I spent Thursday morning and early afternoon finishing up preparations for my trip, then headed for LAX for a 7:40 pm flight. After a long journey spanning ten time zones, our group of almost-50 arrived in Athens at 2 am and went straight to bed at our hotel. We woke up after what amounted to a long nap and began our tour of Athens. Our tour guide, Costas, showed us the interesting parts of the city from our tour bus, most of which are ancient. The modern city of Athens is, to be honest, not pretty or interesting on its own, so the fantastic historical and cultural value of the ancient city is a necessary redeeming quality, of which there is no shortage.
After our preliminary bus tour, we arrived at the acropolis, the highest point in ancient Athens and the center of its culture. We walked up the pathway toward the peak and stopped at Mars Hill, the site of Paul’s discourse to the Athenians as recorded in Acts 17. We read the sermon while standing under the Greek sun on that very spot, overlooking the birthplace of Western philosophy and overshadowed by a pagan temple. We continued climbing up toward the temple to Athena at the peak of the hill, the magnificent Parthenon. The architecture is incredible and the view from the top is spectacular. Some of us descended to walk around the agora, the ancient marketplace where philosophical discussion began. I relaxed at the pool on top of our hotel in the afternoon in view of the acropolis and reading the excellent book I have since finished, My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. In the evening, after our dinner, a small group of us climbed to the highest point in modern Athens where the chapel of St. George is located. We arrived just in time to spend five minutes inside the chapel which is rarely open, and spent the rest of the time just sitting and enjoying the view.
Sunday morning, we set out for Delphi by bus. On the way, we stopped at the Ossias Lucas monastery, one of the most beautiful things we have seen thus far. The setting is beautiful and peaceful, and the architecture and adornment of the building is spectacular. We left this Byzantine masterpiece and came to Delphi, the site of the ancient oracle and heart of high paganism. The ruins there are well preserved, and one can get a sense of the events that took place there millennia ago by the way in which the place is arranged. The beautiful setting of the oracle contrasts with the great evil that she perpetuated by her utterances; hers was a religion of “tolerance,” such that all beliefs were tolerated except those which claimed to be the truth. This trip in part demonstrates the contrast between Delphi and philosophy by juxtaposing the relativistic and tolerant with the absolute and true. Later that evening, some of us rode the metro to get coffee in a city square. I was shocked to see the area filled with people, young and old, at around 10 pm. Our coffee was delicious and it was a beautiful night, and the abundance of people just hanging out in the square made it feel very festive. We even got to see more ruin from the ancient city inside the metro station, which was certainly unique.
Our cruise of the Greek islands began with our embarkation early Monday morning. We traveled immediately to the island of Mykonos, where we landed in the early evening and stayed for about four hours. What it lacks in historical value it makes up for in beauty, and we had a good time relaxing there.
On Tuesday morning, we landed in Kusadasi, Turkey and took a bus to ancient Ephesus. Those were probably the best ruins I have ever seen. It was an incredible experience to walk the intact streets and see the sites of ancient commerce and worship and study. We stopped in the enormous amphitheater and listened to a member of our group sing beautifully, then read the portion of Acts dealing with Paul’s visit to that city, as well as his exhortation to put on the armor of God at the close of his letter to the Ephesians. Unfortunately, our visit to Ephesus was a quick one, and we re-boarded the ship to sail to Patmos. On the island of John’s exile, we visited the cave where tradition holds that he received the Revelation and read the opening of the Book of Revelation. After that, we visited the monastery named for St. John, another beautiful and serene place of worship and devotion to the Lord.
All day Wednesday was spent at the island of Rhodes. We spent the morning in the impenetrably fortified castle, where we toured the palace (reconstructed by Mussolini) and walked along the city walls. In the afternoon, we got the chance to hang out on the beach and relax.
Thursday morning was an optional excursion on Crete to see a Minoan site, but I opted out in favor of much-needed sleep. In the afternoon, we arrived at Santorini. We climbed to the town located at the top of the cliff and walked around and took in the beauty of the island. Some of us got a drink and sat at a little café and looked out at the sea. Santorini is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my life.
This morning we arrived back at the mainland and disembarked. We took a bus from the Piraeus port to Corinth, another great Acts site. An erotic temple of Aphrodite stands on a hill above the city, indicative of the behavioral issues Paul had to address in that city in which he spent 18 months. The Bema seat of judgment before which Paul was exonerated is there. We read Acts 18, then moved on to Mycenae. The Mycenaean civilization dates back to about 1,500 BC, making those ruins the oldest I have seen this trip (having skipped Crete). We saw the citadel and tomb of Agamemnon, both of which were magnificent and mind-boggling to behold. Our guide grew up in this city and had some great stories about discovering tombs and other ruins in his childhood, and his later excavations as an archaeologist. We ate at Costas’ brother’s restaurant and then headed to the port to board our ferry.
I am now sitting on a ferry in the Ionian Sea between card games. This trip has been and is so wonderful! If you are interested in some connection with our experiences these past few days, go read the parts of Acts that correspond with where we have been, along with some of Revelation.
**I wrote this two nights ago on the ferry ride to Italy, and am now sitting in Florence. Hopefully I will post a further update soon (sorry about the limited internet access).