The massage therapist’s strong hands vigorously worked tightly knotted muscles in the tender areas of my ankles, calves and knees – souvenirs from 2 weeks of climbing steep steps and walking over uneven cobble stones. My mind drifted over happy memories of the recent trip and I was reminded of travel’s many health benefits. For starters, it gets one out of the recliner and actively moving from morning til night!
After visiting Israel and walking in the footsteps of Jesus, I was excited to plan a tour to many of the places mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. There were too many sights crisscrossing the Mediterranean, and spread across Turkey, Greece, and Italy to fit in a 2-week itinerary. Acts of terrorism in Istanbul caused us to eliminate Turkey, but I felt confident we could safely visit Turkey’s ancient Ephesus as a cruise port. The final itinerary included mainland Greece, a 3-day cruise, and an extension to Rome, Italy.
Travelers from Norway, South Korea, and 3 different U.S. states arrived in Thessaloniki, Greece. All but two of the twelve were alumni from the 2013 Israel and Jordan Tour: “The Holy Land 101″ – and on this April morning we were excited to commence with its sequel: “New Testament Lands 201″ – The Footsteps of Paul.
Day 1: Looking out the airplane window I see miles of beaches and coastline on our descent to the 2300-year-old city of Thessaloniki. Macedonian King Kassandros founded the city in 316 BC which he named for his wife, Thessalonika, the sister of Alexander the Great. Our guide told us the Romans couldn’t pronounce the “TH” sound so they renamed it Salonika.
From the first we were encouraged to remove our thick glasses of years of Bible reading and learning in order to try to “see” the New Testament from a 1st-century perspective. How this “New Way” spread from 12 poor Galilean fishermen followers of Jesus to become the world’s largest religion of 2.2 billion adherents is amazing!
The Apostle Paul shared the Good News that God had sent his Son into the world to give His life in exchange for people’s sin in order that they might have eternal life. Whereas the Greco-Roman world honored many gods and it was irrelevant what one believed about them, this new sect required the right belief in only one God. Miraculous signs and wonders convinced people to believe in one God that healed, delivered from sin, and prepared one for eternal life.
Day 2: En route to Philippi, we stopped at a viewpoint overlooking the port city of Kavala, ancient Neapolis, where Paul and Silas first set foot in Europe. We envisioned them climbing up the hill towards us on their walk to Philippi. In ancient Philippi we walked the ancient Via Egnatia, visited what may have been where Paul and Silas were cast into prison and visited the river side where Paul baptized Lydia, the first Christian convert in Europe. (Acts 16)
Approximate Timeline of Important Dates
- 700 BC Pan-Hellenic Games are organized
- 356 BC Phillip II of Macedonia (father of Alexander the Great) seizes the gold mines and names the city of after himself – Philippi
- 333 BC Alexander the Great begins his conquest of the Persians
- 63 BC Romans conquer Palestine
- 44 BC Julius Caesar is assassinated
- 6 BC Saul of Tarsus born in Cilicia (modern-day Turkey)
- 4 BC Jesus Christ is born in Bethlehem
- 6/7 AD Paul goes to Jerusalem to study with Gamaliel
- 30 AD Jesus Christ is crucified
- 35 AD Paul’s conversion on the Damascus Road
- 37-61 AD Paul’s 3 Missionary journeys
- 62-64 AD Paul’s 1st Roman imprisonment
- 64-66 AD Paul’s travels around the Aegean and Spain
- 65 AD Gospel of Mark written
- 67 AD Paul martyred by the Emperor Nero in Rome
- 70 AD Destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem
- 80-85 AD Gospels of Matthew and Luke and The Acts of the Apostles written
- 90-95 AD John writes The Gospel of John and The Revelation
- 300-312 “The Great Persecution” of Christians
- 312 AD Conversion of the Emperor Constantine
- 395 AD Emperor Theodosius I decrees Christianity the state religion
We took a driving tour of Thessaloniki and stopped at what is traditionally called Jason’s House which was assaulted by the Jews looking for Paul and Silas, because “these have turned the world upside down.” (Acts 17). Other stops included the ancient Roman forum and city walls, the Byzantine White Tower, the Church of St. Demetrios (an early Christian martyr), and a statue of Alexander the Great along the waterfront. Some claim Alexander the Great to be the most important person in Western Civilization because without his defeat of the Persian Empire there would be no Western Civilization.
Day 3: We visited Berea where “The brethren (of Thessaloniki) sent Paul and Silas away by night unto Berea and when the Jews of Thessaloniki had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea they came thither also.” (Acts 17).
We continued driving through hilly agricultural lands viewing distant snow-covered peaks en route to Kalambaka. In the 11th century hermits first sought solitude living in caves and eventually began to group together in monasteries which they built precariously on top of huge and precipitous 1300′ tall monoliths. The name Meteora translates as “suspended in the air.” Originally, visitors to the monasteries were hoisted up in baskets; steps and bridges were added in the 1920s. We also saw a demonstration of how the painted and gilded Eastern Orthodox icons are crafted.
Day 4: Driving to Athens, we stopped at Thermopylae and learned about a famous last stand which occurred here in 480 BC between the Persians and the greatly outnumbered Spartans. In Athens we saw the iconic Athenian sights including climbing up to the Acropolis (high point) to view the 2,449-year old Parthenon constructed 447-432 BC.
A highlight for me was standing atop the Areopagus – Mars Hill and singing “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” after reading Acts 17:15-32. “And…they brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars hill, and said…I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD, Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.”
Day 5: We had an early transfer to the port of Lavrion to embark on the Celestyal Nefeli and sailed to the island of Mykonos.
Day 6: Docked in Kusadusi, Turkey we had a private excursion to ancient Ephesus where Paul lived 3 years. Later that afternoon we docked at the island of Patmos where the Apostle John was exiled to work in a penal colony. We took the excursion to the Monastery of St. John the Divine which was built over the cave where John allegedly lived and wrote his Book of The Revelation.
Day 7: We docked in Heraklion, on the island of Crete which Paul visited and wrote his Letter to Titus, the bishop of the church on Crete. Our shore excursion was to the Minoan Palace of Knossos, built 1900-1700 BC. In the afternoon we docked at Santorini, one of the most beautiful islands in the Mediterranean for time to explore on our own.
We all took advantage of the unlimited non-alcoholic drink package on the cruise ship and frequently ordered specialty coffees, sodas, and blended fruit drinks. I didn’t hear of any complaints about the food!
To be continued…
I have a confession.
In my post Istanbul – A Turkish Delight to the Senses I ask the rhetorical question, “Does anyone of their own accord enter a carpet salesroom to purchase a carpet?”
I bought a Turkish carpet!
I don’t know how it happened. I told them “No” at least 20 times. I knew all about the carpet showroom routine since it was my third visit to one. “Third time’s the charm” is a proverb that means one is sure to succeed at a task or event on the third try. They succeeded and I crumbled.
It just arrived today!