“For whatever was written in former days, was written for our instruction.” Romans 15:4
Rev. Fr. Paul Schenck, who was raised Jewish and converted to Christianity when he was 16, gave an insightful and inspiring talk about the origins and roots of Christianity in Judaism.
Christianity arose from the Jewish tradition, and the early Christians shared a lot of commonality with the Jews. For decades after Christianity began, Christians were being taught to pray Jewish prayers. There was even a unity between Jewish and early Christian theology. It wasn’t until the destruction of the Temple when Christianity and Judaism began to diverge.
In order to understand the connection between the Jewish feasts and Christian feasts, Fr. Schenck described what conversion is. Conversion is generally understood to mean “a heathen turning to God or someone changing religions.” However, Fr. Schenck argued that conversion means to turn back – to go back to where you should have been. Conversion is a matter of restoration rather than replacement. Fr. Schenck then used St. Paul to illustrate this understanding of conversion.
St. Paul was a Pharisee. Who were the Pharisees? The word Pharisee literally means “separated, not mixing with.” The Pharisees were descendents of the faithful Jews in the time of the Maccabees. These faithful Jews were credited with reestablishing the Torah. The Pharisees lived out the law perfectly and completely. Keeping this in mind when considering St. Paul, one can then understand how St. Paul could claim that he was blameless according to the law (Philippians 3:4-8). If St. Paul was blameless, how did he convert? His conversion consisted in a returning to what God created him to be. God did not obliterate who St Paul was. Rather, by grace St. Paul became what he was created for. In Galatians 1:15 St. Paul says, “He…set me apart before I was born and had called me through his grace….” Clearly from St. Paul we can see that conversion is a calling to be what God created us for. It is a turning back, a kind of restoration.
Conversion in the early Church falls in line with the conversion of St Paul and follows the same pattern of returning, by grace, to the perfection God had originally intended. The law established by God on Mt. Sinai was perfected and completed by Christ on the cross. The five major feasts of Judaism were all mentioned in the Gospels and all were even celebrated by Christ or His Church. The five major feasts of Judaism underwent a conversion; a kind of restoration to what God had originally intended them to be.
The five major feasts of Judaism, according to Fr. Schenck, are Passover, Pentecost, the feast of the Dedication of the Temple, the feast of Tabernacles, and finally the feast of Atonement. In Luke 22:8 Christ sent Sts. Peter and John “to prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” That Passover, or the Last Supper, was the first Mass. The feast of Pentecost for the Jews recalls God giving the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The Torah teaches that the 10 Commandments were given in every language of the world. Acts 2 recounts the Feast Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Apostles spoke to all the people each in their own languages, fulfilling the old law and returning it to its intended universality. God’s law was originally intended for all people, not just the chosen people. Explaining the Feast of Pentecost, Fr. Schenck emphasized this idea of conversion as a return to what was originally intended.
Each of the Jewish feasts of the ancient Jewish calendar reenacted God’s work of salvation for the people of Israel. They recounted the works of the Lord for His people, but they always pointed to Christ, which is why St Paul could say, “For whatever was written in former days, was written for our instruction” (Rom 15:4).