Conversion of St. Paul and the Feasts of Apostles

Today, January 25th, is the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. There is a nice arrangement of the liturgical calendar in the fact that exactly one month after Christmas, in the season of Epiphany, comes the feast of the great missionary apostle. It is also the last day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This eight-day period has been observed since 1908. It begins on January 18. Originally Anglican, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic churches all observed it as feast of St. Peter. Thus the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity unites the feast of these two apostles who are often seen as rivals.

It is possible to read too much into the traditional assignment of days to the feasts of biblical saints. Since the dates of their death or martyrdom are generally unknown, their traditional days have more do to with the dedication of churches in their honor, if their origin is known at all.

But, since allegorical interpretation is common in Christianity, one may consider that:

  • The feast of St. Andrew, the first apostle to be called to follow Jesus, begins the liturgical year on November 30.
  • The feast of “doubting” Thomas occurs on the shortest day of the year (in the northern hemisphere) when the light of the sun begins to grow stronger over the darkness of the night.
  • The feast of John the Apostle, Evangelist, and Beloved Disciple is closest to Jesus’ birthday. This is fitting both because he was the disciple who reclined next to Jesus at the Last Supper, and whom the Gospel of John says served as an intermediary for Peter on a few occasions.
  • The twin feasts of the Confession of Peter and the Conversion of Paul have a nice alliterative symmetry in English. They twin the sometime-rival apostles in the winter even as they are twinned in the feast of their martyrdom in the summer on June 29. As Paul has often been seen as the “type” and “representative” of Protestantism, grace, and freedom and Peter of Roman Catholicism, law, and order, octave, or eight days including their feasts is well chosen as a time to emphasize Christian Unity. They also figure most prominently in the story of early Christian missions in the Acts of the Apostles and thus fittingly occur in the season of Epiphany that is so closely associated with mission.
  • The feasts of Simon and Jude, two of the most obscure apostles occurs near the end of the year, shortly before the feast of All Saints’, which exists in part to honor those saints whom the church has forgotten.

Of course not all Christian observe the same calendar of saints. In reforming and consolidating their medieval inheritance, Western Christian have taken slightly different paths. In the 1960s, the Roman Catholic church

  • Moved the feast of St. Thomas to July 3 so it would not be overshadowed by the special observances leading up to Christmas.
  • Moved the feast of St. Matthais was moved from February 25, which often falls in Lent, to May 14. Some have suggested that it be observed on the Monday after the Ascension, since Mathias’s only appearance in the Bible is when he is chosen after Jesus’ ascension and before Pentecost.
  • Combined the two feasts of the Chair of Peter (on January 18 and February 22) into one on February 22.

Anglicans and Lutherans kept January 18 as the Confession of St. Peter and did not observe February 22. But they have divided among themselves on whether to follow the other changes. The Episcopal Church and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod have kept the traditional dates, while the Church of England and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have adopted the new Roman dates. The two major variations of the the Western calendar of apostolic feasts follow below.

Calendar of the Episcopal Church and Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod

November 30 – Andrew
December 21 – Thomas
December 27 – John
January 18 – Peter (confession of)
January 25 – Paul (conversion of)
February 25 – Matthias
May 1 – Philip and James (the less, son of Alphaeus)
June 11 – Barnabas
June 29 – Peter and Paul
July 25 – James (the greater, son of Zebedee)
August 24 – Bartholomew
September 21 – Matthew
October 28 – Simon and Jude

General Roman Calendar

November 30 – Andrew
December 27 – John
January 25 – Paul (conversion of)
February 22 – Peter (chair of)
May 3 – Philip and James (the less, son of Alphaeus)
May 14 – Matthias
June 11 – Barnabas
June 29 – Peter and Paul
July 3 – Thomas
July 25 – James (the greater, son of Zebedee)
August 24 – Bartholomew
September 21 – Matthew
October 28 – Simon and Jude

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