Christian Traditions 004: Feast of the Conversion of Paul

Von Trapp Follow-Along: Maria makes no mention of this feast.

INTRODUCTION:

The last day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (25 January) coincides with this feast, the Feast of the Conversion of Paul.

25 January 2015WHEN IS IT?

Like the Feast of the Confession of Peter, this is an immovable feast—that is, a holiday set to a certain date, regardless of the day of the week on which it falls. Christmas is an example of an immovable feast, because it always occurs on December 25. Easter is an example of a movable feast, because its date depends on the spring equinox.

 

 

conversion of paulWHAT IS IT?

Also known as St. Paul’s Day, this feast is celebrated by Catholic, some Orthodox, and some Protestant churches. In England, it used to function much like America’s groundhog day. Fine weather on this day was supposed to predict good harvests and poor weather was supposed to predict pestilence and war. The Catholic Encyclopedia states that it is a feast of relatively recent origin, but does not give an approximate date or even century. It also states that it may have been first created to commemorate the transport of Pauline relics, similar to how the Feast of the Confession of Peter originally commemorated the relic of Peter’s chair.

Similarly to how the Feast of the Confession of Peter commemorates an important event in the life of the apostle Peter, this feast commemorates the same for Paul: specifically, his conversion to Christianity. Prior to his conversion, Saul (also known as Paul; Saul and Paul are Greek versions of the Hebrew Shaul) was a very zealous Pharisee (Acts 26:5), and trained as a young person by one of the best, a rabbi named Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). He sharply persecuted Christians, throwing men and women alike into prison in large numbers (Acts 8:3). The first mention of him is in Acts 7:57-8:3, where he is described as consenting to Stephen the Martyr’s execution and holding the coats of his fellow Jews while they stoned Stephen to death. Paul also described his Pharisaical zeal and persecution of the church in Galatians 1:13-14.

Intending to arrest more Christians in Damascus, Saul procured letters to Damascus and the synagogues from the high priest permitting him to arrest and bring in chains to Jerusalem any Christians he found on the trip (Acts 9:1-2). However, on the road to Damascus, a bright light shone around him and Jesus spoke to him; when the light disappeared, Saul discovered he was blind. He continued into Damascus with the help of his men, met a Christian named Ananias, and converted to Christianity, simultaneously regaining his sight. He then began preaching Christ in the synagogues at Damascus and so angering the Jews that they sought to kill him. His fellow Christians then helped him escape the city by setting him in a basket and lowering him over the walls of the city by night. (Acts 9:3-25; see also I Corinthians 15:3-8, Galatians 1:11-16) He became one of the most significant early Christians, writing about half of the books in the New Testament of the Bible (see Footnote 1).

calendarLOOKING AHEAD

The Feast of the Confession of Peter (18 January) and the Feast of the Conversion of Paul (25 January) celebrate important events in the lives of these two apostles. In June, we will commemorate their martyrdom in the Feast of Peter and Paul (29 June).

STANDARD ACTIVITIES

Like the Feast of the Confession of Peter, I could find no traditional activities other than Scripture reading and prayer.

  • (Traditional) Scripture Reading.  Read the story of Saul/Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-25). (See Footnote 2.)
  • Kids’ Activities.  There are no particular crafts associated with this feast. If you have children, you may provide them with coloring pages like this one.
  • Reflection / Study Questions.  Answer the following questions.
    • Have you accepted Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? If so, how did it happen?
    • The Holy Spirit and Saul’s sight both came to him only after Ananias put his hands on him and spoke to him (Acts 9:17-18). Do you think this was a unique case or do you think this story gives us more information about the process of salvation?
  • (Traditional) Prayer.  Pray the following prayer or use it to guide your own prayer.
    • “O God, Who taught the whole world / through the preaching of the blessed Apostle Paul, / draw us, we pray, nearer to You / through the example of him whose conversion we celebrate today, / and so make us witnesses to Your truth in the world.”
  • Fasting.  (Optional) After receiving Jesus’ instruction to continue to Damascus and wait to be told what to do next (Acts 9:6), Saul continued into the city and refused to eat or drink for three days (Acts 9:9) until Ananias came to him and Saul accepted Christ and received his sight, whereupon he resumed eating and drinking (Acts 9:17-19). This period of emotional and physical suffering coupled undoubtedly with prayer was critical to “crucify the old man” (Romans 6:5-7), that is, the fleshly and sinful desires, and prepare Saul to accept and dedicate his life to the Lord. You have a couple options:
    • Type of Fast: Absolute Fast (no food or water; although this is what Saul did, I don’t recommend this as abstaining from liquids can be very dangerous); a Complete Fast (no food, but plenty of water; this is generally considered a safe fast); or a Partial Fast (abstain from certain foods—for example, consuming only fruit juices for the duration of the fast, or only abstaining from sugar; this is the type of fast usually engaged in for Lent). Note that fasting from all food or doing a more severe partial fast (such as drinking only fruit juices) for multiple days helps your body cleanse itself of toxins. However, these toxins have to go somewhere. So if you’re not drinking enough water, the toxins may build up, especially in your kidneys, rather than being flushed out.
    • Length of Fast: Saul’s fast lasted three days; you may consider fasting only the day of this feast (ignore the irony for the moment) or fasting for three days like Saul did. If you’re planning to engage in a Complete Fast (see above) for the first time, I recommend only doing one day. It’s easiest to do it by skipping dinner the night before and eating dinner the day of. This translates to a 24-hour fast, but your worst hunger pangs will occur late at night so you sleep through them.
    • Activity During Fast: Spiritually, your activity should involve lots of prayer and meditation. Consider praying prayers of your creation, unique to your situation, possibly using the above prayer as a guide to content. For “meditation,” read and really consider some passages from the Bible. I highly recommend Romans 6, written by Paul, which talks about our relationship with sin, the law, and God’s grace specifically in reference to Christ’s sacrifice since it’s very fitting for a time of fasting; however, you should study whatever you feel God is leading you to study. Also understand that if you have to work or go to school on these days, you should do so and meditate whenever you’re free to. If you choose a Complete Fast (see above), you may need to reduce your physical activity, depending on the length of the fast and your usual activity.
    • First Educate Yourself and Prepare! Campus Crusade for Christ has some good instructions on how to fast, including what medical conditions may preclude fasting and how to prepare both spiritually and physically, among other helpful topics. Their physical preparation guide explains that it’s better to eat smaller meals prior to fasting rather than having that “last big feast” before the fast; recommends weaning from caffeine and sugar products prior to the fast to east discomfort during the fast; and notes that some health professionals recommend eating only raw foods for two days prior to the fast.
basket

my basket

KNIT AND CROCHET ACTIVITIES

After his conversion, Paul had to escape Damascus by a unique method. His fellow Christians placed him in a basket and lowered him over the wall. You can read the story in Acts 9:22-25. So the knit/crochet ornament for this feast is a basket!

  • Knitting Pattern: “Yarn Basket Ornament” by Scarlet Taylor (here). (Note: make only the basket, not the yarn balls and knitting needles. As written, the pattern instructs for a basket that measures 3″ x 3.5″. To make the basket stiffer and smaller, I knitted with US7 needles rather than US9, knitted the body 2″ rather than 2.5″, and knitted the handle 3″ rather than 4″. The end result is approximately 2.5″ x 3″.)
  • Crochet Pattern: “Basket Weave Easter Basket” by Elizabeth Ann Smith (here). (Note: create only the basket, not the eggs.)

 

じゃあまたね!

 

FOOTNOTES

Footnote 1: Paul as Author of Half the New Testament Books. The Bible is divided into two parts: Old Testament (written before Christ) and New Testament (written after Christ). The New Testament has 27 books of varying lengths, ranging from 1 chapter with 13 verses (II John) to 28 chapters (Matthew and Acts). Of the 27 books in the New Testament, 13 (48%) were written or dictated by Paul.

Footnote 2: Special Reading. When speaking to Saul, Jesus makes a statement that is difficult for us to understand: “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” or “kick against the goad” (Acts 9:5). The Pulpit Commentary, which is old enough to be freely available online, explains (see note under Acts 26:14 here [http://biblehub.com/commentaries/pulpit/acts/26.htm]) that this is an ancient proverb referring to a bull being trained to pull a cart refusing to submit and kicking against the “pricks” or “goads” (sharp sticks or cattle prods used to encourage the animal to move forward). When the bull fights the goad, he only hurts himself rather than making any gains against the person holding the goad. The only way to help himself and prevent being hurt is to submit to the goad. The proverb’s intent is to symbolize a person wrestling against or resisting a superior power. In this case, the proverb means that Saul will not succeed against the superior power of God and therefore must submit or else continue to resist to his own hurt.

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