Reflections on a Greek pilgrimage

First published 30th September 2016

During September, a group of 30 pilgrims travelled to Greece to follow in the footsteps of St Paul. Led by Bishop Mike alongside Archdeacon Christine Froude, the group visited Thessalonika, Philippi, Delphi, Corinth and Athens.

Professor David Clarke was among those making the pilgrimage and he has been reflecting on the journey:

"A modern pilgrimage can look like any overseas holiday tour the early flight, the air conditioned coach, the three star hotels, the visits, sometimes with many others who are indeed tourists, and the cameras always at the ready. It may feel a bit like that too. But it also a continuation of a long Christian tradition a gathering of faithful people, many met for the first time, bonding into a community, on a journey together of spiritual reflection with minds open to new insights into the faith we share.

"Ours was advertised as In the footsteps of St Paul, commencing at Neapolis, modern Kavala, via Philippi, Thessaloniki, Berea, Athens and Corinth to the bay at Cenchrea where Paul shaved his head before departure. In truth, we did not follow many footsteps, travelling swiftly on motorways where he would have walked, perhaps ridden. The distances are considerable, and one gets a sense of the magnitude of the journeys in the heat or the rain (we had both), along cobbled or muddy roads like the ancient way to Philippi from Neapolis, and the variety of the terrain, from the flat plain between Thessaloniki and Berea or the rocky mountains and barren scrub covered hills in so much of inland Greece.

"Both Philippi and Ancient Corinth are archaeological sites, the former an abandoned city, the latter declined to a village as the city moved downhill to the shore. Both have been excavated with much to see, enabling contemplation of what it might have been like in New Testament times. Putting the places in their geographical context, with Philippi under the hill and Corinth overlooking the isthmus gives a fresh understanding of the texts in Acts.

"Much of what we saw and experienced were in the context of pre Christian Greece, with the ruins of so many temples to Greek and Roman deities on the one hand and on the other, the modern dominance, even today, of the Greek Orthodox church with its (some very ancient) distinctive churches and many monasteries. Those cities in places where Paul preached would have been dominated by the splendid temple buildings, so many of which, including the Parthenon, partially survive today; but also by the prevailing spiritual culture of a multitude of deities to be worshipped and given offerings. In such a world, it is not surprising that he faced opposition, trumped up charges and imprisonment as a consequence of his message; but the legacy of his firm faith and preaching are seen in every village church and roadside shrine.

"Each pilgrim will have their special memories to treasure (perhaps not some of the hotel food), whether the communion by the babbling stream where Paul met Lydia, or the faith of the welcoming nun at a modern Christ centred monastery (far from the tourist traps of the ancient religious houses atop the sandstone pinnacles), or the visit to the Acropolis in Athens, or the times of spiritual reflection led by Bishop Mike. But for me it was standing in the ruins of the Roman Forum in Corinth, able to picture the shops, market place and temples, the road from the harbour below, standing where Paul was brought to court and where an early church was later built. Paul responded to the Lords words Keep on speaking; do not be silent Acts 18:9. How can we do less?"

Professor Clarke has recently retired as Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Law at Bristol University. He attends Redland Parish Church, where he is Treasurer. He is an elected member of Bishops Council and Chair of the HR & Remuneration Committee for the Diocese.

You can find out more about the pilgrimage here or you can see photographs from the trip on the Diocese Facebook page.


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