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The Damascus Experience in the Epistles of Saint Paul

Saint Paul recounts the details of his vision on the Damascus road in his Epistles. It should be mentioned that he changed his name from the Hebrew Saul to his new Greek name, Paul. (Acts 13:9)

In his First Epistle to the Corinthians, (56-58 A.D.), Saint Paul recalls the beginnings of his proclamation of the Gospel, beginnings based on his relationship with Christ, risen from the dead and the appearances of Jesus to the apostles and also to him: -

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. (I Corinthians 15:1-10)

It is good to recall that the only place where Jesus appeared after his resurrection, ascension and Pentecost and outside the Holy Land is in Syria, before the gates of Damascus. So, when we venerate the sanctuary of Saint Paul, we venerate a spot where Jesus Christ appeared and thus we venerate both Jesus and Saint Paul.

In the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, (56-58 A.D.), he says, “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not. In Damascus the governor under Aretas the King kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: and through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.” (II Corinthians 11: 31-33)

At the beginning of the Epistle to the Galatians, (53-57 A.D.), Saint Paul again recalls his Damascus experience, in which he defends the originality of his mission, based as it is on his unique, personal encounter with Christ: -

But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: and profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother. Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; and was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ: but they had heard only, ‘That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.’ And they glorified God in me. (Galatians 1:11-24)

In the Epistle to the Ephesians, (61-62 A.D.),  he refers again to that unique way in which he became an apostle, despite the fact that he had not been one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, nor lived with him during his earthly life in Palestine:-

Ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: how that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ… (Ephesians 3:2-9)

In the Epistle to the Philippians, (56-58 A.D.), he recalls again his passing over from the Law and Jewish circumcision to life in Jesus Christ:-

Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3: 5-12)

In the Epistle to the Colossians, (61-62 A.D.), he touches in a general way on his Damascus experience with similar expressions to those in the Epistles to the Ephesians and to the Galatians. He appeals to the faithful of Colossae, saying: -

If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church: whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily. (Colossians 1:23-29)

In the First Epistle to Timothy, (64 A.D.), who is really a “son (to him) in the faith,” (I Timothy 1: 2) Paul thanks God that the Gospel “was committed to (his) trust” for the glory of the Lord. (I Timothy 1:11) He says further, recalling the period prior to his experience on the Damascus road: -

And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (I Timothy 1: 12-17)

In the Epistle to the Romans, (53-57 A.D.), there is a distant mention of that change that Saint Paul experienced on the road to Damascus, when he writes to the faithful in Rome on the matter of the refusal by the Jewish people to recognize Jesus, saying: -
For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: if by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them. For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? (Romans 11:13-15)


Teachings of Christ

“Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33 ESV)

Holy Angels

O Supreme Leaders of the heavenly armies, * we, who are unworthy, ever beseech you, * that through your prayers you may surround us * with the shelter of the wings of your immaterial glory, * watching over us who fervently fall down and cry out: * “Deliver us from perils, * for you are the commanders of the Powers on high!” (Troparion - Tone 4)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

O Supreme Leaders of the armies of God * and ministers of the Divine Glory, * princes of angels and guides of men, * ask for us what is expedient for us and for great mercy, * for you are the leaders of the Bodiless Hosts. (Kontakion - Tone 2)

Random Proverb

"My son, do not lose sight of these — keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul." (Proverbs 3:21,22a ESV)

Pray Without Ceasing

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Wisdom from the Church Fathers

Virtues and vices are the food of the soul and it can feed on either one, turning to whichever one it wants. If it is bent toward moral excellence, it will be fed by virtue - by righteousness, temperance, meekness, endurance. In other words, it is just as St. Paul says, 'being nourished by the word of truth' (1 Tim. 4:6).

St. Ignatius of Antioch