By Tom Yoder Neufeld, Tour Leader
Another whirlwind week, now the Greece leg of the trip has come to an end. It began with a “free day” in Thessaloniki, which we used in different ways. A good number of us visited the mausoleum of Galerius together, which may well have been built for emperor Constantine the Great, serving then as a church, and then a mosque, now a museum recently opened to the public. It’s always exciting for a tour guide to have new experiences. A few of us visited museums in the afternoon.
The following day, June 9, we met our excellent guide, Lida, the daughter of Rena who had led us on two previous tours. We soon discovered that she was very well informed and prepared and very easy to work with. We also met our driver, Sakis, whose excellent English allowed us to engage him on any number of topics in the days to come. The day had as its centrepiece a visit to Kavala, or Neapolis, which, Acts tells us, was where Paul first set foot on European soil.
We then headed for nearby Philippi, where we first visited the traditional site of Lydia’s baptism. It is invariably a moving experience for our tour groups to gather at the small creek and baptistry to read the story from Acts 16 and to pray together. We moved on to the excavations of the city centre of ancient Philippi. As much as anywhere on our trip we touched base with where Paul walked. The famous Egnatian Way runs right by the forum or agora, a major highway of its day on which Paul moved first to Thessaloniki and then to Beroea. The day ended with a brief visit to various sites in Thessaloniki. The Bible study on the bus on this day naturally focussed both on 1 Thessalonians and on Philippians.
On Sunday, June 10, we said goodbye to Thessaloniki and traveled to Beroea, or modern Veria. Here we were surprised to witness a very special outdoor service on the Feast of Peter and Paul at the shrine of Paul’s visit to Beroea. We were moved by the chanting, prayers, and the obvious devotion of those crowding into the space. Our visit to the old Jewish quarter brought an unexpected blessing of encountering a Pentecostal pastor and his wife, who welcomed us into their small church and invited us to sing. The day ended in Meteora, where numerous monasteries have been built high on the rocks. We thus ended the rich Sunday with a visit to St. Stephanos, an active convent. A blessed Sunday, indeed!
Monday had us visiting the ancient site of the oracle of Delphi, where, among numerous items of intense interest, we touched on the story of Paul by seeing the inscription mentioning Gallio, the governor of Corinth before whom Paul was brought during his 18 months in that city. The day ended in Athens.
Tuesday, June 12, was spent in Athens, fighting the crowds at the Parthenon and standing on Mars Hill overlooking the agora or marketplace of Athens. It was moving to read the account of Paul’s stay in Athens in Acts 17 on site. The afternoon had us going in all directions, shopping, sleeping, and, for a few intrepid folks, visiting the agora and the impressive Stoa of Attalus.
Wednesday was a largely “Paul-free” day in which we visited the ancient acropolis (upper city) of the ancient Mycenaean civilization that pre-dates the Greek civilization, and then the famous healing centre and theater of Asklepios at Epidauros. Here we had occasion to reflect on the importance of healing in the ancient world, and how that was reflected in the ministry of Jesus as also of Paul. For early evangelists like Paul this would have presented a certain tension between Jesus the healer and Jesus the crucified and risen Christ. The day ended in the delightful little village along the Aegean Sea called Tolo. Some expressed disappointment that we were not staying longer!
Today, Thursday, June 14, was our last day in Greece, bringing an exceedingly rich set of experiences to a close with a visit to Corinth. Fittingly, we celebrated communion, remembering the Corinthian congregation and Paul’s sometimes conflict-laden ministry among them, but also the wonder of being a part, as they were, of Christ’s body. Tom and Lois Harder led the communion, and Eleanor Kreider offered reflections on 1 Corinthians 10-14, placing Paul’s words into the context of the Corinthians’ shared meals. We were richly fed.
The day ended on the ferry to Italy, leaving behind Lida, our driver Sakis, and Greece, and now ready for a new adventure in Italy, following the trail of Paul, and learning much else besides.
We’ve become a family, as someone said to me today. Thanks be to God!