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The Persecuted Missionary: St Paul’s sufferings for the faith

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© Fred de NOYELLE / GODONG

St Paul was martyred by beheading according to the historical record

Anna Krestyn - published on 03/18/13

St Paul was regularly attacked because of the faith, and eventually paid the highest price

St. Paul, who had one of the most famous conversions in the history of Christianity when God literally knocked him off his high horse as he traveled to Damascus to persecute Christians, had to suffer his own litany of abuses once he became one of those whom he had persecuted. Three days after Paul's conversion experience, in fact, Jesus appeared to the disciple Ananias, saying: “ …  this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites, and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.”

The first persecution followed Paul’s preaching in Damascus, where he went with a completely renewed purpose after his conversion experience: to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Jewish synagogues. Having been trained as a bright young Jew by some of the top scholars of Jerusalem, Paul had a deep knowledge of Sacred Scripture and great rhetorical skills, which he lost no time in putting to use for Christ. So great a response was he drawing from the Jews there that the governor of Damascus promptly set out to kill Paul, setting guards around the city to capture him. But, as Paul himself related to the Corinthians, “I was lowered in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.”

Paul’s home base eventually became the Christian community in Antioch, Syria, from which he embarked on many successful missionary trips to Asia Minor and Greece (Book of Acts) before tensions with some of the Jewish-Christian communities in Jerusalem led to a two-year house arrest, first in Cæsarea and then in Rome. Throughout these mission trips, Paul suffered multiple beatings from opposing groups. In Lystra, he was stoned by a group of Jews so badly that they left him for dead. St. Paul mysteriously alludes to “the marks of Jesus” on his body in Galatians 6:17. Some Scripture scholars believe he refers here to the scars left by this beating. Others suggest that he refers to the stigmata, the supernaturally bestowed marks of Christ’s crucifixion which some of the saints suffered.

After an intense missionary career spanning twenty years or more (45-66/67 A.D.), St. Paul (on the same day as St. Peter) paid the ultimate price for his Christian faith: martyrdom. He was beheaded outside the walls of Rome on June 29, 67 A.D., and remains one of the Church’s brightest witnesses of radical, self-giving discipleship.

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Christians in the Middle East
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