Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Listen Now. We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you.” John 20:21
The Book of Acts and the Early Ecclesia—Part Seventeen
A Dramatic Conversion Experience
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus Whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were travelling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Acts 9:1-9
Good morning Prayer Team!
One of the most profound stories of conversion and repentance is the story of St. Paul. His original name was Saul. Saul was a highly educated Jew. In Galatians 1:14, he wrote about himself: “And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.” He was so zealous, in fact, that he was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” (Acts 9:1) We know that he was present at the martyrdom of St. Stephen. (Acts 7) He was also “ravaging the church, entering house after house, he dragged men and women and committed them to prison.” (Acts 8:3) In Acts 9:2 we read that he asked the high priest “for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way (in other words, any Christians), men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” We’ve all seen movies where someone is in a murderous rage—I imagine the anger and terror in his eyes must have been horrifying to any Christian he met.
On the road to Damascus, Saul’s life took a miraculous turn. A light from heaven flashed around him. It was so bright he could not see anything. He fell down to the ground and heard a voice (imagine a loud voice booming from heaven like thunder) saying to him “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (9:4)
Saul’s response is somewhat surprising. Imagine this man, in a murderous rage, hurrying to Damascus eager to imprison the Christians there, who in but a moment recognizes the voice as the voice of God, a voice greater than his. He replied “Who are you, Lord?” (9:5) Imagine this proud and powerful man, now cowering in the dirt. His response isn’t “How dare you” or “who in the heck are you,” it is an almost instant recognition that there is someone much greater than him, someone he immediately calls “Lord.”
The voice replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” (9:5-6) Immediately Saul arose and tried to do as he had been told. Except when he opened his eyes, he was blind. He had to be guided into Damascus. For three days he was without sight. And for those three days he didn’t eat or drink anything. We don’t know the motive for his fasting—it might have been fright, or awe, or repentance, in the sense he became profoundly aware that he had displeased God and needed to change.
Many times, Saul’s conversion is called a “Damascus conversion” or a “Damascus experience.” This refers to a profound event which inspires repentance. Saul saw a bright light and was blind for three days—that is pretty profound. Others experience a profound conversion experience when they are in a low place in life, or when they hit rock bottom.
Most conversion experiences are probably not this dramatic. However, every life usually has a couple of profound experiences where one’s heart is more deeply converted to Christ. One doesn’t need to hit a bottom point in order for this to happen. I remember talking to someone about a time they finally learned to pray—because they were at a point in life where they felt all alone and it was at this point they offered what they considered their first real prayer. Conversion occurs at points where one profoundly feels either the absence of God or the need for God. To have a conversion means to have a permanent change. Conversion doesn’t not mean a temporary change followed by reversion back to what we were. Conversion means to make a permanent change. Yes, in our sinful state, they may be steps backwards occasionally, but for the one who is converted, there is permanent change. Also, conversion can happen multiple times in life. Every time we recognize the need to repent (change our orientation and fix it more towards Christ) we are converted a little bit more.
Conversion is something we all need. Repentance is something we all need. And we should look for opportunities, not necessarily dramatic ones, in order to repent and more deeply convert. Saint Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus led him from wanting to eradicate Christians to being the foremost of the Apostles. It led him from wanting to see Christians die for their faith, to his own martyrdom for the faith. God doesn’t necessarily expect a St. Paul type conversion from us. But He does want us to lead others to Christ and that starts off with repentance and continual conversion of our hearts.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundance mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleans me from my sin! For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified in Your sentence and blameless in Your judgment. For behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear the sounds of joy and feasting, the bones that were afflicted shall rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your presence and take not Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I shall teach transgressors Your ways and sinners will return to You. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of Your deliverance. O Lord, You shall open my lips and my mouths shall show forth Your praise. For You have no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, You would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and humbled heart, o God, You will not despise. Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion, and let the walls of Jerusalem be rebuilt. Then You will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then they shall offer up bulls on Your altar [and have mercy on me O God]. Psalm 50 (51)
Make repentance a daily thought, so that you can be a more converted Christian on a daily basis!
With Roger Hunt providing today’s Daily Reading: Listen Now
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