Footsteps of Paul – Days 7-11

I finally have internet access! How did the world get along so long without it? Anyway, we have had a long day today and it is now 11:31 PM in Athens. Nonetheless, below is an update of our last several days. Sorry there are no pictures. I will have to add them later.

Day 7

For the next four days we are out to sea and visiting some of the many islands that are part of Greece. Our ship is modest compared to most cruise line with just over a thousand passengers. Like everywhere else we have traveled there is plenty to eat, although there are a few in our group – including yours truly – who still smuggle fruits, rolls and muffins in our backpacks, just in case.

We left our dock shortly after 11 am and traveled for about seven hours before reaching the beautiful island of Mykonos. Here I must admit is a place in Greece that as far as I can tell Paul, nor any of the other apostles ever traveled. Too bad, because this is one beautiful place. Narrow streets filled with shops of every variety. Making our way into the little town there were several little restaurants that specialize in all sorts of fish products, especially octopus. Since the food on the ship is covered, I am too cheap to eat off of the boat. Too bad beause grilled octopus looks good. We will have to try that when we get home.

Nighttime came quickly and thankfully our bunks (or is it perch) were a comfortable respite for the evening.

Day 8

We awoke for breakfast near 5:45 AM ready for our morning in Ephesus, Turkey. By seven AM we were off and running (well, walking) in the footsteps of Paul once again. This was probably one of the most impressive of ancient ruins as it relates to Paul (and John the Apostle). We viewed the remains of markets, houses, latrines and we read in Acts 18-20 that Paul was taken to the Great Amphitheater where he was arrested and cast out of the city. While in Ephesus Paul is thought to have authored several of the epistles in the New Testament including 2 Corinthians and Galatians.

Ephesus was part of Paul’s second missionary tour and we read about Ephesus in Acts 18-20; 1 Corinthians 15:32; 16:8; The Epistle to Ephesians; 1 Timothy 1:3; 2 Timothy 1:18; 4:12; Revelation 1:11; Revelation 2:1.

Of course we recognize Ephesus in the Bible as the recipient of Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians or more colloquially “The Book of Ephesians.” This letter may not be specifically for the church in this city, but a general letter to many churches. Part of its purpose was to guide the new believers into mature converts.

Ephesians reminds us that while we may think of the church in many ways – a place of brick and mortar, a country club, a members only society – it is essentially the body of Christ.

Additionally this ancient city is home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, but today is only a single Roman column.

Ephesus is also a sacred site not just because of Paul, but also John the Evangelist and Mary. Here John was arrested during the persecution of Christians by the had of the Roman emperor Domitian and around 95 AD he was banished to the remote island of Patmos where he lived until his reprieve two years later.

By 11:30 we were back on the ship and within 30 minutes were heading to our next stop, Patmos. Of course most of us recognize Patmos as the island as the site of the apocalyptic Revelations of John (referred to by some as the Evangelist, the Divine, or simply the apostle).

Revelation 1:9 I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

Today A small island with a population of about 2,500, Patmos has managed to remain one of the least touristy of the Greek islands. The Monastery of St. John is nearby Cave of the Apocalypse, where the revelations took place. Our guide throughout Greece remarked that Patmos is still an island of near-exile, especially during the year when it is not tourism season.

The Monastery was established in the 11th century and within its wall are frescoes that date back several hundred years. The walk to the monastery was a winding labyrinth of paving stones and very tight corners. The nearby cave was quite simple, with markings of where John kneeled, prayed and even rested. While no one knows for sure if John actually occupied the cave (this is the only place on the entire island that tradition points to) we know that this island was the location for John’s apocalyptic revelations. John also spent much time in Ephesus which was probably where many of his other writings took place, including the Gospel of John, and 1,2 and 3rd John.

While the book of Revelation is, I admit, complex, mysterious, and bizarre, it need not be avoided. It is I think subject to gross misinterpretation using it to defend near-heretical beliefs such as dispensationalism as well as manipulating it to predict the end of times. 

The occasion of the writing of Revelation was the persecution of the early Christians both happening and perhaps the authors prediction of what will happen. It was a letter both to encourage as well as to warn. It also points to a hopeful end.

Back to Patmos: it has not been the object of much excavation, and was virtually abandoned by the 6th century until a monastery was established in the 11th century.

The day on the island was a physical one for many of us and so boarding the ship that evening provided a fitting respite for the rest of the evening.

Day 9

This was our first morning where, as a group, we did not have to set alarms or ask for a wake-up call. It was nice to begin the morning easy enough, instead of rushing to meet a guide for our next stop. Today we are spending on the island of Rhodes, which from Paul’s perspective, was merely a harbor where he landed during his voyages.

In the Bible it is only mentioned once, in Acts 21:1 – When we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara.

In spite of its rather thin presence in the Bible we spent the day in Rhodes, which turned out to be time well spent if one wanted to shop. Its layout was largely from medieval times, but the shops were abundant and mostly modern. This was a day that involved much walking, which is good considering the amount of food we are (okay, maybe just I am) taking in.

Day 10

This morning we disembarked for Crete and out of all the places we have visited this has been the most disappointing. It is an ancient island with great history, but it was hard to fully capitalize on this with only four hours allowed on shore. Nonetheless Amy and I, along with a few other pilgrims, visited the Church of Titus, where Titus’ (yes, the one and the same in our New Testament) skull is kept as a relic. I only got to see his skull cap, but I will take their word that it was Titus.

Crete is also where the Palace of Knossos, the mythical Labyrinth of King Minos and the seat of ancient Minoan culture, is located.

In the Bible we read about Crete or Cretans speaking their own language on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:11)

Later on Crete is mentioned in Acts 27 where Paul warned the pilot of the ship to harbor there. Instead they ran into a storm and eventually ship-wrecked off of Malta.

Finally it was Crete where Paul appointed Titus as an overseer among the elders throughout the towns on Crete (Titus 1:5, 12)

As an aside in Titus Paul quotes a saying “Cretans are always liars” (1:11) which is called the Epimenides paradox. It is a paradox because for a Cretan to say all Cretans are always liars is a logical contradiction.

In my own opinion, Crete was my least favorite of the islands, but it was still unique and interesting in its own way.

Santorini was one of my favorites, although there is nothing biblically significant about this beautiful island. To get to it we had to take a tender from the cruise ship to rocky coast – only a few hundred yards away. The town itself was on top of the island and there was one of three ways to get there: 1) a forty-five minute steep and winding walk; 2) ride a donkey that only understood Greek commands or 3) take a two minute cable car. We chose the latter. It was worth the four euros a piece to enjoy the magnificent view. Like every place we visited there were plenty of places to shop, but truthfully I am about “shopped out.”

Later that evening, just as the sun was setting we took a tender back to the cruise ship, enjoyed our last supper on the ship, and packed our luggage for “Day 11.”

While one needs to “cruise” in order to visit such sites as Patmos and Ephesus, I do miss having time together as a group over meals and tours by bus. We will return to that schedule tomorrow.

Day 11

Disembarkation was happily uneventful, and soon we were back on our bus with Nicholas driving and Giorgia guiding us to our day’s itinerary which included Corinth and Mycenae. The ruins of ancient Corinth was a delightful surprise. Present day Corinth relocated close to the coast following a massive earthquake in 1858. Ancient Corinth – the one where Paul trod – is just a few miles away, along the foot of a mountain. There are the remains of a once active and vibrant city.

Corinth is an ancient city first inhabited between 5000-3000 BC.

Corinth is mentioned in Acts 18:1; 19:1; 1 and 2 Epistle to the Corinthians; 2 Timothy 4:20.

It is thought that by the time Paul arrived in Corinth there were as many as 800,000 residents. It was the capital of Roman Greece, equally devoted to business and pleasure, and was mostly populated by freedmen and Jews. There is a marble slab, now on display in their fine museum, with an inscription of “synagogue” in ancient Greece along with three engravings of menorahs. In all likelihood this is where Paul worshipped and spoke while in Corinth.

The Apostle Paul visited Corinth in the 50s AD. It was probably during this second visit in the spring of 58 that Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, written from Ephesus, reflects the difficulties of maintaining a Christian community in such a cosmopolitan city.

Corinth became an important city in Paul’s mission, with many receptive to the message of Jesus as Messiah. He stayed there a year and a half. We stood on the Bema – the one and the same – where Paul stood facing the officials of Corinth defending his beliefs. Nearby a short devotion was shared along with some good old FBC singing.

Perhaps what is most known about Corinth is the church that Paul started there and the recipient of two letters, known in our Bible as 1 and 2 Corinthians.

In spite of Corinth’s importance for early Christianity, there are no sites to speak of giving evidence of the church that once gathered there.

After many pictures and a great presentation by our guide, we boarded our bus and headed for the ancient ruins of Mycenae, which date to about the 15th century B.C.! We climbed the hill (there are many hills and mountains throughout Greece) and passed under the famous Lion’s Gate with the remains of its massive walls. A short distance over we made our way to Tomb of Agamemnon, shaped as a beehive when viewed from the inside. Mycenae is a tremendous example of masonry skills that are hard to comprehend even today.

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