Among the many converts to Orthodox Christianity was the Jewish rabbi Paul Fotiou from the Hebrew community of Arta in Greece, who converted from Judaism and was baptized as an Orthodox Christian together with his family.
To read a little about the Jews of Arta, see here.
Archimandrite Nektarios Ziompolas writes the following about Paul Fotiou:
“I came to know Paul Fotiou from places and environments of holy churches in Athens where he preached, and repeatedly in conversations I heard him talk about his conversion from the Hebrew religion to the Orthodox Christian faith. When he spoke we heard him with awe and emotion and we had general questions. He intensely lived the sacramental life of the Church. His face and his character breathed respect, “smelling” like incense. I will mention one particular incident from my acquaintance with Paul Fotiou, of which I witnessed. From what I remember it happened between the years 1960 and 1962 in Athens.
It was Holy Thursday night and we were in a church in Athens for the Service of the Holy Passion. I was a layman then and I was found at the side of Paul Fotiou, next to the iconostasis before the icons of Christ and the Forerunner. When the beautifully voiced priest read the Gospel passage: “When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said. ‘It is your responsibility!’ All the people answered, ‘His blood is on us and on our children!'” (Matthew 27:24-25), Paul Fotiou fell sharply to the ground unconscious. And while the priest continued reading, we transferred him to the sanctuary. A doctor in the congregation immediately saw him and he did what was necessary, and soon he was recovered and did not want to leave before finishing the Service. Of course, the crowd of the congregation pretty much got news of what happened, and thought he fainted from standing. Few knew this happened at that moment when he heard the terrifying Gospel. In other words those words spoke within him, and he was quite touched, having lived after two thousand years the then foolish confession of his then patriots the Jews …. His heart converted from one lost to the real Messiah Jesus; he broke and realized the horrible crime in history that happened on Golgotha….”
Paul Fotiou wrote about his conversion in a booklet in Greek titled My Conversion to Christ, from which an excerpt is given below:
MY CONVERSION TO CHRIST
By Paul Fotiou
You are probably familiar from the newspapers of the great event which happened a decade ago, by the grace of the Lord, to me and my family, but perhaps not. It regards my return to Christ and my baptism on the feast of Pentecost in the year 1952 in the Holy Metropolis of Arta, of myself and my entire family. For me and my family this was a big milestone in our lives, so we always thank God, through Jesus Christ His Son and our God, for His grace and honor which He did to us, to invite us in His way to His salvation. Our gratitude to Him as well as our obligations for others is great, primarily to our brothers the Israelites, who by misinterpreting the Holy Scriptures violently reject and hate the already come Messiah Christ. Him whom our fathers handed over to a shameful death and His Father raised Him on the third day from the dead according to the Scriptures. Indeed, very exceptionally for them I write this booklet, to facilitate this with the help of the Holy Scriptures to bring them to want and come back and accept as their Savior Jesus, Who now will not come to save but to judge the living and the dead.
Appearances of the Lord Towards My Illumination
The first appearance of the Lord
It was the period of the Triodion, namely the second week of the Prodigal Son, a time when God calls us to repent and fast in order to celebrate the horrors of the Passion and Crucifixion. So then I saw in my sleep the following. I saw that I was doing Saturday Vespers while studying the Pentateuch from the parchment, from the passage of the Exodus from Egypt, and I saw there three Greek words in gold ink, which said: “Faith Freedom Nation”.
Turning the next page I saw that I found myself in a big house and at the gate stood two soldiers.
At that moment our Lord Jesus Christ appeared. The Lord knocked on the gate and immediately I descended and opened it. Entering through Christ took from his pocket a picture with 360 people and gave it to me. Since I could not comprehend the interpretation of this photograph, He said: “So many of you left as hostages and so many of you returned from Arta, 360. It is time to repent for the sin of your fathers, which was My Crucifixion.” He then showed me the holes in His hands. And having illumined the interpretation of the 26th chapter of Leviticus, He disappeared….
The second appearance of the Lord
After two months and since I continued to study various books of the Orthodox Church and followed the Divine Liturgies, we arrived at Holy Thursday. On the night of Holy Thursday I fell asleep very upset, because of what I had heard in church. And for the second time I saw Christ as follows.
I saw that I was with my family, that was exterminated in Germany, and we ate together in the hallway of my house. In an instant the door knocked and entered the postal distributor of Arta and he gave me a letter. I opened the letter and saw inside the photo that the Lord gave me the first time and a waiver of the Rabbi of the Jewish community. Again I was ecstatic with the photograph of 360 people. Then an unfamiliar voice sounded through the house, which told me:
“So many of you left and so many of you returned. It is time to not hear anyone. Take your family and come with Me, the sin of your fathers is torturing you. Repent and come with Me to be saved.”
From that moment my faith was inflamed further and announced to my family urging us all to go as soon as possible to Metropolitan Seraphim for catechesis and baptism. The next day I learned from a friend that my then brother Israelites had devised a plan to remove me from the synagogue if I went to synagogue on Saturday, as other Scribes and Pharisees in the days the Lord. So I avoided it and the third day of Easter we went to the Metropolitan for family catechism, giving promise to His Eminence that we will notify him ten days before our baptism.
The third appearance of the Lord
Forty days passed between Easter and Ascension eve evening, at which time is celebrated the Pentecost of the Israelites, and we had the habit of spending the night in different houses of more than twenty people each, to study the tradition of the Mosaic Law at Sinai. That night, along with my family, we were studying a book that had the conversation of St. Gregory the Archbishop with a Rabbi named Erwan, who had been invited by a king of Ethiopia to discuss Christ. The Chief Rabbi requested forty days time to study the Holy Bible and then discuss. After the end of the period he presented and discussed for three days and nights with seventy teachers. Eventually, the Israelites said they would believe, on the condition that the Lord would appear to them, which was done. But because of the small faith of the Jews, as soon as the Lord appeared to them “while the doors were shut” (He came on a cloud in the middle of the room) the Archbishop prayed and they were blinded. Then, while they were blind, the Archbishop urged them to be baptized. After baptism the eyes of their soul were opened and they believed in the Savior of mankind Christ together with the King and his court, a total of 1500 people around the city. It was midnight when I studied them, and I heard three knocks on the roof of my house and fearfully closed the book and went to lie down. Then I heard the door knock in my room and in came our Lord Jesus Christ, holding in his hand a piece of cotton smeared with oil and with it anointed me crosswise on the face and told me: “Paul, Paul, from tomorrow you will be mine. Whoever appears, do not be shaken, I will be in you.” Immediately I got up and said to my wife and told the incident to all my family members to watch and not be shaken by any cowardice or the offering of money, as much as it may be, which unfortunately came the next day.
The Bribery Attempt
The next day, the first day of the Jewish Pentecost, there appeared the whole of the Community Council in my home around eleven o’clock in the morning to convince me with offering huge sums. This was even done by my relatives who arrived from Corfu. But forewarned by my Lord I was steadfast, along with my family, in the future correct faith with my baptism in the name of the Triune Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The 8th of June 1952
The next day I notified the Metropolitan of Arta Seraphim to baptize us. So Sunday, June 8, 1952, the day of Pentecost of the Orthodox Church, at 12 noon was my baptism along with the three members of my family before the clergy and the authorities of the city and many people, calculated at over three thousand.
The Epistle of Paul Fotiou, former Rabbi of Arta, to the Rabbi’s and Leaders of Israel.
“Those who survive in the lands of your enemies will waste away because of their sin; they will also waste away because of their fathers’ sins along with theirs. But if they will confess their sin and the sin of their fathers — their unfaithfulness that they practiced against Me, and how they acted with hostility toward Me…” (Leviticus 26:39-40).
My beloved Jews, behold the wonder of our daily destruction from the Germans, who unfortunately took us and annihilated us because of the sins of our fathers, who twisted the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures and crucified the Messiah Christ, and the sin of the crucifixion was thrown upon us, when the avid Pharisees said before Pilate: “His blood upon us and upon our children” (Matt. 27:25) and the rest of the mob agreed saying “Amen” and He was taken away….
Finally, my beloved, we see in the Hebrew tongue one word greater in writing than any other words, which we shout out with melodic power and tone: “Remember the Law of Moses which was spoken at Horeb”, etc. It is necessary to study every bit of this chapter together with the 26th chapter of Leviticus in which is written all the catastrophes of the Jews for disobeying the Law of God, to the point that we are a people accountable….
Beloved, I do not speak out of material interest, but I speak by the grace of the Holy Spirit which I received within me by our Lord Jesus Christ on the day of my baptism. I speak to you through repentance, both for me and for all of mankind unto our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Messiah and Savior of all repentant sinners, and may we all one day become a flock under one Shepherd – Christ. Amen.
With love in Christ,