Are you proud to be who you are? Paul of Tarsus surely was. Paul was brought up in Jerusalem under the tutelage of Gamaliel, the most illustrious rabbi of his day and a highly respected member of the Jewish Council. Paul was trained in the Law and became a Pharisee, part of the religious elite of Judaism. Paul was an apt pupil, outstripping his peers in enthusiasm for ancestral traditions and the Law. He was best known for his ardent persecution of Christians. Ironically Paul's background not only prepared him to be the early Church's chief opponent but also to become its leading spokesperson.
Perhaps the chief irony of Saint Paul's life was his calling to be the "Apostle to the Gentiles." Paul was a Pharisse, the very title meaning to separate. They separated themselves from women, lepers, Samaritans, and especially from Gentiles. So for Paul the act of taking the Gospel to the Gentiles was a total repudiation of his former life. Paul became highly critical of his culture , but only to the extent that it fostered self-righteous pride, exclusive attitudes or a belief in salvation by the Law rather than by faith in Christt. God not only helped him reevaluate his ethnicity but in the process transformed his attitude toward non-Jews. He became a man who knew who he was, so he was no longer threatened by people from other cultures. Culture provides people with a common set of experiences and values that bind them together. God never asks us to reject our roots. We can affirm our ethnic heritage as a rich gift from Him. To be sure ethnicity ought not create barriers with other people.
During his travels preaching the Gospel, Paul arrived in Athens, a cultural center of the Roman World. Having preached in Thessalonika, Phillipi and Berea, he was compelled to leave and arranged a rendezvous with his companions, Timothy and Silas in Athens. There the gospel collided with a centuries old culture rooted in intellectualism and discourse. He addressed the Epicurean and Stoics in their own forum, the Areopagus.
Archbishop Christodoulos describes the meeting thus: "St Paul began by pointing out the Athenians altar to the Unknown God. He declares to them “the God that made the world, and all things therein,
seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth” , a teaching that is of
course radically opposed to the Greek perception, according to which
there can be no creation from nothing. But the Apostle proceeds by
immediately building a bridge over to their beliefs: he rejects pagan
temples, by adding that God “dwelleth not in temples made with hands” —
a formulation that the philosophers among his audience must have shared
to a large extent. He tells them that we men are children of God, “for we are also his
offspring” . This is also a perception alien from Greek religion, which
considered men and gods creatures of earth and sky. Nonetheless, even
this novel teaching was not unfamiliar to them. Aratos had already
taught this and his works were among the most popular in that period.
Paul not only knew this, but in his speech he quotes a verse from
Aratos: “because we are also his offspring” , as a reminder to help
them . It is worth noting that Aratos, too, echoes a position of
Cleanthes, purportedly the founder of Stoic philosophy, who taught that
we men are children of God. Certainly, St. Paul did not speak on the Areopagus as the offspring of
Stoic philosophy; far from that. He was the disciple of Jesus Christ,
and only His. But he honored the Athens of philosophy, making sure
that he would show her the true means by which she should test the
quality of her thought: the light of Resurrection. We see him upholding
the same position when he writes to the Thessalonians: “ye turned to
God from idols, to serve [from now on] the living and true God” .
Paul’s teaching in Athens remained without continuation. He did not stay long in town nor did he ever intend to return. We have no epistle of his to the Athenians. Nevertheless, this does not imply contempt. The Athens of Paul’s time was a small town, which lived mainly on the income from the foreign students of the schools. It was a town with reputation, but without population. So Paul left Athens for Corinth, a prosperous and populous town. And it would be worth noting that there, in Corinth, where he came into contact with the powerful Jewish colony, he decided —not without soul-sickness— to put his own race aside and to direct his attention exclusively to the Gentiles."
Was Paul's strategy effective? Some of the Greeks listening to Paul called him a "babbler," others postponed judgment pending later discussion. In his gospel, Luke names two people in particular that responded to Paul's message: a man named Dionysios, who later became Bishop of Athens and a woman named Damaris, most likely a hetairai, a trained companion educated in subjects usually reserved for men, such as rhetoric and philosophy. A few years later a church was established in Athens.