Thursday, March 12, 2015

In the Footsteps of Paul: Day 19, Thursday, March 12

Corinth and Athens

On our final morning we drove from Athens to Corinth, the ancient city at the very top of the Pelopponesian Peninsula.  It was here that St. Paul himself traveled from Athens to bear witness to the Gospel.  He immediately met a Jewish couple, Aquila and Priscilla, who had just arrived from Rome.  Paul moved in with them and began to teach in the synagogue.  The Jews in Corinth were resistant to the Gospel, "And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said, 'Your blood be on your own heads!  I am innocent.  From now on I will go to the Gentiles."  And he did, from then on teaching in the house of Titius Justice.  Many Corinthians believed, including leading Jews.  Paul received a vision from God, telling him to not be afraid, but to continue to boldly proclaim the Gospel.  Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half.  It was there the Roman proconsul Gallio, in refusing to respond to the call of many Jews that Paul be stopped, gave tacit approval to the Christian mission. (Acts 18:1-17)

Within the ruins of ancient Corinth is a museum that has wonderful Greek and Roman artifacts, including superb statues of two emperors.

Augustus, the Roman Emperor when Jesus was born.

Nero, the Roman Emperor whose persecution of Christians in Rome
led to the martyrdom of both St. Peter and St. Paul.

The Temple of Zeus in Corinth

Of great historical interest to Christians is the Bema, the very stone on which St. Paul stood when he preached and taught in Corinth.  It is quite close to the site of the synagogue.

The Bema, or stone, from which St. Paul preached in Corinth

Paul's two Letters to the Corinthians are among the most beloved books in the New Testament.  Although they address and deal with very practical issues confronting the Corinthian Christians, they are also filled with passages of profound spiritual power and beauty.

"Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or bears all things, believes all thing, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love." 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13

"So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!" 2 Corinthians 5:17

Teaching about Paul in Corinth, in front of the Bema.

We then drove back to Athens to visit the Parthenon.  This Temple of Athena on the Acropolis of Athens is of course one of the great wonders of the classical world.  Set high above the city, it provides magnificent 360 degree views of all of Athens.  

The Small Temple to Athena on the Acropolis.

The Parthenon

Zeus' Temple in Athens, seen from the Parthenon

While Paul was in Athens, he spent his time in public conversation with pagan philosophers and rhetoricians.  He was invited to speak at Mars Hill, at the foot of the Acropolis.   This gave Paul an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel.  He preached his famous sermon, often called "To the Unknown God."  In it, he met the Greek philosophers on their own ground, using logic to decry worshipping idols in temples, as was the pagan custom.  He declared that the God who created the universe, revealed himself in the risen Lord Jesus Christ.  Although some scoffed at the notion of a bodily resurrection, many believed, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris. (Acts 17:22-34)

Teaching on Paul in Athens at the foot of Mars Hill.

We had our final dinner, and a time for prayer and discussion.  We'll leave the hotel at 3:30AM for our flight back to Atlanta.

Thank you, family and friends, for your prayers and support! We'll be home soon.  God bless you. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

In the Footsteps of Paul: Day 18, Wednesday, March 11

Delphi and Athens

Delphi, on the southern slope of Mount Parnassus, was the most important sacred site in all the ancient Hellenistic world.  Inspired by the Greek god Apollo, the Delphic Oracle would provide answers to any question asked by a worthy supplicant.  Written over the doorway of the temple were two famous sayings: "Know thyself."; and, "All things in balance."  Ancient pilgrims, from kings to commoners, streamed to the site from all over the Europe, North Africa and Asia Minor to seek answers to their questions about the future.  These predictions were often so vague, any result could be defended by the priests as being correct.   Every major kingdom in Greece and the Greek Isles built treasuries surrounding the Temple of Apollo, and provided the temple grounds with lavish gifts of art and precious metals.  The modern site has collected many of the most valuable artifacts in a wonderful museum.  Some of the world's greatest sculptures are housed there.

The Archaic Kouros


A frieze from a ruined treasury, depicting a hunt for lions.

A frieze of warriors fighting over the body of a fallen comrade.

A Classical athlete, showing physical perfection not found again in sculpture until the high Renaissance.

The Charioteer of Delphi, one of the finest examples of bronze statues from Ancient Greece.

Of great New Testament significance is the Delphi Inscription--the name given to the collection of nine fragments of a letter written by the Roman emperor Claudius (52 AD). The reference to proconsul Gallio in the inscription provides an important historical marker for developing the chronology of the life of the Apostle Paul. Paul appeared before Gallio in Corinth. Gallio dismissed the charges against Paul, giving tacit Roman approval for his ministry there.  It provides one of the few concrete dates that historically verifies the truth of the biblical narrative. See Acts 18:12.

The Delphi Inscription, or Gallio Inscription

The archeological site is one of the finest in the world, and set in a place of breath-taking beauty.

Pilgrims walking up the Sacred Way.

The ruins of the Temple of Apollo.

Walking down to the Athenian Treasury.

We drove from Delphi into the city of Athens, arriving early enough so that any pilgrim so desiring could take a long walk through the city.  

A view of the Acropolis from the rooftop of our hotel.

 A busy square in Athens with the Acropolis in the background.

Tomorrow will be our final day, visiting first Corinth where St. Paul lived for eighteen months and visited three times, and then Mars Hill in Athens, where he preached his sermon, "To an Unknown God."

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

In the Footsteps of Paul: Day 17, Tuesday, March 10

The Meteora Monasteries and Thermopylae

We began our day at the foot of the Meteora Monasteries.  All of these monasteries are perched atop the high cliffs of natural sandstone towers, some of which soar over 2000 feet.  They were created in the 14th century by monks from Mount Athos to the northwest, to provide an isolated, secure place free from harassment or worse from the Ottoman Turks.  Most of the six remaining monasteries (including two convents for women), were for centuries accessible only by rope ladders and nets, used to raise both supplies and people.  Today most can be approached by staircases cut into the stone.  These monastic communities are thriving and growing with members of all ages--in fact, we saw several monks and nuns in their twenties.  The views from the top of the cliffs are among the most magnificent in the world.

St. Stephen's Monastery in the distance.

 Four monasteries.

We visited Varlaam's Monastery, named after the first hermit to live on this rock in 1350.  We walked up over one hundred steps to enter its gate.  Varlaam is an active monastery, and to maintain decorum and dignity, all visiting women are required to wear skirts.  Fortunately the monastery provided wrap around skirts for our pilgrim women.

A pilgrim chorus line inside the gate at Varlaam's Monastery.

Every wall, pillar and ceiling in the church in Varlaam's Monastery is covered with stunning paintings, icons and mosaics.  Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any pictures inside the church. 

The view from Varlaam's Monastery to the Megalo Meteoro Monastery in the distance.

We next visited St. Stephen's Monastery, which is an active convent for women.  It can be reached by a causeway without steps.  Its church is also splendidly decorated with paintings, icons and mosaics.  It has a museum with ancient vestments, liturgical items, Bibles, Prayer Books, and a letter on parchment signed by the Metropolitan Archbishop of Constantinople in the 15th century.  It was in these monasteries and others like them in the Eastern Orthodox world that kept alive the prayer disciplines first practiced in the Egyptian desert in the 4th century by monks like St. Anthony and Evagrius Ponticus.  They were able "to pray without ceasing" by using the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner."  This prayer, designed to still the conscious mind, fosters intimacy with God.

Teaching on the Jesus Prayer outside the church in St. Stephen's Monastery.

A contemplative garden in St. Stephen's Monastery.

We then drove south across a high mountain range into the Plain of Thessaly.  When we arrived at Mount Parnassus, we stopped at the site of the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC), where 300 hundred Spartan warriors under the leadership of King Leonidas held off a Persian army of more than 100,000 soldiers for seven days. Though the Greeks were eventually defeated by the Persians, historians refer to the Battle of Thermopylae as an example of the power of a patriotic army skillfully and courageously defending its native soil against overwhelming odds. 

The Thermopylae Pass in the misty distance.

Statue of King Leonidas of Sparta.

After a beautiful but fairly harrowing drive around Mount Parnassus, going up and down several thousand feet on a switchback highway, we arrived at the Gulf of Corinth opening to the Ionian Sea.  It is here we will spend the night.

The Gulf of Corinth, with the Ionian Sea in the distance.  

Monday, March 9, 2015

In the Footsteps of Paul: Day 16, Monday, March 9

Thessalonica and Berea

We spent the night in the modern Greek city of Salonika, built on top of the ancient Thessalonica.  Because of the modern city, there are no excavations of ancient Thessalonica, to which  Paul traveled with Silas and Timothy after they were asked to leave Philippi during his 2nd Missionary Journey.

The holiest site in Salonika in the Basilica of St. Dimitrios, a 4th century Thessalonian Christian who was martyred in the Galerian persecution in 306AD.  The Basilica has spectacular mosaics and icons, ranking among the finest in Greece.  It is an active church, and a mass was being conducted at the high altar during our visit, which made it a bit awkward.

Icon of Christ Pantocrator in the Basilica of St. Dimitrios

Mosaic Dome over the altar in the Basilica of St. Dimitrios

The pattern of St. Paul's stay in Thessalonica was very similar to that of his visits to other Hellenistic cities.  He went immediately to the synagogue, and taught there on three consecutive Sabbaths.  He presented a carefully detailed explanation from the Hebrew Bible, that showed the Messiah was to suffer and be raised from the dead.  There is extensive prophecy in the Old Testament about the Suffering Servant (Psalm 22, Isaiah 51-54, the Book of Hosea), but never before had Jews linked this redemptive Suffering Servant to the Messiah and salvation.  There is also extensive prophetic visioning about the bodily resurrection of the dead (Ezekiel), but that too had never been linked to the Messiah.  Paul's teaching in Thessalonica was well received.  Many Jews were persuaded and came to faith, as did many Greek women of high social standing.  But other Jews who rejected the message, angrily gathered a mob that accused Paul of advocating another king, Jesus, who was superior to the emperor.  Although the city officials didn't act in response to the rabble, the believers in Thessalonica felt it was expedient to send Paul and his companions on to Berea under the dark of night. (Acts 17:1-9)

Teaching on Paul in Thessalonica outside the Basilica of St. Dimitrios

We too followed in Paul's footsteps to Berea (modern Veroia).  The same Pauline pattern unfolded there. As it says in Acts 17:10-15, "When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.  These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.  But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds.  Then immediately the brethren sent Paul away..."  Paul went on to Athens.  

In Veroia, there is one of the great Pauline sites, for Christian tradition has preserved the very step ("bema" in Greek) from which Paul preached in Berea.  A shrine has been built there with beautiful mosaics, frescos and statuary.  I was thrilled to stand on St. Paul's "bema", and offer a teaching on Paul's  two Letters to the Thessalonians.  

Statue of St. Paul near the Bema of St. Paul, Berea

Teaching about the Letters to the Thessalonians in St. Paul's Bema

Mosaic of St. Paul's vision of the "man in Macedonia", St. Paul's Bema

Mosaic of St. Paul Preaching to the Bereans, St. Paul's Bema

Mosaic of St. Paul, directly above the St. Paul's Bema

Pilgrims in front of the Bema of St. Paul, Berea

We then drove through the breathtakingly beautiful mountains of Central Greece, along steep winding roads to arrive at our next stop: the clifftop monasteries at Meteora.  We will visit them in the morning.  

Sunday, March 8, 2015

In the Footsteps of Paul: Days 14 and 15, March 7 and 8

Neapolis and Philippi

Saturday, March 7th was a day of transit, traveling from Turkey to Greece, from Asia to Europe.  It was gray and misty with spitting rain and a fierce wind.  We were up early to catch a ferry across the Dardanelles in rough water.  Paul and his companions sailed a similar route as they crossed over from Asia to Europe answering Christ's call to "be my witnesses to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

In the middle of the Dardanelles, with the Gallipoli Peninsula in the background.

Approaching Geliboli in Europe

We drove to the Greek border, and after a lengthy crossing, proceeded to Kavala (ancient Neapolis) where Paul first arrived in Europe, bringing the Gospel in response to "the man in Macedonia". (Acts 16:8-10)
We arrived in Kavala, Greece where we spent the night after an entire day of traveling.

The harbor at Neapolis, where Paul first arrived in Europe.

We awoke on Sunday to a cold, rainy day.  We began by celebrating the Eucharist.

Preaching on Paul's Letter to the Philippians.

Receiving communion.

We drove to the site of the ancient city of Philippi, the first place where Paul preached in Europe.  The Acts of the Apostles says that on the Sabbath, Paul and Silas went outside the city gate to the river, hoping to find a place where people gathered to pray.  They found a group of women, and after proclaiming the Gospel, a woman named Lydia responded with joy, being baptized along with her whole household.  From that point forward, Paul and Silas stayed in her house. (Acts 16:11-16)  Lydia, became a key leader in the Church at Philippi, showing that Paul supported the Christian leadership of women.  There is a wonderful site where Lydia was baptized; in the pouring rain it was swollen to flood level. 

The site of Lydia's baptism.

There is also a beautiful baptistry, that is in frequent use by the Greek Orthodox community.

Lydia's baptistry.

A mosaic map of Paul's Missionary Journeys in the narthex of Lydia's baptistry (the very route we have traveled).  

Frescos of St. Lydia and St. Paul in the Lydia's baptistry.  

 Although it was raining hard, with the temperature in the 30's, several pilgrims braved the elements to visit the nearby excavations of ancient Philippi.  Of special note is "Paul's prison".  When Paul exorcized a 'spirit of divination' from a girl in Philippi--a slave girl who made her masters good money telling fortunes--the girl's owners were angered at their loss of income.  They dragged Paul and Silas before the city's magistrates, surrounded by an ugly mob.  The magistrates had Paul and Silas stripped and beaten with rods, before throwing them in jail, with their feet held in stocks.  The two Christians prayed and sang hymns, and drew the attention of the jailer and other prisoners.  There was an earthquake that night breaking open the prison doors.  The jailer, thinking he would be executed if the prisoners escaped, was in great fear and ready to attempt suicide.  But Paul cried out, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here."  The jailer asked, "What must I do to be saved?"  Paul replied, "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." (Acts 16:30-31) He and his entire household were baptized.  In the morning the magistrates, upon learning Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, wanted them to be released quietly.  Paul boldly refused, and on the grounds of his citizenship insisted the magistrates come and publicly apologize, which they did.  After visiting with Lydia and encouraging the new Christians in Philippi, Paul and his companions left for the city of Thessalonica. (Acts 16:16-40)

Paul's prison in Philippi.

The hard rain and cold, blustery weather led us to cut our visit short, and we boarded the bus to follow Paul to the modern city of Thessaloniki where we spent the night.