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, 22 November 2015

Eleusis on our way to Corinth - In the steps of St Paul

view towards the Greater Propylaea
At the moment you will have gathered that, at least to start with, I didn't much like Athens. My first impression is that it is noisy and dirty and assaults all the senses; but this perhaps is saying more about me, not a great city lover at the best of times, and others may well feel very differently and wonder what I mean. There are not enough of what I would call "thin" places here and I feel I shall be glad to get out of it to visit Corinth. Sometimes I have struggled to feel like a pilgrim on what for me has often felt more like a cultural tour. We were not allowed to hold a service at the Acropolis. I guess if everyone wanted to do that chaos would ensue - the sheer numbers there mean that the crowds need to keep moving. But it is mainly the pithy and pertinent blogs from our Dean which have grounded me in the pilgrimage and helped me refocus on the real purpose of our trip - in the steps of St Paul on his second missionary journey into Europe.  
Today our final destination and the climax of our pilgrimage is Corinth, (it was a very special place for Paul as well - he stayed for one and a half years here plying his trade as a tentmaker and taking full advantage of the reception given to his missionary activities especially by the pagan Gentiles).

But first we visit Eleusis. 

We are driving along the route of the sacred path that Athenians would have taken to Eleusis. They would have stopped frequently for dancing and making sacrifices along the way. This is one of the few sites not given over by Greeks to archaeological experts from other countries. 
the well
So we arrive. Wow! Today the town has become a suburb of Athens and the archaeological remains of this important site, first inhabited during the period 1900 - 1500 BC. when it was more important than Athens, is now surrounded by industrial estates and close to the largest oil refinery site in Greece, where the majority of the country's crude oil is imported. Small wonder that many tourists just drive by on the nearby motorway with scarcely a sideways glance, but it is worth much more attention than that. 
Marble sarcophagus of Roman Times (2nd century A.D.)
with a scene of the hunting of the Calydonian Boar
on the front
The extensive temple ruins here are famous for being the site of the Eleusinian Mysteries, one of the most important religious initiation ceremonies of the Ancient Greeks, held annually since the Mycenian period (c. 1600 - 1100 BC) celebrating the myth of the abduction of Persephone from her mother Demeter by the God of the Underworld Hades. Mara tells us of this myth of Persephone - as we drive to the site. The cult of Demeter and Persephone may have been based on an ancient agrarian cult, the myth being used by the Greeks to explain the different seasons of the year. The secret rites, complex ceremonies and sacred meals were thought to confer rewards to the initiated in the after-life and it is possible, according to some scholars, that psychedelic drugs would have been brought into use to induce visions. It is also thought that these experiences could have influenced the early Christians and even have links with our Eucharistic traditions taught by Christ. 

Dean Inge, William Ralph Inge, formerly of St Pauls Cathedral, London, in a series of divinity lectures on Christian mysticism delivered in the late nineteenth century, (now available in digitally remastered book form )

concluded: "It is plain that this is one of the cases in which Christianity conquered Hellenism by borrowing from it all its best elements; and I do not see a Christian need feel any reluctance to make this admission." Mark Vernon in his own blog writes: 
Eleusis amphora from 7th c. BC
"Personally, I think that this adoption of the practice and theology of the mysteries is crucial to knowing the life in all its fullness that Jesus lived and taught, and Paul so profoundly experienced and knew."  

Dionysius the Areopagite, one of the founders of mystical Christianity, may have been initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries and therefore he was ready for Pauls' further insight into the mysteries of Christ, for example when Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15: 51-58:
" Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed ...“Death has been swallowed up in victory.” Dionysius used the language of the Mysteries frequently, drawing on their good aspects without their corruptions in writing about the Christian faith. 
There is plenty of the language of mystery in Paul's letters to the Corinthians. 

1st c. BC Caryatid in museum

Here I find my first wonderfully "thin" place, Delphi running a close second. The spirituality is palpable. Perhaps we are the only ones here at the moment. There is clearly much excavation work to do and it seems that the Greeks are very clued up to saving valuable archaeological evidence whenever there are new projects in hand. 

There is a fabulous albeit small museum, not to be missed, where the most priceless artefacts from the site are stored. It is small but well worth the visit for all the statues, vases, friezes and many small objects on display. On pressing, the shop produces an excellent English guide which many of us buy for further reading.
The Telesterion - the large hall where initiates watched
the rituals 

The breeze here at Eleusis is cool and gives a pleasant relief from the heat for many, although I am one of the fortunate ones as I have not been overly bothered by this week's temperatures in the mid 30s. It is such a dry heat, not the enervating humid sticky heat of so many other places.
We move on towards Corinth...

No comments:

Post a Comment