Visiting the Cretan Countryside

Visiting The Cretan Countryside

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In Acts 27, we read that Paul was being sent to Rome after appealing to Caesar for a final verdict.  On a ship with other prisoners, we learn that the voyage was not easy, and ended in shipwreck.  Coming from Jerusalem, they sailed around the southern edge of Crete, an island in the Mediterranean Sea, with the Cretan Sea to the north and the Libyan Sea to the south.  (This region doesn’t call anything “ocean;” it’s a group of seas.)

It was late in the travel year, though, so Paul – the prisoner – advised them to winter in Fair Havens, Crete.  Because the ship owner had grain to deliver, he decided to press on to Phoenix harbor.  Instead, a storm pushed them waaaayyyy across the sea to eventual shipwreck at the island of Malta.  You can read the drama in Acts 27-28.

If Paul had landed at Crete, he might have visited one of many wineries.  They would have been social gatherings, and Paul never missed a chance to share the Good News to a crowd.  I was there, high in the Cretan countryside, immersed in a show of ancient dancing and flowing wine.  We were shown the technique of wine-making by letting grapes ferment in amphora for many months.  As time goes on, the skins separate from the pulp and juice, and it sweetens.  By hand, wine-makers squeeze the liquid out of handfuls of skins. 

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Inside the home/tavern, we were treated to Raki (see Welcome to Turkey), wine and a snack of tomatoes, cucumber, cheese and bread, with a light yogurt-type spread.  Dancers in period costume performed traditional dances.  Some of us joined in!

(If the link doesn’t work, find me on f/b)

Back in the town of Phourni, we walked about, amazed at the size of the bougainvillea plants!  At the local museum, I was fascinated by the remains found at a Minoan Cemetery from 2400-1300 BC.  Folks, that’s 2,000 years BEFORE Christ!  Soon we were back on the ship, bound for Santorini.

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So why, you might ask, is this important to those walking in the footsteps of Paul?  I don’t know that it is!  Perhaps it is just an interesting port of call on a Mediterranean cruise.  But consider this:  Paul passed by this island several times on his voyages.  The view we saw from the deck of the ship is much the same as what Paul saw.  It’s a part of his life in this region.  So, in effect, we did follow in his footsteps.

Picture the differences in the places where Paul visited.  Jerusalem – everything the color of stone, little vegetation, the walled city, the hills, walking distance to the whole region.  And Greece – the vibrant colors of turquoise, deep blue, light blue, white clouds, green trees, water everywhere.  The arid beauty of his homeland vs. the lush beauty of the Gentile region.  In spite of shipwrecks, beatings and being run out of town – often – Paul may have been glad that God sent him to bring the Good News to this wonderful place!

Photo 1:  The view from the winery.

Photo 2:  Take note of the vibrant bougainvillea!

Video:  Dancers at the winery.

 

Saint John the Evangelist (re-posted)

From Wikipedia:  John of Patmos (also called John the RevelatorJohn the Divine, or John the Theologian) is the name given to the author of the Book of Revelation, the apocalyptic text forming the final chapter of the New Testament. The text of Revelation states that the author is called John and that he lives on the Greek island of Patmos, where by some, he is considered to be in exile as a result of anti-Christian persecution under the Roman emperor Domitian.[1][2]

Traditionally, the John who authored Revelation is considered to be John the Apostle, author of all the Johannine works, that is the Gospel of John, the firstsecond, and third epistles of John, as well as Revelation. However, many modern scholars agree that Revelation was written by a separate, otherwise unknown, author, to whom they have given the name John of Patmos.

So now you know the official word on what most believe about who John was and why he was on the island of Patmos.  But there are other, non-canonical sources that give us a little more information about John, and these tidbits were shared with us by our guide.

John was the last surviving disciple, already an old man by this time.  He lived on Patmos for 18 months, and died in 95 AD.  If he was indeed the one who Jesus loved and to whom he gave his mother Mary for protection, and if we place his age at around 20 in 33 AD, then in 95 AD, he must have been around 82 years old at his death.  Quite an old man in these ancient days.

In the 1st century AD, Patmos was a very sparse, desert island in the middle of the Aegean Sea.  John arrived on Patmos in chains, along with a young man also exiled with him, Prochorus.  This was punishment by the Roman Emperor Domitian, but once on the island, John was freed of the chains and lived with a family near the port.  At some point, he healed the son of this family.  Every day, he went to a nearby cave to pray.

As our group of 27 plus our guide exited the bus and descended the steps that led us down to this cave, we were warned not to take pictures.  It’s still used as a place of worship, and in fact a Greek Orthodox priest was sitting in the room, carefully watching us.  In a moment of rarity, we were the only group there.  We had about 5 minutes to ourselves to absorb where we were – the place where John the Evangelist saw a vision from God and dictated the Book of Revelation to his scribe.

It is a rock cave with no comforts, about the size of a small bedroom.  Along one wall, there are two indentations.  The larger, round one is believed to be where John, while praying on his knees on the rock, would rest his head.  To the left of that, a little higher, is a small hole where it is believed John put his hand to help himself arise to his feet.  Along the ceiling, there is a long crack in the rock, which is believed to have happened at the time God spoke to John.  At its end, it breaks into three lines, representing the Trinity.

In 1088, a monk built a monastery at this place and closed the cave to create the chapel of Santa Ana, who was the Virgin Mary’s mother.  There is a rare icon there that depicts Ana holding Mary as a baby, and the baby is holding a flower, representing the blessing to come.

As we exited and climbed the 50 stairs all the way back up to the top, there were several bus-loads of people in line waiting to come down to the cave.  Yet we had been there for 5 minutes by ourselves.  Emerging back out into the open, I was once again struck by the extreme beauty of the countryside and the water below.  This place inspires worship!  The Majesty and Glory of God’s name!

Paul and Turkish Carpets (re-posted)

Ok, this time I’m talking about my husband Paul, as I have no evidence that the Apostle Paul owned or knew about Turkish carpets.  He probably did, as the tradition has been around for thousands of years, but I’ve no evidence to prove it.

While we were in Turkey, we stopped at a carpet-making family-owned place.  I have video showing how the rugs are made, and it’s really fascinating.  There is much more involved than you ever knew, and it’s pretty darn cool.  We saw how they get the silk from the cocoons and how it is weaved into silk thread for the rugs, and we were invited in to see the carpets.  Sitting on benches around a large square room, the show began!

How does one make carpet presentation exciting?  They know how!  Rug after rug was rolled out, fast-paced, vibrant colors to dazzle the eye, eager explanations of the meaning behind the various designs!  We were asked to take off our shoes and feel the rugs with our sensitive feet!  About half-way through the show, we took a break from the excitement to sample the Turkish drink Raki and some local wine.  Raki is like really, really, really strong 100% proof moonshine.  The guy doing the presentation said that there is no such thing as the Ali Babba flying carpet, but if we wanted to see one, drink the Raki.  We washed it down with some wine, and the show continued!  There was one carpet that changed color on each side you viewed it.  We had a great time – but of course this was a sales pitch and by now we were all liquored up!  (Not really, at least not all of us…)

When Paul and I looked at a runner, it was $2,000.  Paul said no, and from then on, whenever approached by a salesman, I told him I’m a good, subservient wife and my husband said no, so no.  The truth is that if we bought a $2,000 carpet, within days of our return, Paul would probably have a new truck.  It was best for all involved that we NOT buy a carpet.  But the show was a lot of fun, and what I learned about carpet makes me a bigger expert than you!

I look forward to posting these videos and other pictures upon my return (and once I figure out how to get them from my phone to this laptop).

Welcome to Turkey! (re-posted)

Our ship arrive in port overnight, and we set out for our excursion to Ephesus this morning.  Back in Paul’s day, Ephesus would have been a port city, second only behind Alexandria, with 2000 residents and many more travelers.  Paul was a metropolitan guy, very comfortable in the big cities.  Plus he was a very smart guy, who understood the value of choosing locations to share the Good News where new believers would take the message back to their own lands.

Efes, as it is known here, was built by a general of Alexander the Great about 2300 years ago.  The Roman’s reconstructed it about 2000 years ago, making it Greco-Roman, and it was a big city, 20-15 square miles.  Over the centuries, the River Meander began to fill in the port and move the water away from the city.  Earthquakes 500 years ago caused extensive damage, but the city had already been abandoned due to disease.  Can you guess what it was, with the marshy land?  Malaria!*  You know nature doesn’t like a void, so the once-thriving city disappeared under the covering of earth.  Excavations started 145 years ago, but to this day, only 10% of what they know is here has been uncovered.

John the Evangelist brought Mary the mother of Jesus here after his exile to Patmos (where he saw his vision and dictated the letter to the 7 churches called Revelation).  So also along these streets, we are walking in the footsteps of these other Biblical and important people.

Paul stayed here at Efes for 2 years, where he preached in the synagogue and baptized believers.  Folks were healed simply by touching a piece of cloth that Paul had touched.  His message was received and was being spread further out into the countryside of Asia Minor (now Turkey).

In the meantime, people continued to come from all over the region to visit the Temple of Artemis and Temple of Diana.  This was a religious center for pagans, so shops sold idols.  When Paul began to spread the Good News that there is only one God, silversmiths, carpet-makers and wine-makers were afraid they would lose their business.  This pending economic problem marked the beginning of the end for Paul in Ephesus.

Our guide, George, shared with us what I had already heard from Fr. Vieron in my Modern Greek class.  The Greek word for fish is IXOYE (add a dash in the middle of the O for the actual Greek letter), pronounced Ikthees.  Each letter is the first to represent Jesus, Christ, God, Son, Savior.  For example, the O with a dash inside it is the letter for “Th,” the first letter of the word “Theos,” or God.  People occupied Ephesus until 800 AD, and Christians were in great fear of persecution.  They carved code words and symbols into the stones of their streets to lead folks to other believers. Thus began the symbol of using a fish to identify a Christian.

On our way out of the ruins, we looked up the side of the mountain to a cave opening, which is called The Cave of Saint Paul.  There is no evidence he was ever in it, but there is a painting of Paul on the wall.  A seriously ancient painting of the Apostle Paul that survives to today.  Amazing.

So here I am, walking in the very footsteps of Paul.  You may remember from my trip to Israel how disappointed I was that the level where Jesus would have walked was many feet below the current streets and excavations (for more on Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus, see blogs from December 2012).  But here, the living, breathing Paul walked along, sharing how Jesus was the Son of God resurrected from the dead, and how that was Good News for all who heard and believed.  He baptized and the Holy Spirit entered into the new believers.  They told their households and friends, and more believed.  It was a movement!

Can you picture Paul sitting in a courtyard outside one of the shops, chatting with a new friend?  They would be sharing a glass of wine and some bread with olive oil.  The women would be gathering food for the evening meal, while surreptitiously listening to what the learned man was saying.  They would linger when they brought the plates of olives, nuts, fruit and bread to the men.  Depending on his mood, Paul might have invited them to join the discussion.  Maybe they are expecting Priscilla and Aquilla to drop by soon.  As they are eating, they see John coming up the street and start to beckon him over.  But then they see Mary is with him, and they immediately rise in honor of the mother of Christ.

I confess that when we had our devotional there at the foot of the famous Library (although this structure was built after Paul’s lifetime), I found myself weeping at the heavy moment of it all.  What would my life – our lives – be like if Paul hadn’t “washed his hands of the Jews and decided to spread the Gospel to the Gentiles?”  What if his letters had not survived to help us with theology?  I believe God would have found someone else – and maybe this is the point where we should ask ourselves, “Am I the one?”

All Work and No Play

If you’re like me, you imagine Paul always dictating something to someone or writing something really long, belaboring his point again and again, making a tent, embarking or disembarking, sleeping, debating with himself about the role of women in the Church, then doing it all over again.  He must have been a very tired man.

But as I sail the Mediterranean, I’ve come to realize that Paul enjoyed life, too!  Although he was involved in several shipwrecks, most of his time on the sea was simple passage from Point A to Point B.  As I look at the scenery right now, I’m seeing what Paul saw – and it is glorious!  We are sailing from Ephesus to Patmos, on the way to Crete and Santorini tomorrow, then Athens toward Corinth the days after.  The islands are everywhere.  Paul would have sat on the deck of a similar (though much, much, much smaller) ship, perhaps praying, certainly having a glass of wine (because, after all, that IS what they drank) with his dinner. 

He could have been composing letters in his head, eager to get with his scribe to write things down.  He could have been worried about the reception he would receive at his destination, since he often got on the wrong side of community leaders.  Maybe he was a poor sailor, taking Dramamine each half hour, or paid for his passage by working as a deck hand, fisherman or cook.  He could have been relieved to know that he’d be staying in one place for a while, to spread the Good News to the Jews and Gentiles of this region.  It’s so interesting to walk in his footsteps and sail in his wake, learning anew that he was just a man, though with a very important job.

Like Paul, we’ve had a day full of hardships.*  I have had to squint in the ever-present sun.  The blue of the sea is too deep for my taste.**  The azure sky and fluffy white clouds become boring in their intensity.  My nose is a bit pink.  My hair is windblown from the gentle breezes that cool the skin.  I had to get my own lounge chair from the stack, and then I left my book in the comfortable, air-conditioned cabin, where someone keeps straightening things and making towel animals.  It’s been truly horrendous.  I DO NOT recommend this to anyone else. hehe

For those who are asking, didn’t Cathi say she would NEVER go on a cruise?  You are right.  I was tricked.  We were expecting a smaller 200-cabin sailboat, and I felt certain when the ship went down, I could swim to either Greece or Turkey, or one of the many islands.  But the company changed their boats and now all are consolidated on what used to be a large cruise ship, but now, as the tour owner said, “For the Aegean Sea, it is large; for the ocean, it is a tender.”  So unless I refused to go further on this trip, I had to take a cruise.  Still, I think when it goes down, I can make it to the shore. 

This morning, we visited Ephesus, or Efus, as it is called locally.  I look forward to sharing more about that in another blog, as well as about Patmos, ½ hour in my future.  Til then, Dear Friend (as we are all called by our tour guides)…

*Did you see how I did that?  Hard ship??! You know, because I’m on a ship….

**Are you catching these?***

***Ok, that’s the last one…

Ruffians in Thessaloniki

Read Acts 17, and you’ll read that ruffians were afoot in Thessalonica.  Paul, Silas and Timothy were sharing the Good News in the synagogue and many folks became Believers.  But Jewish ruffians incited the mob to riot, and the Believers helped Paul and the others get away.  Jason was hauled into court because the leaders knew Paul had stayed with him, but they eventually let him go.

So Paul went to Berea and again entered the synagogue.  This is a funny line – the writer says that the folks in Berea were “more receptive,” so easier to get along with than those up in Thessaloniki.  But the Thessalonian Jews got word that Paul was up to his tricks in Berea, so they marched on down and caused trouble there, too.  Paul was sent to the coast, but Silas and Timothy remained.

Today, I stood on the 3 steps that Paul used to climb to the podium to address the crowds in Berea.  There are icons and stories in panels surrounding these three steps, and a giant statue of Paul, in a country where they don’t do statues.  But think about it – picture Paul entering this town, heading to the synagogue, and climbing these very steps to address the crowd.  His message was heard by many, accepted  by many, and Jews and Gentiles, Male and Female, turned to The Way.    It’s too bad Paul stumbled a bit when he came down the steps, but Paul was a man, after all…

In Thessaloniki, pronounced “Thessaloneekee” by the Greeks, we entered an ancient Greek Orthodox Church called the Church of St. Paul.  I have pictures to share with you later.  But then we walked down the hill to the excavation site of the town center of the 1st century.  Here is where Paul would have stood before the magistrates.  He is all around us.  We can go nowhere where Paul is not present.  He is the reason we are Believers today, for he spread the Good News to those of us who are not Jewish.  He accepted his role of traveler, speaker, preacher, and one who would be on the receiving end of threats, lies, imprisonment, beatings – and death.  Are we as willing to spread the Good News?

Today as I stood in Thessaloniki, I looked across the Aegean Sea to Mount Olympus.  This is the exact view Paul would have seen.  I imagine he took a few minutes to write to his Greek friends back home to say he’s finally seen the summit.  It was snow-covered and magnificent.  It’s the same view we see today.  Majesty and Glory!

The Monasteries of Meteora

Giving everything up for God

It is indeed awe-inspiring!  The rocks of Meteora rise high above – not mountains, more like the Grand Canyon, carved from an ancient sea.  They are majestic, and probably because of this, they drew early Christians who yearned for a simple life devoted solely to worship and prayer.  It’s hard to believe that they found a way up the side of the rocks to the natural caves, where they first began to dwell in solitude.  As more arrived, they formed small communities, and eventually built monasteries.

Don’t think they used beasts of burden to bring up the wood and rock.  No, the monks carried it up themselves, little by little, over a span of 20 years.  When all was in place, they began to build, finishing a monastery in 20 days.  There are 6 rock-top monasteries still inhabited, 2 by nuns.  The holy people are few in number, though, because monks and nuns get to choose which monastery they will live in, and most are not in it to deal with thousands of tourists walking through their home each year.

Why did the early Christians seek this solitude and hardship?  And why would modern day monks seek the same?  (Keep in mind these monasteries were built in the 16th century AD, so even they are ancient.)  It is because they seek to imitate the lives of John the Baptist and Jesus.  This form of worship is extreme, certainly not for those afraid of heights!  Do we dare be this dedicated?

We climbed 150 steps from the bus drop-off to visit one of the monasteries.  The view was tremendous!  This is where the term “Majesty and Glory” comes from!  It’s just beautiful.  We lucked out with another perfect day, with blue skies and fluffy white clouds, temps in the upper 70s.  Up next to God, there is a nice breeze to cool the sun’s heat.

Inside, we visited the chapel – Greek Orthodox, of course.  They use icons for everything, and they are painted everywhere on every surface except the stone floor.  Back before regular folks could read, the church used icons to tell the story of the Church.  Keep in mind, these are not idols.  They are beautiful representations of faith, no more worshiped than we worship paintings of Jesus.  In this chapel, it would take a lifetime to “read” every symbolism.  In one corner, there is a circle of chairs and stands with hymnbooks.  We learned that the Greek Orthodox Church does not use musical instruments – only voices.

Paul didn’t stay in the caves or come this way, as far as we know.  But it was a great side trip, to see how devout the early Christians were, and the extreme steps they were – and still are – willing to take for their faith.  Dare we be this dedicated?

P.S.  Did you notice the clever title?  “Up” can also refer to the heights of the rocks of Meteora!