Travel: Following in the steps of the Apostle Paul
The Apostle Paul is often considered to be the most important person — after Jesus — in the history of Christianity.
Of the 27 books in the New Testament of the Bible, 13 are attributed to Paul, and approximately half of another — Acts of the Apostles — deals with Paul’s life and works.
By his own account, Paul was the best Jew and the best Pharisee of his generation and later claimed to be the best apostle of Christ, although he attributed his excellence to the grace of God.
His letters have had an enormous influence on Christianity and secure his place as one of the greatest religious leaders of all time.
Yes, quite a resume and guess what — we followed in his footsteps.
That would be a 43-person group from Bethel Lutheran Church in Rochester who, indeed, followed in Paul’s footsteps during an October trip overseas.
It was one of those “trips of a lifetime,” a trip led by Bethel Pastor Anjanette Bandel and her husband, Warren Bandel.
“The opportunity to travel to Greece had been one of my dreams as a pastor due to the fact that the Apostle Paul is credited as to writing letters that make up one-third of the New Testament biblical canon,” Anjanette Bandel said.
“Traveling to Greece brought to life his letters when we stood among the ruins in Ephesus, Philippi and Corinth.”
Oh my, yes.
The sites visited included Athens, Corinth, Mykonos, Ephesus, Patmos, Crete, Santorini, Delphi, Kalambaka and Thessaloniki. Oh yes, this adventure also featured a three-day cruise to the Greek Isles, which included a brief stop in Turkey.
We traveled with Nawas International, a travel agency specializing in religious tours. This one was based around Paul’s footsteps as recorded in the Book of Acts (chapters 16-21).
The logistics didn’t allow us to visit places in the same order as Paul, but that was no big deal. But to think that Paul once walked, taught and preached in the same cities we visited was, yes, a very big deal.
We flew from the Twin Cities to Amsterdam and finally to Athens. The first stop was Corinth, where it is believed that Paul visited in 51 or 52 A.D.
Corinth is also said to have been the most important city in the days of St. Paul.
Back then, the church he founded in Corinth was turning away from God and Paul subsequently wrote two of his New Testament letters, urging them to turn back.
We also visited the ruins of the ancient city where Paul worked with Aquila and Priscilla, and then saw the Royal Palace and the Temple of Zeus.
What a day — we went back to Athens and climbed Mars Hill and saw the Acropolis and equally famous Parthenon.
Mars Hill is where Paul addressed the Areopagus, the town council that gave its name to this spot. The view from Mars Hill is one of the best in Athens.
Obviously, things are much different now than they were 2,000 years ago, but back then the city was lined with a bunch of pagan shrines, and it took a lot of guts for Paul to tell the Athenians to, in effect, “back off.”
Yikes, the first day was filled from start to finish, and that was the general theme for the rest of the trip.
• In Piraeus, we boarded a cruise ship (Celestyal Cruises) for a three-day Aegean Sea cruise. The first stop was to Mykonos, which some call the St. Tropes of the Aegean. Mykonos had no connection to Paul, but picturesque? Yes indeed, especially a pair of iconic white windmills. Plenty of window shopping, boutiques and cafes.
• Turkey. We arrived at the Turkish resort of Kusadasi, and a shore excursion to the city of Ephesus. Saw the fabled Temple of Artemis, another Wonder of the Ancient World.
• Ephesus. Some of us will tell you that Ephesus was the top attraction of the tour, mainly because the ruins are in such great condition. This is where Paul preached once again about idol-worshiping, and started a near-riot in the Ephesus Theatre, one of the largest amphitheaters of its time.
• The Library of Celsius in Ephesus. Felt like we could all go in and check out a book.
• Sailed to the Island of Patmos, and a visit to the Monastery of St. John. It is here where the Apostle John received the inspiration to write the Book of Revelation. Just think.
• Heraklion, Crete, which, if you look at a map, is the southernmost part of the Greek Isles.
• Santorini. Ask anybody who has set foot in Santorini and they will tell you the same thing. Wow, breathtaking, with its rugged, volcanic cliffs and white houses. The view looking down to the bay from the town of is spectacular. More pictures were taken here than anywhere else.
• Piraeus, and the drive on the national highway through Thebes, Levadia and the picturesque village of Arachova. Greece is much more mountainous than I imagined. And scenic.
• A visit to Meteora and the “Hanging Monasteries.” This is another spot where plenty of photos were taken. The monasteries, still in use today, are perched on top of unusual rock formations, like they are suspended in mid-air. One word, unbelievable.
• Philippi. This is where Anthony defeated Brutus and most important, where Paul first preached the Gospel in Europe.
• Thessaloniki. We visited the prison where St. Paul and Silas were imprisoned in 50 A.D. Very small.
• Also in Thessaloniki. On the outskirts we saw the “river” or small creek where Lydia was baptized. Why is this important? Lydia was the first Christian woman convert in Europe.
“A highlight for me,” said Anjanette Bandel, “was time on the Greek Isle, Patmos. This is where the Gospel writer John, after receiving a vision from God, wrote the book of Revelation. The beauty of that setting and the church constructed on the site of his place of writing was truly holy ground.
“The book of Revelation is often given a misinterpretation of being ‘scary,’ but is actually filled with hope of a ‘new heaven and a new earth,’” she said.
“Looking at the gorgeous Aegean Sea and the cliffs that line the islands shore seemed to hold a glimpse of this future ‘heaven.’”