|My experience in Greece|
|Written by Chris Perver|
|Sunday, 19 April 2009 16:05|
|I apologize for not having updated the website in recent days. I didn't mention this on the site for security reasons. Last week I had the pleasure of going away with a group of Christians for a week's holiday in Greece. I have only been to Greece once before, for ten days holiday on the island of Kos. The island of Kos is mentioned in the Bible (Coos - Acts 21:1), but that wasn't the reason for our holiday. On this occasion we travelled to the mainland to see some of the actual places that Paul visited on his second missionary journey. Around fourteen of us had booked to go on the trip. We met at Belfast International Airport at 4:30am and caught a plane tfrom London Stansted to Athens, and then another to Thessalonica, where we would begin our journey. We met up with missionaries from the United Kingdom, David and Wilma, who would guide us on our travels. |
My first impressions of Greece were that it seemed a lot like Kos. This somewhat surprised me. Compared to the UK, Greece appears underdeveloped. Much of the modern architecture seems haphazardly designed and non-uniform. Buildings are hastily erected using pre-cast concrete slabs inside earthquake-proof box frames. There are four and five-storey apartment blocks everywhere you look, each with their own veranda, reminding you how much Greece relies on tourism for its economy. Stray dogs roam the streets of many towns. Driving on the right-hand side of the road takes a while to get used to. The standard of Greek driving also leaves a lot to be desired. Road markings are often ignored and horns are sounded at the slightest provocation. Greece is much like Israel in that respect. But the condition of the main roads are a lot better than those of the United Kingdom. The European Union spent a lot of money upgrading Greek motorways for the Athens Olympic Games. Greek food is also much different than in Ireland, with the staple diet comprising mostly of salad and various grilled meats rather than potatoes and vegetables.
The first place we stayed in was the Hotel Avra in Thessalonica. We spent the first three nights at this hotel. We rested Saturday night, and in the morning we attended an assembly in Thessalonica, which was based in a room of a hotel. Our tour organizer Thomas Jennings gave a message in English at the family service, which was interpreted by a member of the assembly. After the breaking of bread, we were invited to the home of one of the Greek believers, were we were treated to a traditional Greek meal. In the afternoon we toured around some of the sites in Thessalonica, including a Roman forum that is being excavated in the centre of the city. This forum was located along the Via Egnatia, an ancient Roman highway which Paul would have undoubtedly used on his missionary journeys. That night we went back to the fellowship in Thessalonica for the Gospel meeting.
The following day we made our way towards the city of Kavala, known in Bible times as Neapolis. This is a port city, and it was from here that Paul made his journey north to Philippi (Acts 16:1), which was a main city in his day. Greece is a big country. We couldn't imagine making the kind of journeys Paul made without modern transport such as cars and planes. Yet Paul travelled thousands of miles using relatively primitive means of travel in his efforts to spread the message of the Gospel across the known world. If only we were able to catch a spark from the fire that burned within his soul, it might make us more determined to be greater witnesses for the Lord. There is no modern city of Philippi today, but the ruins of the ancient city are being excavated. Philippi was also located along the Via Egnatia. We were able to see the place were Paul would have been arrested and tried for preaching the Gospel (Acts 16). One of our group used the occasion to preach the gospel in the Roman amphitheatre at Philippi. It's hard to believe it but the sound from this video was actually recorded by the microphone on my camera while I was standing at the top of the amphitheatre. As one guide told us when we were visiting the Parthenon, the acoustics of the ancient amphitheatres have not been beaten despite all the advancement of our modern technology.
It is not known where the prison at Philippi was located. After this we walked along the Via Egnatia to the place where Luke records that prayer was accustomed to be made. There was no synagogue in Philippi, but Jewish women met at this river to pray. It was here that Paul met with Lydia, a seller of purple, whose heart the Lord opened. We then travelled to Edessa, which according to Foxe's Book of Martyrs, was the place were the apostles Andrew and Jude were martyred. We also visited the spectacular waterfalls in Edessa. After this we travelled to Berea and saw the Bema seat which has been erected by the Greek Orthodox Church in honour of Paul's visit here, although there is little to suggest that the site has any historical connection. Luke records for us that the Jewish believers at Berea were more noble than those of Thessalonica because they searched the Scriptures daily to verify the truth of the message Paul was bringing them (Acts 17:10-11). After we photographs of Paul's altar, which depicts his vision of the man from Macedonia and the Jewish believers at Berea, we were invited in to view an evangelical assembly located in the same area that is faithfully proclaiming the message Paul brought to the city over nineteen centuries ago
We spent the night in another small hotel before travelling to David and Wilma's house for breakfast. David and Wilma are missionaries from the UK who live in the shadow of Mount Olympus. They are doing a fantastic work in the area, witnessing to their Greek neighbours through friendship evangelism and supporting the work in neighbouring countries, often hazarding their own lives for the furtherance of the Gospel. It was a privilege to spend the week with them, and hear their experiences of how the Lord has worked in their lives, and to learn from David as he opened the Scriptures. After breakfast we began the long journey to Athens. It took us around five hours to get there, travelling at speed on the Greek motorways. Paul may have made the journey by boat in an effort to escape his Jewish antagonists. On our way there we stopped off to visit a youth camp run by evangelical Christians. They are seeing a good work done despite enduring hardship from the Greek Orthodox Church, which more or less runs the government of Greece. A group of evangelical Christians bought a plot of ground near the sea many years ago to run a youth camp. But recently the Greek authorities decided that the value of the land had increased substantially, so they demanded that the Christians produce papers to prove how much they had bought the land for. When the relevant papers could not be produced, they then rezoned half of the camp ground and demanded the Christians pay over a million and a half euros in tax for the remainder. Unfortunately Christians often face discrimination in Greece if they admit to belonging to a background other than the official Orthodox Church.
We arrived that night at the Hotel Bousoulas, which is located half way between Athens and Corinth. It was the best of the three hotels we stayed in. The back of the hotel is adjacent to the beach, and all of our rooms looked out over the Aegean sea. The improving weather enabled us to go for a swim on the last day of our trip. The next day we proceeded to Athens. The traffic in the capital is not for the faint hearted. Cars and trams crowd the bustling streets, while motorbikes and mopeds dodge between vehicles with little care for pedestrians. We enjoyed a refreshing drink at a local cafe before going to visit the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena, which dominates the Athens skyline. Photographs do not adequately portray how large and imposing this building actually is. It's hard to believe that when Paul visited this city, the structure was already over 500 years old. He found the city wholly given over to idolatry, and debated in the synagogue and the market place with certain of the Jews. Unfortunately not much has changed in 2000 years. When Paul encountered philosophers of the Epicureans and Stoics, they took him to Mars Hill, where they asked him to explain this 'new doctrine' to them. We had the pleasure of climbing Mars Hill, and our Irish friend Maurice used the occasion to speak to a few tourists about their need of salvation. It was thrilling to be in a place where we know for a fact that the apostle Paul preached the Gospel. And it is thrilling that long after the Epicureans and Stoics have gone, Paul's speech is now inscribed at the very place where he once stood, a testament to the fact that heaven and earth will pass away but God's Word will never pass away. In Paul's day he saw an altar with this inscription, "to the unknown God", but now at the base of Mars Hill there is an inscription to the one true God! Praise God that it is possible to know the same God that Paul knew, and that we can enjoy the forgiveness of sins that he preached about, through believing on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.
On the last day of our holiday we visited Corinth. There is still a modern city of Corinth. The ruins of the ancient city are being excavated, and it is possible to visit the place where the Corinthian church would have been located. Sadly the church lay in the shadow of the Temple of Aphrodite, which served as a centre for prostitution at the time. That may have had an undue influence on some of the difficulties faced by the Corinthian church (1st Corinthians 5). It is also a reminder to us that we live in the shadow of evil, and we need to do our utmost to live lives that are pleasing to God. We also visited the Corinthian Canal. Then we passed on to Cenchrea where Paul took a vow, completing his second missionary journey. I hope you have enjoyed reading this account of our trip. We had a thoroughly enjoyable time, and it was great to see that God is still working in these lands, even today.