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

Monday, 16 November 2015

Our journey through Greece continues - Delphi - where man is closest to God

cone marking the centre of Delphi

We are following in the steps of St Paul on his second missionary journey through Greece. As we drive towards Athens from Thessaloniki we have some diversions from Paul's route along the way, one of which is Delphi

The reconstructed Athenian Treasury
Leaving the amazing Meteora Monasteries behind us we now have two mountains and many smaller roads to traverse before we reach Delphi so we settle for the long drive. There are really fabulous views now. The scenery is simply stunning up here. There are green meadow clearings far below us in the valley but not the lush rain drenched vegetation of say Austria or Georgia. These are of a more sombre hue.There is also plenty of mining activity, huge machines extracting the red sandstone for the road building going on around us. A small vineyard clings precariously to the side of the upper slopes on the other side of the valley. A small waterfall gushes out of the rocks by the side of the road. We see wind farms marching across the mountain peaks.
Delphi, we are told, unlike Olympia which was just for the Greeks, was there for everyone to get answers from their gods. Dating back into prehistory, and featuring prominently in the ancient Greek myths, here was for many centuries the cultural and religious centre of the Hellenic world. It is here that two eagles sent out in opposite directions by Zeus on a mission to find the centre of the world finally met. The site was sacred to Gaia or Mother Earth and guarded by Python, the terrible serpent. Apollo later killed Python and the Cretans, arriving at Kirrha, the port of Delphi, with Apollo disguised as a dolphin, built Apollo's Sanctuary. 
With 25 km to go to Delphi according to the signpost, we come down the last slopes of the Parnassos mountain range with small family Bed and Breakfasts all around us, catering for the skiing tourists who visit in winter - there are some very charming ski resorts here.  We descend into the massive olive groves now stretching into the distance on either side of the road, tall cypress trees standing out above the olive trees like dark sentinels. The olives are Amfisa - having a particular colour from the way they are cured. The Corinthian Sea can be glimpsed down to our right.
So we arrive at Delphi - seemingly clinging to the edge of the cliff on the lower slopes of Mount Parnassos
Delphi is a totally enchanting site and I am captivated. 
The fourth century theatre
No wonder it is one of the most popular places on the tourist trail in Greece and sometimes described as the most attractive Greek classical site. Delphi was regarded as the centre of the world by the ancient Greeks and is deeply engraved on the record of Greek history, being a place of incalculable religious and political importance, attracting pilgrims from all over the Hellenic world. Here the Oracle was consulted by both states and individuals. 
This was the religious background against which Paul was preaching the Christian gospel. 
After lunch in a local restaurant we head for the excellent museum where priceless artefacts from the site are preserved with excellent detailed explanations including English and French translations as well. We see the world famous bronze Charioteer, the wonderful frieze from the Siphnian Treasury, the larger than life-size statues of the Twins of Argos, beautiful gold and ivory jewellery and statuettes, and much, much more. The museum shop is sadly closed so those of us who still like to buy souvenirs and glossy booklets. 

Looking down onto the Apollo Temple and scenery beyond
There is so much to see here and we couldn't possibly see everything. There is an excellent write-up on Delphi here. I would love to come again on my own and take it all in at my own pace. Climbing down the path back to the coach I see a small group of visitors cross legged in the shade meditating - what a place for this - I would have loved to join them but our time table does not allow for any more time here and we are soon back in the coach settling down for the two and a half to three hours drive ahead to Athens. The coach is very quiet - we are all very weary and perhaps also in different ways touched by the atmosphere and the spirit of Delphi!
Doric columns of the Temple

We see glimpses of God everywhere - I certainly find God in all this great beauty - in the sunsets, the churches and their beautiful frescoes etc - but we have to surrender ourselves to feel in touch with the transcendent - Socrates was in touch with this all the time and Jesus himself was a mystic. 

Now driving Eastwards towards Athens, the Bay of Corinth far to our right, Mara tells us there are 9 million olive trees here in the vastest of olive groves imaginable, while Mark reminds us that Athens is of course the spiritual home of ancient philosophy - still so important in guiding the way we live and flourish, through rational argument and debate. We are reminded that Paul was born into this background and both he and Jesus were Hellenic Jews, influenced as much by that as by being Jewish. 
panoramic view of theatre

1 comment:

  1. Good to be back reading your posts on your marvelous visit to Greece - in Paul's steps. Years ago (I think it was 1996), I went on a fascinating tour of the eastern Mediterranean, which included Greece, Turkey, and Israel. I took an optional side trip to Delphi, and was really glad I had. Like you, I left with this bewildering sense of touching Something Greater. I remember the stone, I think they called it the Omphalos stone, which was supposed to be the navel of the world, where humans were connected to the gods.