Monday, April 11, 2011

The Journeys of Paul Through Greece and Rome

The Journeys of Paul Through Greece and Rome

Of this Gospel I have become a servant according to God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Eph. 3:7-10)

It is hard to believe that it was two brief weeks ago to the day that I left Nevada and traveled to Miami, Florida to join a Lenten pilgrimage of 20 people. Together with our leader and shepherd, the Rev. William “Chip” Stokes, rector of St. Paul’s, Delray Beach, and his wife Susan, we were headed for Greece and Turkey to follow Paul’s journeys through those two ancient cultures.

My preparations for the trip, both at work and at home, had been massive. Concerns about safety and other travel-related matters kept me awake for more than a few nights. Butterflies filled my stomach as I waited to meet my unknown traveling companions at the Miami Airport Lufthansa ticketing gate on Sunday, March 27.

How would this trek through two unknown countries, with essentially unknown pilgrims from Florida, Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Nevada – yes, there were two of us Nevadans: myself and Patsy Pumphrey from Trinity, Reno - unfold?

After a grueling nine and one-half hour overnight flight from Miami to Frankfort, Germany, a mad dash through an airport that would confuse even the best of scholars, and a brief one-hour flight to Athens, Greece, we de-planed and finally began the meat of our trip on board a massive touring coach with an absolutely incredibly spiritual and well-informed guide – Sophia.

Staying in a different hotel each night throughout this two-week pilgrimage, the Greek portion of our journey began in Corinth where we stood on the platform that Paul is thought to have preached from, and wandered through the ruins of Corinth’s very large agora, (marketplace). We visited one of the tiny stone shops in the agora that scholars believe was the site of the tent-making business established by Paul during his stay in that city. Many of us felt Paul’s presence strongly as we wandered among the ruins of this ancient Greek site

In the days that followed, we visited Thebes; Delphi; Meteores; Kalambaka, where we toured two incredibly beautiful Greek Orthodox monasteries high atop ancient mountains; Veria, Pella; Thessaloniki; the Prayer Point where Paul baptized Lydia; and Phillipi, where Paul first preached the Gospel to Europe.

After that, it was off to the Greek border where we were met by our Turkish guide, Ali, in an enormous Mercedes touring bus. Ali assured us that we were his personal guests as he welcomed us on behalf of his family and his countrymen. He remained true to his promise during our five days in Turkey.

The nine hour days in Greece had been grueling; but, the 10-11 hour days in Turkey were at times endured with faith and courage only. Knees and legs were quickly giving away as we, non-stop, climbed step after step and walked only on cobblestones and marble amid restored ruins that were both massive and magnificent.

Our brains became increasingly fuzzy as we toured the First World War Battlefields of Gallipoli; the ancient city of Troy; Pergamom, where the first Christian was put to death; and Theratyra, where the remains of two of the Seven Churches of Revelation are located. Then on to Smyrna; Sardis; the Temple of Artemis; Laodicea; Philadelphia; and the Travertines at Hierapolis, where Cleopatra, seeking to reclaim her beauty, once swam in one of the natural pools in this massive Ancient Roman city high atop a pastoral mountain-top dotted by sheep, cattle, chickens, and goats grazing peacefully as their shepherds watch over them.

Finally, we came to the massive ancient city of Ephesus. Our walk through only a small part of this magnificently restored Greek and Roman city took well over two hours – we could have gone on for several days and still not seen everything. The sophistication, intelligence and power of the Ancient World are nowhere more evident than in this enormous area that once was home to over 250,000 people.

The last day of our journey was spent in Istanbul where we visited the Blue Mosque; Hagia Sophia (where From Russia with Love was filmed); Topkapi Palace (where Topkapi was filmed); and, of course, the Spice Market and the Grand Bazaar – with over four thousand shops and many excellent salesmen. Our pilgrims spent the afternoon buying rugs, jewelry, spices, and multiple beautifully colored pashminas.

Each day we celebrated both Morning Prayer (on the bus) and a Eucharist Service (frequently among the ruins). We read the letters from Revelation as we visited each of the Seven Churches. We celebrated Chip and Susan’s 35th wedding anniversary. We tended to and prayed over various travel-related maladies and one fall. We gave courage and support to several people who simply could not walk another step. We laughed, we chattered non-stop, we prayed together – a strong pilgrim community was formed.

In periodic group discussions, everyone had time to reflect on what the day or the journey meant for them. Everyone was moved beyond words by the courage and faith of Paul who endured rejection upon rejection and severe physical punishment, and who, in order to bring Christ to the Gentiles, simply refused to be daunted by the astounding power and sophistication of the Greek and Roman civilizations.

Without question, today, Saturday, April 9, as we sit scattered throughout the homeward bound plane on yet another tedious 10 hour flight back to Miami, nodding off and wondering what time it really is, (there is up to a ten-hour time difference between Greece and Turkey and the United States for some of us) we have a far better understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Christ, and what it takes to have the conviction and courage to be an evangelist.

Perhaps, most importantly, however, as Paul hoped, we see through the “eyes of our heart” - through new eyes - the Power of the Spirit. After following Paul, it is impossible not to believe.

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of this glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the power of his great love. (Eph. 1:17-19)

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