Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Corinth and Athens: Days 10 and 11

Well, I had some issue with the internet in our hotel here in Athens the past few days but I think I have it worked out, so this is a combined post that will serve as my final one for this trip.

Yesterday we drove over to ancient Corinth and were able to view the ruins of this city where Paul spent about 18 months of his ministry helping to establish the church there. We were able to see various structures that were left from the ancient city and learn about its storied past. On our way back to Athens, we made a stop at a sea side restaurant where we were treated to a full Greek dining experience that pushed some and delighted others. I personally enjoyed it! In the afternoon we were free to explore Athens, and a few of us visited the newly opened Acropolis Museum that was simply amazing. I also was able to enjoy a ride on the Athens subway which I have to say was pretty nice. 

This morning, our last of the trip before heading home, we got an early start to beat the crowds to the famed Acropolis. The word acropolis means "highest place in the city" and most ancient Greco-Roman cities have such places, but none as famous as the Acropolis of Athens. This large hill holds the famed Parthenon, an ancient temple for the city of Athens. We were able to look out over the entire city from this high place, and it was certainly breathtaking. Just next to the Acropolis is what we often call Mars Hill, where Paul preached when he came to Athens. Seeing this hill changed my entire reading of the passage because when Paul comments about the religiosity of the Athenian people, he is saying it while standing in the shadow of the Acropolis and the mighty Parthenon. 

After sometime at the Acropolis, we did a city tour by bus seeing various locations around Athens itself and learning about the history of Greece's largest city. After the tour we visited the National Archaeological museum where we were able to see historical ratification found throughout the city. In the afternoon we were free to experience the city and a small group of us enjoyed walking the streets shopping, eating Greek cuisine, and just immersing ourselves in the city. 

This trip has been a great experience,and much like Israel did for me last year, I will not read the stories of the Bible the same way again. It has been special because this is my final activity with the Divinity school, and I was able to share this time with some dear friends who I will miss terribly. With that said, we are all ready to return home and share with those we love all that we have been able to experience while in Turkey and Greece. Thanks to all those who kept up with my journey and has kept the group and I in your prayers!

Beroea and the Road to Athens: Day 9

Today we set out from Thessaloniki toward our final destination of the trip, Athens. It's a long ride, but there were a couple of stops that we made along the way. In the morning we made a stop in Vioria, which in Biblical days was known as Beroea. This is where Paul escaped to after the drama in Thessalonica ( Acts 17:10-15). Here Paul preached and taught for multiple days, enough that Jews from Thessalonica heard about it and came to Beroea to cause trouble for him. In the town today there is a site that commentates Paul's work in the town, including a statue of him, a beautiful monument depicting his ministry in the town, and finally a set of ancient steps that tradition says Paul stood on to preach. 

Next we had a special treat for all the history buffs in the group. We went to the small town of Vergina (vur-HEE-na) where we were able to visit the tomb of Phillip II. Phillip was the father of Alexander the Great, and was known for strengthening Macedonia, which would provide the stability Alexander needed to go about his conquests. The museum was unique because it is actually inside the mound of dirt that was constructed over the tombs, known as a tumulus. Also inside this tumulus was the tomb of Alexander IV, Philip's grandson and son of Alexander the Great. We were able to see the artifacts found in the tomb and learn about the accomplishments of Phillip. 

We made one other stop that I sort of geeked out at, and that was the location of the battle of Thermopyles. This is the site where the 300 Spartans under the leadership of King Leonidus fought the massive Persian army. They held them off and maybe would have won if they had not been betrayed. It was just really fun for me to see the mountain where this took place since me and all my teammates in college loved the movie 300!

It was a long day of riding. We finally made it to Athens and our hotel at 8:30. Tomorrow we ride the two hours over to Corinth to see all that there is there. 

Beroea and the Road to Athens: Day 9

Today we set out from Thessaloniki toward our final destination of the trip, Athens. It's a long ride, but there were a couple of stops that we made along the way. In the morning we made a stop in Vioria, which in Biblical days was known as Beroea. This is where Paul escaped to after the drama in Thessalonica ( Acts 17:10-15). Here Paul preached and taught for multiple days, enough that Jews from Thessalonica heard about it and came to Beroea to cause trouble for him. In the town today there is a site that commentates Paul's work in the town, including a statue of him, a beautiful monument depicting his ministry in the town, and finally a set of ancient steps that tradition says Paul stood on to preach. 


Next we had a special treat for all the history buffs in the group. We went to the small town of Vergina (vur-HEE-na) where we were able to visit the tomb of Phillip II. Phillip was the father of Alexander the Great, and was known for strengthening Macedonia, which would provide the stability Alexander needed to go about his conquests. The museum was unique because it is actually inside the mound of dirt that was constructed over the tombs, known as a tumulus. Also inside this tumulus was the tomb of Alexander IV, Philip's grandson and son of Alexander the Great. We were able to see the artifacts found in the tomb and learn about the accomplishments of 

We made one other stop that I sort of geeked out at, and that was the location of the battle of Thermopyles. This is the site where the 300 Spartans under the leadership of King Leonidus fought the massive Persian army. They held them off and maybe would have won if they had not been betrayed. It was just really fun for me to see the mountain where this took place since me and all my teammates in college loved the movie 300!Phillip. 

It was a long day of riding. We finally made it to Athens and our hotel at 8:30. Tomorrow we ride the two hours over to Corinth to see all that there is there. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Phillipi and Thessaloniki :Day 8

Location of Lydia's Baptism (Acts 16)
Today we continued following the path of the Apostle Paul. In the morning we drove to ancient Phillipi. We began in the lower village of what today is called Lydia. It is so called because this is the location where Lydia, Paul's first convert in Europe was baptized (Acts 16). Here we saw the beautiful riverbank that now commemorates this major event, as well as went inside the beautiful Greek Orthodox Church on the site. It was an exciting time as the workers and priests were anxiously preparing for St. Lydia's day which is ironically taking place tomorrow.

Following our time at the village of Lydia we rode the half a mile over to the ruins that have been excavated from ancient Phillipi. Excavations began here in 1914 so there was much for us to see.  Much of what was visible of the city's structure are ruins from 2nd and 3rd century prior to its abandonment in the 5th century. There were several structures remaining from when Paul would have walked the streets but the highlight was the Roman cistern that is traditionally said to have been Paul's prison that he and Silas were set free from (Acts 16:16-40).

Roman Cistern that was Paul's Prison in Phillipi
Next we rode a couple of hours west to the town of Thessaloniki. Unlike some of the other biblical towns that we have visited that are nothing but ruins, present day Thessaloniki is a massive modern city. It is Greece's second largest city behind only Athens, with a population of about half a million people. Because of the growth, there is not much to see from the time of Paul, and the only ancient ruins are sections of the city wall that were rebuilt in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. However, at this site my roommate for the trip, Thomas Farrow, pastor of First Baptist Clinton, led a wonderful devotion from Paul's journey in this part of Europe, reminding the group, and me especially, that we aren't called to be celebrities, we are called to be servants.  
View of Thessaloiki from the Acropolis

Tomorrow is our last long bus ride of the trip, when we will make the roughly five hour drive south to Athens. The good news about that is we will be able to stay in the same hotel for our last three nights, rather than moving from place to place each day. It is hard to believe how fast this trip has gone by. It certainly is a bookend moment for me personally because it is my last act with CUDS. It has been a great experience so far, and I am really looking forward to visiting Athens and Corinth. Good night from the beautiful Thessaloniki! 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Crossing Over Into Greece: Day 7


The actual horse used in the Troy movie,
and it was just outside our hotel in Canakkale
Today was basically one thing, traveling! We left our hotel this morning along the Aegean Sea in Canakkale and were able to ride the ferry across Darnels Strait. We continued driving for about three hours until we reached the Turkey/Greece border. After going through border control, we had to transfer from the bus/tour guide we had been using throughout Turkey to a new bus/guide for our time in Greece. It was a unique experience but it was necessary. We said goodbye to Funda and hello to Dora, our guide for Greece.

After about two hours, we made it to our first stop, the town of Kavala. During Biblical times, this town was known as Neopolis, the location where Paul first stepped foot onto Europe to further the Gospel
.
Picture depicting St. Paul's arrival
The town has changed much since that time due to conflicts with the Ottoman Empire of Turkey where the city was leveled. We saw a Greek Orthodox Church that had a beautiful painting of Paul's arrival to the area, and claims that at its front door is where Paul would have actually stepped foot onto the ground. This is because the water at the time would have come up to where the church now sits. After seeing this site, we spent some time walking along the water front town and enjoying the beautiful Sunday afternoon.

We got to our hotel at about 6:30, the earliest we have made it to our hotel on this trip thus far. Tonight we will rest, and tomorrow we will head to Philippi in the morning before heading to what was Corinth in the afternoon. It is hard to believe that our trip is already halfway over, but I feel like the best is yet to come. Blessings on you all from Kavala, Greece!
Port in Kavala, Greece

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Pergamum & Troy: Day 6


We find the letter to the church in Pergamum in Revelation 2:12-17 where they are commended for holding fast despite being where "Satan's throne is". This made 6 of the 7 churches we have visited and it was unique because it's key components are up high on a mountain in the Acropolis. Just to reach it we actually had to leave our bus and take taxis to the top.

Overlooking Pergamum
While in Pergamum, we were able to see Trajean's temple, the Altar of Zeus which was likely what was being referenced when mentioning the presence of Satan, and some breathtaking views, including the steepest ancient theater in all of Asia. After we came down from the Acropolis we drove over to Aesculapium which was a medical bathing facility used for mental patients. The facility made use of an intricate water system to fill the baths used by patients. At this facility there was also a smaller theater and arena where patients would participate in various therapies by putting on performances for the community. 

Following our lunch, where I was able to eat Turkish pizza (it was pretty good... Light and tasty, but I'll keep my Little Caesar's), we began our long trip north toward Troy. It was about a three hour trip for the group. Prior to reaching Troy we stopped by Alexander Troas, which is importan biblically because it is where Paul would set sail for Europe. Later when we reached Troy we were able to see walls from the ancient city over 4,000 years old. It was an important city because of its locatin to the harbor, and is most famous for the Trojan horse incident which allowed the Greeks to defeat the Trojans.

Tonight is our last night in Turkey, and though I've enjoyed it so far, I'm really looking forward to visiting Greece. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Ephesus: Day 5 in Turkey

EPHESUS

Today was yet again a full day, but fortunately we didn't have to travel a lot to enjoy it. This was the day that many of us had been looking forward to because Ephesus is a highly excavated location so it offers much to see, but also because Ephesus is such a prominent location in the New Testament.

Me with St. John's Basilica
We began the day by visiting the Home of Mary. This is a house in Ephesus that is traditionally believed to be the place where Mary the MOther of Jesus stayed for several years following Jesus' resurrection. This is because of the fact that John was commanded by Jesus on the cross to care for Mary, and Ephesus is where John spent the majority of his ministry. We also have various aspects of church history and traditions that say this potentially is the place. Next was St. John's Basilica which is a church constructed in the Byzantine period. It was home to various church historical events, but was known for holding the remains of John.

The great theater where Paul preached
After having a traditional Turkish lunch, we went to the ruins of Ephesus itself. This was an opportunity for us to experience the extravagance of Ephesus. Ephesus was a very wealthy city because of its stance as the port city and major trade route for Asia Minor. The ruins are large, and will take at least another 100 years to excavate the entire city.
We were able to see structures such as temples, the Agora (marketplace), Roman bath houses, a massive library, and even the great theater which Paul would have preached in while in the city. We spent a good bit of time here, and it was inspiring to walk the streets where Paul sent multiple years of his ministry, and wrote letters to churches such as the Corinthians.

Our tour guide Funda (pronounced FOON-dah) has done a great job of providing us with opportunities to also experience traditional Turkish culture. Today provided two such instances. First we were able to have lunch and visit with a co-op of ladies that produce the famous handmade Turksih carpets. We were able to see their process and learn about the various styles and types of carpets. Secondly, we visited a Turkish leather storehouse that produces leather products for some of the world's most notable designers (Armani, Burberry, etc). Here we were able to learn about the different products/resources, see their workshop, and even were treated to a special mini-fashion show. I guess I can now say that not only did I attend my first fashion show, but that it was an "international" fashion show!

The great library at Ephesus
Tomorrow we will go to Pergamum, the sixth of the seven churches (we will not be seeing the final church as there isn't much to see and its a bit out of the way). We also will be making a stop at a non-biblical site, but one of great importance in history, Troy. For now, goodnight from Kusadasi, Turkey!