Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense: “Thus I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining round me and those who journeyed with me. And 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? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and bear witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles—to whom I send you to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ “Wherefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those at Damascus, then at Jerusalem and throughout all the country of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God and perform deeds worthy of their repentance.
Acts 26: 1, 12-20
Christ is Risen!
Saints Constantine and Helen are two of the greatest saints in the Orthodox Church. In fact, they have been given the title “Equal-to-the-Apostles” for their witness of faith and contribution to the life of the Church. Saint Helen was the mother of Saint Constantine. Saint Constantine was the last emperor of the Roman Empire.
Constantine converted to Christianity during a battle when he was vastly outnumbered by an enemy force. In the sky he saw the vision of a cross with the words “en touto nika” “In this sign, you will be victorious.” Ordering his soldier to put crosses on their shields, he won the battle and became a Christian. In 313, through the Edict of Milan, he made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. This was a turning point for Christianity, as for the first time, churches, Christians and Christianity were not being persecuted. In 325, St. Constantine moved the capital of the world from Rome to Turkey, to a city he renamed Constantinople. Thus ended the Roman Empire and began the Byzantine Empire, which stood from 325-1453. Saint Constantine also convened the First Ecumenical Council in Nicea in 325. This Council gave to us the Canon of Scripture (The Bible) as well as the Nicene Creed, our basic statement of faith. Saint Helen, Constantine’s mother, was a big influence on him and his introduction to Christianity. A saintly person in her own right, St. Helen organized a group of soldiers to go and find the true Cross of Christ, which they found buried on Golgotha.
Saint Paul is known as one of the “Paramounts” of the Apostles, together with St. Peter. That means that he is recognized as one of the two greatest Apostles in the history of Christendom. Saint Paul, as we know, was not always a saint. He was persecuting the early Christians in the first years after the Resurrection and Pentecost. He even was present for the stoning of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
Saint Paul had a conversion experience. On the road to Damascus, he saw a bright light and heard the voice of Jesus from heaven. Jesus not only asked him why he was persecuting the Christians, but He called Paul (then known as Saul) to be a leader in His church, to share the faith among the Gentiles. Paul was blinded by the light. For several days he was without sight, until he was visited by a Christian man named Ananias, who touched his eyes and prayed over him and then Paul was able to see again.
Saint Paul repented of what he was doing and did exactly as Jesus had told him on the road to Damascus. He became a follower of Christ and a leader of the movement to spread Christianity. In today’s Epistle reading, we hear his testimony, given in front of King Agrippa. Now faced with the prospect of prison or execution, Saint Paul boldly proclaimed his faith, and in fact, he was later martyred for his witness of faith.
The lessons of today are two. First, even the greatest of sinners can become a saint. Saint Paul (and MANY other saints) is living proof of that. Second, we are called by the Lord to spread His word, to take our place as a leader in the church, meaning someone who leads others to Christ. That call will not come for all of us in such a dramatic fashion as it did for St. Paul on the road to Damascus. Christ, however, will call each of us. And if we have our eyes and ears open, there will be a moment, a “Damascus experience” whereby God will make His intentions known for each of us. The challenge is for us to listen, and to accept the call and then to go and make something of the charge we have been given.
If you feel you haven’t been called yet, keep listening through prayer. If you have been called, and you haven’t answered, stop running away and answer. And if you are answering the call, then continue to ask God for the strength to be faithful and to keep answering.
Your Apostle among the Rulers, St. Constantine, who once beheld in the sky the image of Your Cross, and who like Paul received his calling not from man, once entrusted the Ruling City into Your hand. We entreat You to restore it in peace forever, at the intercession of the Theotokos, O Lord who loves humanity. (Apolytkion of Sts. Constantine and Helen, Trans. By Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Reflect on your calling today!