Did you know that today is the day we commemorate a miracle? Well, technically we commemorate a miracle every day. Every day is an invitation to know God deeper!
Today we remember the appearance of the Holy Cross over the city of Jerusalem. St. Cyril writes “At about the third hour of the day, an enormous Cross, formed of light, appeared in the heaven above holy Golgotha and reaching to the holy Mount of Olives, being seen not by one or two only, but manifest with perfect clarity to the whole multitude of the city; not, as one might suppose, rushing swiftly past in fancy, but seen openly above the earth many hours in plain sight, and overcoming the beams of the sun with its dazzling rays” This happened in the year 351 AD. What a wonderful day!
Look at our lesson today in Acts 26:1, 12-20:
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” So Paul stretched out his hand and answered for himself:
“While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me. Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.
Here we have St. Paul, under arrest as usual, giving his testimony before King Agrippa. By the way, this stint in jail for Paul will see him appeal to the Roman Emperor and be sent to Rome for trial.
Paul tells the king that he was once a persecutor of the Christians, but that all changed with the encounter on the Road to Damascus. Paul saw the Risen Jesus and was confronted with Christ. That confrontation, as dramatic and powerful as it was, changed Paul forever. And he got his marching orders from the Lord for the rest of his life!
Paul was to be a Minister and a Witness.
- A Minister in the sense that he was to dedicate the rest of his life to making the revelation of Jesus accessible to everyone, even the Gentiles. This radical message given to such a zealous Jew as Paul, who was on a mission to arrest the Christians in Damascus, was certainly a shock. Someone who was meticulous in obeying the Torah would know that a good Jew had nothing to do with the Gentiles. But now Paul would bring them the Gospel.
- A Witness because that is the primary task of someone who has encountered Jesus. Paul is a witness of the resurrected Jesus, and he tells the king “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” And he wasn’t. Paul spent the rest of his life before his martyrdom, preaching and raising up churches among the Gentiles!
Today, how would you describe your encounter with Jesus Christ? Have you ever had one? Of course, most of us won’t have as dramatic encounter as St. Paul. But every time you hear the Gospel read you are invited to encounter Christ. Every liturgy you attend you are invited to encounter Christ. Every icon you see is an invitation to encounter Christ. Even every person you meet! If you are ever going to be Orthodox on Purpose, you are going to have to come face to Face with Jesus Christ!