12) so here also he saith, "Jesus, Who appeared unto thee." (b) Or, (he saith it) that the other may believe: and he saith not, He that was crucified, the Son of God, He that doeth wonders: but what? "He that appeared unto thee:" (speaking) from what the other knew: as Christ also added no more, neither said, I am Jesus, the Crucified, the Risen: but what? "Whom thou persecutest." Ananias said not, "The persecuted," that he may not seem as it were to rave over him, to deride him, "Who appeared unto thee in the way:" and yet He did not (visibly) appear, but was seen by the things done. And immediately he added, wishing to draw a veil over the accusation: "That thou mayest receive thy sight." I came not to reprove the past, but to bestow the gift: "that thou mayest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost." (a) With hands laid on, he spake these words. "And immediately there fell from his eyes," etc. (v. 18): a double blindness is removed.-And why saith it, "Having taken food, he was strengthened?" (v. 19.)
Because they that are in such case become relaxed: he had no heart to partake of food before, until he obtained the mighty gifts. (c) It seems to me, that both Paul and Cornelius, at the very instant when the words were spoken, received the Spirit. And yet (in this case) the giver was no great one. So true is it, that there was naught of man's in the things done, nor aught was done by man, but God was present, the Doer of these things. And at the same time (the Lord) both teaches him to think modestly of himself, in that He does not bring him to the Apostles who were so admired, and shows that there is nothing of man here. He was not filled, however, with the Spirit which works signs: that in this way also his faith might be shown; for he wrought no miracles.
"And straightway," it says, "in the synagogues he preached Jesus"-(v. 20) not that He is risen-not this: no, nor that He liveth: but what? immediately he strictly expounded the doctrine-"that this is the Son of God. And all that heard him were amazed," etc. (v. 21.) They were reduced to utter incredulity. And yet they ought not to have wondered only, but to worship and reverence. "Is not this he," etc. He had not merely been a persecutor, but "destroyed them which called on this Name"-they did not say, "on Jesus;" for hatred, they could not bear even to hear His name-and what is more marvellous still, "and came hither for this purpose," etc. "We cannot say, that he associated with the Apostles before." See by how many (witnesses) he is confessed to have been of the number of the enemies!
But Paul not only was not confounded by these things, nor hid his face for shame, but "increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews" (v. 22), i.e. put them to silence, left them nothing to say for themselves, "proving, that this is very Christ." "Teaching," it says: for this man was a teacher.
"And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him." (v. 23.) The Jews again resort to that valid argument of theirs, not now seeking false-accusers and false-witnesses; they cannot wait for these now: but what do they? They set about it by themselves. For as they see the affair on the increase, they do not even use the form of a trial. "But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him." (v. 24.) For this was more intolerable to them than the miracles which had taken place-than the five thousand, the three thousand, than everything, in short. And observe him, how he is delivered, not by (miraculous) grace, but by man's wisdom-not as the apostles were- that thou mayest learn the energetic character of the man, how he shines even without miracles. "Then the disciples took him by night," that the affair might not be suspected, "and let him down by the wall in a basket." (v. 25.) What then? having escaped such a danger, does he flee? By no means, but goes where he kindled them to greater rage.
(Recapitulation, v. 20, 21.) "And straightway in the synagogues he preached Jesus"-for he was accurate in the faith-"that this is the Son of God. But all that heard him were amazed," etc., for indeed it was incredible. "But Saul increased," etc. Therefore "after many days" this happens: viz. the Jews "took counsel to kill him. And their laying await was known of Saul." (v. 22-24.) What does this mean? It is likely that for awhile he did not choose to depart thence, though many, perhaps, besought him; but when he learnt it, then he permitted his disciples: for he had disciples immediately.
"Then the disciples," etc. (v. 25.) Of this occurrence he says: "The ethnarch of Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desiring to apprehend me." (2 Cor. xi. 32.) But observe the Writer here, that he does not tell the story ambitiously, and so as to show what an important person Paul was, saying, "For they stirred up the king," and so forth: but only, "Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall-in a basket:" for they sent him out alone, and none with him. And it was well they did this: the consequence being, that he showed himself to the Apostles in Jerusalem. Now they sent him out, as bound to provide for his safety by flight: but he did just the contrary-he leaped into the midst of those who were mad against him. This it is to be on fire, this to be fervent indeed! From that day forth he knew all the commands which the Apostles had heard: "Except a man take up his cross, and follow Me." (Matt. x. 38.) The very fact that he had been slower to come than the rest made him more zealous: for "to whom much is forgiven" (Luke vii. 47) the same will love more, so that the later he came, the more he loved: * * * and having done ten thousand wrongs, he thought he could never do enough to cast the former deeds into the shade. "Proving" (v. 22), it says: i.e. with mildness teaching. And observe, they did not say to him, Thou art he that destroyed: why art thou changed? for they were ashamed: but they said it to themselves. For he would have said to them, This very thing ought to teach you, as in fact he does thus plead in his speech before Agrippa.
Let us imitate this, man: let us bear our souls in our hands ready to confront all dangers.-(That he fled from Damascus) this was no cowardice: he preserved himself for the preaching. Had he been a coward, he would not have gone to Jerusalem, would not immediately have commenced teaching: he would have abated somewhat of his vehemence: for he had been taught by the fate of Stephen. He was no coward, but he was also prudent (in husbanding himself). Wherefore he thought it no great thing to die for the Gospel's sake, unless he should do this to great advantage: willing not even to see Christ, Whom most of all he longed to see, while the work of his stewardship among men was not yet complete. (Phil. i. 23, 24). Such ought to be the soul of a Christian. From his first appearance from the very outset, the character of Paul declared itself: nay even before this, even in the things which he did "not according to knowledge" (Rom. x. 2), it was not by man's reasoning that he was moved to act as he did. For if, so long afterwards, he was content not to depart, much more at the beginning of his trading voyage, when he had but just left the harbor!
Many things Christ leaves to be done by (ordinary) human wisdom, that we may learn that (his disciples) were men, that it was not all everywhere to be done by grace: for otherwise they would have been mere motionless logs: but in many things they managed matters themselves.-This is not less than martyrdom,-to shrink from no suffering for the sake of the salvation of the many. Nothing so delights God. Again will I repeat what I have often said: and I repeat it, because I do exceedingly desire it: as Christ also did the same, when discoursing concerning forgiveness: "When ye pray, forgive if ye have aught against any man:" (Mark xi. 25.) and again to Peter He said, "I say not unto thee, Forgive until seven times, but until seventy-times seven." (Matt. xviii. 22.) And Himself in fact forgives the transgressions against Him. So do we also, because we know that this is the very goal of Christianity, continually discourse thereof. Nothing is more frigid than a Christian, who cares not for the salvation of others. Thou canst not here plead poverty: for she that cast down the two mites, shall be thine accuser. (Luke xxi. 1.) And Peter said, "Silver and gold have I none." (Acts iii. 6.) And Paul was so poor, that he was often hungered, and wanted necessary food. Thou canst not plead lowness of birth: for they too were ignoble men, and of ignoble parents. Thou canst not allege want of education: for they too were "unlearned men." (Acts iv. 13.) Even if thou be a slave therefore and a runaway slave, thou canst perform thy part: for such was Onesimus: yet see to what Paul calls him, and to how great honor he advances him: "that he may communicate with me," he says, "in my bonds." (Philem. v. 13.) Thou canst not plead infirmity: for such was Timothy, having often infirmities; for, says the apostle, "Use a little wine for thy stomach's sake, and thine often infirmities." (1 Tim. v. 23.)
Every one can profit his neighbor, if he will fulfil his part. See ye not the unfruitful trees, how strong they are, how fair, how large also, and smooth, and of great height? But if we had a garden; we should much rather have pomegranates, or fruitful olive trees: for the others are for delight to the eye, not for profit, which in them is but small. Such are those men who only consider their own interest: nay, not such even since these persons are fit only for burning: whereas those trees are useful both for building and for the safety of those within. Such too were those Virgins, chaste indeed, and decent, and modest, but profitable to none (Matt. xxv. 1) wherefore they are burned. Such are they who have not nourished Christ. For observe that none of those are charged with particular sins of their own, with fornication, for instance, or with perjury; in short, with no sin but the having been of no use to another. Such was he who buried his talent, showing indeed a blameless life, but not being useful to another. (ib. 25.) How can such an one be a Christian? Say, if the leaven being mixed up with the flour did not change the whole into its own nature, would such a thing be leaven? Again, if a perfume shed no sweet odor on those who approach it, could we call it a perfume? Say not, "It is impossible for me to induce others (to become Christians)"-for if thou art a Christian, it is impossible but that it should be so. For as the natural properties of things cannot be gainsaid, so it is here: the thing is part of the very nature of the Christian. Do not insult God. To say, that the sun cannot shine, would be to insult Him: to say that a Christian cannot do good, is to insult God, and call Him a liar. For it is easier for the sun not to give heat, nor to shine, than for the Christian not to send forth light: it is easier for the light to be darkness, than for this to be so. Tell me not that it is impossible: the contrary is the impossible.
Do not insult God. If we once get our own affairs in a right state, the other will certainly follow as a natural and necessary consequence. It is not possible for the light of a Christian to be hid; not possible for a lamp so conspicuous as that to be concealed. Let us not be careless. For, as the profit from virtue reaches both to ourselves, and to those who are benefited by it: so from vice there is a two-fold loss, reaching both to ourselves, and to those who are injured by it. Let there be (if you will) some private man, who has suffered numberless ills from some one, and let no one take his part, yet let that man still return good offices; what teaching so mighty as this? What words, or what exhortations could equal it? What wrath were it not enough to extinguish and soften? Knowing therefore these things, let us hold fast to virtue, as knowing that it is not possible to be saved otherwise, than by passing through this present life in doing these good works, that we may also obtain the good things which are to come, through the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Whom to the Father together with the Holy Spirit be glory, might, honor, now and ever, world without end. Amen.