June 29, 2014

Saint Paul the Apostle as a Model for our Lives

Holy Apostle Paul (Feast Day - June 29)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The principal facts of the life of the Apostle Paul are known, such as his zeal for the traditions of his fathers, his miraculous conversion to Christ, his journeys and his suffering. What is perhaps less known are his ascetic struggles, his spiritual warfare, his inner life which was hidden from the eyes of the world, for it was "hidden with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3). However he himself made some allusions to his ascetic way of life, saying that he brings violence against his flesh, hardening and subduing his body that he may not be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:27).The subject of his salvation seriously occupied him and truly showed that he was frightened at the thought that perhaps others would be saved through his preaching and miracles, and yet he remain outside the "bridal chamber". The incurable illness of his body integrated him into this perspective. He considered it a blessing and gift of the love of God, given to him to protect him from falling into the great passion of pride due to the many miracles he performed, as well as the major revelations given to him.

After the appearance of Christ to him and his baptism by the Apostle Ananias he did not rush to go and preach, but he went to the desert of Arabia, where he remained three years living in asceticism and prayer. Having tasted the sweetness of the fruit of the desert, inner peace and purification of the heart from the passions, he journeyed, after a revelation from the Holy Spirit and the blessing of the Church, to the nations to preach the Gospel. In the Acts of the Apostles, written by his co-worker and companion Luke the Evangelist, the physician and his beloved friend, and in the letters of the Apostle Paul, the reader sees his journeys, his struggles, his anxieties and his daily martyrdom.

He was an ascetic Apostle, who lived mission in its authentic form. He was a missionary and at the same time a hesychast according to the Orthodox meaning of the term. He worked for his personal expenses for the sake of asceticism, but also subtly so as not to be a burden to anyone. He had unceasing noetic prayer, which is the sweet honey of hesychasm. Hesychasm in the language of Orthodox Theology means the guarding of the senses, the struggle against thoughts and noetic prayer. It experiences continuous prayer and urges us to implement it. When the soul is energized by the grace of God then one is able to keep prayer and inner peace even in a place with a lot of noise. Otherwise even in the quietest place one cannot find rest, but feels unbearable loneliness and transfers the noise of the city there, and instead of tasting the fruits of hesychasm, he returns more tired and burdened.

The hesychastic way of life leads to one finding meaning in life and growing spiritually. Depending on how one faces various problems that arise daily, especially the large and pressing ones, it reveals the internal state, the way you think, and the length of your spiritual age, which is not always consistent with the biological.

Studying the life and letters of the Apostle Paul one sees the way he treated the same problems in different ways, depending on his spiritual age. For example, the issue of personal attacks and slanders against him and the efforts of some pseudo-apostles who said he was lower than the other Apostles who saw Christ and lived near Him during the years of his earthly life. He faced this differently in the beginnings of his apostolic journeys than he did later, and much differently towards the end. In the beginning he defended his apostolic office and said he was an Apostle, since he lacked nothing from the other Apostles and he even rejoiced that he was greater than the other Apostles, since he worked more than the others: "Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham's descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.... I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the 'super-apostles', even though I am nothing" (2 Cor. 11:22-29; 12:11). Later he simply confessed he was an Apostle like all the rest and that he also saw Christ. Finally, at a very mature spiritual age, he doesn't even defend his apostolic office, he gives no apologies, no boasts, but to the contrary he says that he is not worthy to be called an Apostle, since he persecuted the Church of Christ, and he even calls himself an abortion.

The hesychastic way of life as experienced in the Orthodox Church helps in the acquisition of internal peace and spiritual maturity and thus treats our daily problems, especially the large and pressing ones.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΑΠΟΣΤΟΛΟΣ ΠΑΥΛΟΣ", June 1999. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.