My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Sunday 11 October 2015

Travelling through Greece - in the steps of St Paul

This is my own very personal perspective of a journey through Greece.
It is also my story of a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage from Southwark Diocese led by the Very Revd. Andrew Nunn and organised by McCabe Pilgrimages.

But what is a pilgrimage if not a journey? Of discovery, getting to know ourselves better, getting to know others better, and in the case of this party from Southwark Diocese, getting to better understand our relationship with God. But my story here is not just about the religion. It's very much a travelogue for this beautiful area as well. We shall be visiting Kavala, Philippi, Thessalonika, Berea, the Meteora Monasteries, Delphi, Athens and Corinth and more - an exciting prospect which I shall write about over the next few weeks.
It's 4.40am on 12th June 2015 at Zone A North Terminal Gatwick and thirty four bleary eyed pilgrims are gathering for a trip to Greece, to follow In the Steps of St Paul, on his second great missionary journey. 
Greece is for many the cradle of Western civilization and democracy. It has given us so much. Now the country needs our prayers and understanding as it struggles with its current financial crisis, whatever our individual views of the causes and solutions.
Lake Volvi
Summer had barely started in the UK - flaming June it most certainly had not been so far, until the day before we travelled, when the mercury at last hit a respectable 23 degrees - good but hardly sufficient training for the heat we can expect in the week to come.
Andy's Coach
service area Greek style
It is good to see Rosemary Nutt from McCabe checking in to travel with us. Many of us know her well from previous pilgrimages, notably for me in Georgia and before then the Holy Land, both covered in my previous blogs.
Indeed it was the trip to the Holy Land which sowed within me my passion for pilgrimage.
As we make ourselves comfortable for the 3 hour flight, I settle down to read a draft copy of Dr Mark Vernon's "The Idler Guide to Ancient Philosophy" which promises to be not only an introduction to Greek Philosophy but also a link with the Greece that St Paul would have experienced on his journey and the culture into which Jesus Christ came into the world. It proves to be a fascinating companion for our journey. Mark is travelling with us and continues to give us the benefits of his wisdom in this field throughout the trip, often helping to while away the longer road trips. Much of this is recorded in the Dean's own blog so I will not attempt to repeat any of it here - but I promise it is fascinating stuff. Mark shows us that philosophy is not stuffy. He soon shows us that we are all philosophers.

Oleander at service area
We head up into low cloud which clears over Belgium to reveal a green patchwork of fields and woods, contrasting sharply with the parched brown landscape as we approach Greece, where we are told it is 28 degrees and rising. Hooray!
Kavala awaits us
We have a snack on the plane - the vegetarian option simply means that the ham has been removed from the ham and cheese croissant! Frugal!
The scenery is beautiful as we bank sharply to land, over an azure blue sea dotted with all kinds of boats, and many Greek islands - apparently there are 6000 or so, only a fraction of which are known to travellers.

Tranquility at Kavala
The flight is smooth in all respects, and on arrival at Thessaloniki we are soon settled comfortably into our air conditioned coach being looked after by our attentive Athenian guide Mara (short for Maria - a family name passed down through several generations) and our careful driver Tassus, as we make for Kavala 160 km to the North East,
Kavala was previously the ancient port of Neapolis where Paul landed arriving from Troas on his way to Philippi, travelling along the Via Egnatia linking the Aegean and Adriatic Seas. 600 km long, this great Roman road was a vital artery for the Romans, used by merchants, generals and proconsuls alike as they travelled to and from Rome via the Via Appia to the Adriatic and thence to Neapolis and the Via Egnatia.
It seems fitting that the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ should follow the same route on its early journey into Europe.

Tomorrow we shall visit Philippi and Lydia... Meanwhile we enjoy our stay at the Galaxy Hotel on the waterfront at Kavala.

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