Today the church honors not a saint, but rather an event: The Conversion of Saint Paul.
This conversion story is thrice told (I just wanted to use the word “thrice”) in the Scriptures, and Paul also references it three times in his letters. This repetition actually makes it one of the most oft-repeated events in the stories of the early church.
Paul, a zealous persecutor of Christians in ancient Palestine, is struck by a blinding vision and, reportedly, the voice of God, which leads him to become a follower of Christ.
This event may be the most influential event for the early church because Paul’s active conversion work (and theology) spread like wildfire throughout the ancient world, especially amongst Gentile communities.
It’s worth noting that this Feast Day also marks the end of the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.” It is not an accident that the “Week of Prayer” starts with the Confession of St. Peter and ends with the Conversion of St. Paul, as the two of them did not get along at all. They had different ideas of what the faith should be and do, who should be included in the circle of believers, and yes, it appears they even had different working theologies (of which, I would argue, St. Paul’s ideas won out, for better or for worse).
The one thing they did agree on? To continue working on behalf of the poor.
The church longed for these two pillars of the faith to be reconciled so much that they put them on the same feast day, believing that if they couldn’t be friends in life, they would be companions in death.
The conversion of St. Paul is honestly a feast day I struggle with, mostly due to a long history of colonialism and forced conversions winding through the church’s past. Yet, there is something honest about the fact that Paul, on his own, had an experience with the Divine that made a shift in him, and that can be a force for good, by God.
Christian unity feels a bit like a dream most days. This feast day isn’t even celebrated in the Eastern Church. But, perhaps if we all had a conversion we all might just agree to do that one thing that Paul and Peter agreed on: work on behalf of the poor.
For that to be the case, a lot of the church will have to be converted in the process…
-historical pieces from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations
-icon written by He Qi