Getting to Thessaloniki (the modern version of the city the Apostle Paul visited on his second missionary journey) is kind of a metaphor for the Christian life. You are in good hands the whole time you are travelling, you know you’re going to get there, you see some wonderful and interesting things along the way, but the journey takes time. Most of us had a hard time sleeping on the plane from Portland to Amsterdam. We left at lunch-time and by the time we arrived in Amsterdam at 8:30 am, Central European Time, it was only 10;30 pm at home. So there we were at the beginning of the day, just getting ready for sleep. We had to race through Schiphol Airport as our gate was at the other side of the terminal and we had a 50 minute window between our landing and takeoff for Athens. Clearing customs was a serious bottleneck, but we made it before they closed the gate on our plane. There was no sleeping there, either, as the plane was full and seriously cramped. There was a 6 hour drive to Thessaloniki awaiting us as we gathered our luggage and met our tour guide.
The drive through the country-side was beautiful and a trip through Greek history. Our guide, Athena, was delightful and informative. Unfortunately, most of us were falling asleep. We realized that we had been traveling through our night without sleep, and the tourbus was soooo comfortable after the confining airplane seats. It got dark about halfway through the motorcoach ride. So the trip consisted of various people nodding off at various times, listening (or not) to our lovely tour guide. Our hotel in Thessaloniki is comfortable and it was wonderful to be able to go to bed.
This morning we traveled to Berea (Veria is the modern name), the sight of Paul’s preaching to a synagogue full of thoughtful Jews and Gentile believers who tested his preaching against the Scripture before trusting that his message was true. Beria is a beautiful small town perched on a hill above the Aegean Sea, and the shrine of St Paul has Byzantine-style mosaics telling the story. We travelled to an ancient Orthodox Monastery back in Thessaloniki which contains the furniture from the house of Jason, the Gentile believer who protected Paul when the Thessalonian Jews began a riot to get him kicked out of Thessalonica. The monastery is on the Acropolis of Thessalonica which is the site of massive city walls which run all the way down to the sea in several sections of ruins. The view from the hilltop takes in the whole coastline. Our heads were filled with ancient battles and stories, and I would not have been surprised to see one of those Battle Galleys row into the harbor below.
We visited the Orthodox Basilica of St Demetrios, built over the Roman guardhouse where a 22-year-old Demetrios was martyred because he would not denounce his faith. Demetrios is also the Patron Saint of Thessalonili, so the basilica is very old. Like many of the ruins we saw today, the church became a mosque during the 400 years when the Ottoman Turks ruled Greece. The basillica was reconverted when the Greeks won their independence. Remnants of the original columns and frescoes remain beside the marble replacements. Athena explained about the gorgeous Icons and how they function in the Orthodox tradition, and her explanations made clear her own deep love of God and of her church. It made me reflect on the ways in which we modern liturgical Christians stand in long line of worshippers reaching back in history from our Hebrew ancestors through the Early Church into the modern day, and into the future.
Tomorrow we go to Phillipi where Paul met Lydia, the woman who was the dyer of purple cloth. We will be at the riverside where they met, leading to her baptism and sponsorship the Apostle. We will celebrate our own baptism there.