WASHINGTON, D.C. - The sunny islands of Greece aren’t just for seaside relaxation, taverna dining, boating and sunbathing. Though there is plenty of that to do.
Greece is a destination for faith travelers who know or would like to acquaint with St. Paul’s New Testament writings about his first century journeys and ministry. They enjoy spiritual inspiration as they tour biblical sites that figured in Christianity’s earliest days.
Add in other cultural submersions that are available from some tour operators, and takers have an unforgettable travel experience.
Inside Local Culture
Katerina Adosoglou, assistant manager of Athens-based Aristotle Travel, says sacred sites and seaside relaxation are only two pieces of many faith-based tours in Greece these days. Some groups like to go deeper into local culture to enhance their tours.
“We have a range of activities our tour groups enjoy during their biblical tours,” said Adosoglou. “We can arrange Greek cooking classes that allow everyone to participate in the cooking with authentic local ingredients, technique, history, and traditions.”
Traditional folk dancing lessons provide yet another way to get inside the local culture with a professional dance instructor. Lessons may be combined with a visit to a folk dance theater and its wardrobe of 2,000 handmade costumes and jewelry. There’s also bungy jumping for the more adventurous in the Corinth Canal, one of the most historic sites in Greece.
Some groups enhance their touring agenda with visits to an orphanage or nursing home – or give-back projects such as beach cleanups and tree plantings in Athen’s urban spaces.
“We also offer interactive guided tours of the ancient Agora of Athens at the Hellenic Cosmos Cultural Center,” said Adosoglou. “People enjoy walks on the marble streets of ancient Greece, and a tour of the old market site where St. Paul preached to Athenians of his day.”
Biblical study tours and pilgrimages
Aristotle Travel and other tour companies based in U.S. and Greece offer “Footsteps of Paul” itineraries for a week or more. Some are land only, others combine water and land cruising to access sites and may include port stops in Turkey (such as Ephesus and Pergamum) where early churches were established in what was Asia Minor in the first century.
Many groups of various Christian expressions include worship, mass, or baptisms in historic churches within their itineraries.
Orthodox groups adopt itineraries that present the Pauline sites as well as some of Greece’s dramatic, centuries-old monasteries set in high places, and Byzantine museums filled with ancient icons, vestments, sculptures and other artifacts.
Major biblical sites
Greek destinations including Athens, Corinth, Thessalonica (modern-day Thessaloniki), Patmos, and Philippi, have mention in the New Testament.
Thessaloniki is the capital of northern Greece, and the nation’s second largest city. This is where Paul established a church and wrote two New Testament letters. The Roman Agora and Forum where Paul preached are also sites to see here, as is the Vlatadon Monastery that was built on the location of the house where Paul lived. Nearby Berea (now Veria) had a large Jewish community in the first century, and Paul went there to preach when people rioted against his teachings in Thessalonica. His enemies incited more riots in Berea, and he left there but did return.
Nearby, find the Meteroa (“suspended in the air”) orthodox monasteries, which are stunning must-sees in this region. Monks first sought spiritual solace atop these sandstone peaks as early as the 11th century, then built monasteries in the 14th and 15th centuries. By 1500, there were 24. Six survive today and provide unforgettable visitor fascination.
Philippi is where Paul preached his first sermon in Europe and baptized the first European believers, including Lydia. Visitors see Lydia’s Spring, the place where Paul led Lydia to Christ. They also can see the remains of Egnatian Way, the Roman road that connected Rome with Greece and the eastern provinces of the empire.
Greece’s centerpiece of Athens is as significant as it was when Paul arrived about AD 50. The city was riddled with idolatry, which Paul confronted, and his most famous sermon to Greek philosophers of the day occurred at the Areopagus (Mars Hill) located just west of the Acropolis. Paul also preached in the local marketplace, and the Church of the Holy Apostles commemorates his ministry.
After Athens, Paul spent nearly two years preaching in Corinth, one of the most cosmopolitan cities of ancient Greece. It was here he became friends with Aquila and Priscilla who worked with him as tentmakers. Paul wrote several New Testament letters here to the Romans and Thessalonians. He later wrote two letters to the Corinthians. Ruins of ancient Corinth and a museum are primary sites to see. The judgment seat (bema) where Paul appeared before Gallio is also there.
The Roman emperor Domitian exiled John the apostle to Patmos Island in AD 95, and that is where tradition says he wrote the Book of Revelation. The Cave of the Apocalypse – also called the Holy Grotto of the Revelation – and the Monastery of Saint John the Divine are the primary Christian attractions on Patmos. Founded in 1088, the monastery has an impressive library of artifacts and manuscripts.
To plan your Greek sojourn into faith and culture, contact Greece-based operators for their standard packages and their custom tour planning services: Aristotle Travel; Universal Travel Agency; TOURGREECE; Amphitrion Holidays; Expedition and Travel.
Read more of Ruth Hill’s faith travel columns in the Washington Times Communities at Contemporary Christian Travel.
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