In Russian and Greek Orthodox churches, 2 Cor 11:21–12:9 serves as a lectionary reading for the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, and 2 Cor 11:30–12:9 is read again on the 19th Sunday after Pentecost. These lectionary readings suggest the importance of this passage for the Eastern Orthodox Church's construal of Paul. 2 Corinthians 11:21–12:9 tells of Paul's suffering, his flight from Damascus, his ascent to the third heaven and paradise, as well as his reception of a thorn in the flesh. This essay explores the use of this passage in the hymns of the Orthodox liturgy. References to the passage, especially Paul's ascent to heaven where he heard "ineffable words" (12:4), feature prominently in hymns for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul and the Feast of the Synaxis of the Apostles. Moreover, allusions also occur in hymns for the Exaltation of the Cross and the Feast of St. Andrew the Fool. The essay explores the theological interpretations implied by these hymns, and it traces the rich and often multifaceted traditions of interpretation that inform the language of the hymns. Modern scholars frequently detect a polemic against ecstatic experiences such as Paul's ascent in this portion of 2 Corinthians and thus view 2 Cor 12:1–4 as having limited theological value. The Orthodox tradition, by contrast, interprets the passage as revealing crucial aspects of Paul's theological vision. The essay concludes by suggesting ways this tradition of interpretation might transform contemporary reading of the passage, especially in the context of the church.

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