Brothers and sisters, I want you to know that the Gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin, for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, Who had set me apart before I was born and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me, so that I might proclaim Him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days, but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother.
In this excerpt from his letter to the Galatian Christian community, Paul is defending himself and his apostleship. It appears that he was accused of proclaiming himself to be an apostle without the Church actually recognizing him as such because he was not picked by Christ before His ascension.
Paul is adamant here that the Gospel that he was preaching was not something that he made up on his own or taught him by someone else. It was, in fact, revealed to Paul by Christ Himself. When? "You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism." Everyone heard of his earlier life in Judaism, that's why so many doubted the sincerity of conversion.
Paul "was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. [He] advanced in Judaism beyond many among [his] people of the same age, for [he] was far more zealous for the traditions of [his] ancestors." Paul was a Pharisee, one of the best pharisees of his generation. He was smart, he was pious, he knew the Law of God, he followed it the best he could. He was everything the pharisee should be... including not knowing God or His will.
When Paul was on the road to Damascus, he was on his way to hunt down Christians and bring them before the judge to condemn them to death. He was absolutely convinced that he was doing the right thing, that he was doing a Godly thing because he was zealous for the tradition of his ancestors. There was only one thing wrong, his ancestors had forgotten and confused the traditions that were passed down to them, traditions that God taught them. Israel was chosen by God to prepare the whole world for the coming of the Messiah - of everyone's Savior. Somewhere along the line, Israel began interpreting them being a divinely chosen people as elitist, everything else went down the hill from there.
Paul was following this tradition, he was so zealous that Christ Himself had to step in, stop and correct him. "God revealed His Son" to Paul (Acts 9), so that he went from a zealous persecutor to a zealous preacher. Notice that in this life-changing encounter, Paul perceived a new calling. Or rather, Paul realized his real calling. This call wasn't to stop hunting down innocent people or to put away the wrong traditions of his ancestors. The call was to proclaim Christ to the Gentiles, to all non-Jews of the world.
Paul's encounter with Christ, and his subsequent transformation, shows what exactly our encounter with Christ should be like. It is impossible to meet Christ and remain that same, remain unchanged. If we think that we have met the Lord and remained the same, then we are either delusional about our encounter or we've been righteous all along. If we are inclined towards the latter, then there would have been no need to meet Christ at all.
How do we know that we have truly encountered Christ? I think that that's a hard question to answer. I do think it is almost impossible to encounter Him outside of Church because He has established it. And I think it is very difficult to encounter Him outside the sacraments because He has commanded them. Paul wasn't in the Church when he came face to face with Christ, but he was violently persecuting it.
It is also impossible to encounter Christ without encountering others in our life, meaning alone. Again, Paul met Christ while looking for Christians. We also can't meet Christ in the past, in the traditions of our ancestors (no matter how pious those traditions might seem), nor in the future, some point in time when we decide to have this encounter. We can only meet God in the present, right now, because this is the only time that we have. Right now is the only time that we truly exist. We don't exist in the past, nor in the future.
And just like with Paul, our encounter with Christ, our real encounter with Him (when we have it, we'll know it), will not show us a new calling or destiny, it will show us a real destiny.
But I have a feeling we already know that calling, we just a bit stubborn in following it. If we have already been baptized, we heard what Christ calls us to do - "make disciples of all nations, ...teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20).
What are we waiting for? A personal call? We already got it. A personal encounter with Jesus? We get it daily, especially in Church in the Sacrament of sacraments - the Holy Eucharist. Time to answer this call and be changed by the encounter.
Yours in the Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest