I have recently returned from a pilgrimage in Greece following in the footsteps of St. Paul, beginning in the north of the country, Kavala (known as Neapolis in Paul’s time), all the way south to Athens and onto Corinth. This was Paul’s second missionary journey and his first into mainland Europe. It would be true to say it was quite a whistle-stop tour, partly because it was about looking at whether this is somewhere I would like to lead a group later on.
There were times, if I am honest, when I lost sight of Paul in amongst all the history of the Greek gods, but of course this was indeed the Greece that Paul encountered almost 2,000 years ago. Greece with its impressive temples and buildings attributed to Apollo especially, and the great Parthenon in Athens. We visited the ancient site of Delphi, and the ruins of the then important town of Philippi. It was in Philippi that we shared in a service on Holy Communion by the stream where Paul met Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, who was a worshipper of God. Luke, writing about Lydia says that she responded to Paul’s message and she and her whole household were baptised. She then persuaded Paul, Silas and Timothy to stay with her for their time in Philippi (see Acts 16: 13-15).
We visited 2 of the Meteora Monasteries, dating back to 14th century, perched high on the rocks (search these to see just how impressive they are), and heard about the life of the Nuns of the modern St. John Monastery in Berea.
A highlight for me was standing on Mars Hill, the Areopogus of Athens, listening to the speech of Paul explaining to them about their ‘altar to an unknown god’. (Acts 17: 16-30).
What stuck me as the week went on was just how far Paul travelled, and the time he spent in Greece, to share the message of Jesus – and of his resurrection, his unwavering commitment to share the message of the Jesus he encountered in the most vivid and life changing way on the road to Damascus.
We have just remembered and celebrated again our Lord’s death and resurrection. I hope we have encountered Jesus afresh in a real and vivid way as we have recalled what he has done for us and all people.
The question I am now reflecting on for myself, and sharing with others as I talk about this experience, is ‘How far would I go in order to share the message of Jesus with others?’ And I don’t only mean from a geographical sense. Paul stepped into an alien environment to him too in order to bring the Gospel to Gentile Europe.