Athens and Paul

May 25th, 2011

What an amazing place Athens must have been for Paul to visit.  Even from the port of Piraeus, Paul would have been able to see the Parthenon, the gleaming marble temple to the goddess Athena crowning the Acropolis.

According to Acts 17, he visited the synagogue in Athens and reasoned with the Jews and God-fearing Greeks.  But all around him he could see the symbols of pagan idolatry, distressing to him, an ambitious, well-educated Pharisee, whose encounter with the resurrected Jesus Christ, son of the living God, had transformed his life into one of service and mission to a new Master.

Centuries later, a visit to the Agora still reveals the things Paul could have seen from that market place.  Nearby is the Temple of Hephaestus, dedicated to the god of the forge.  Above him he could have seen Mar’s Hill and the Pnyx where the Ecclesia of citizens met for discussions and to pass judgment on criminal issues. All around him in the Agora, the market place of ideas swirled opinions and ignorance and ideas flowing as easily as today’s talk shows on radio and TV.

Some of these people, the philosophers, wanted to hear Paul’s ideas – “he seems to be advocating a foreign god.” So they took him up the hill to Mar’s Hill, or the Areopagus where people met to discuss more formally.

Paul’s speech there is both careful and bold.  Virtually in the shadow of Athena, he is confronting the pagan powers on their own turf.  He compliments them, quotes their poets, and then tells them that according to the God of Creation, they are ignorant of His commands and should prepare for a day of true justice – which God has proved, by Resurrection power, will take place.

Some people sneered when they heard about the Resurrection, but Paul did gain a small following there.

Seeing these places through the eyes of Paul increases my respect for his oratorical ability, his missiological skill, as well as for his dedication to Jesus Christ.

A Silver Lining in Turkey

May 18th, 2011

By Michael Swartzendruber

We finally arrived in Turkey after a variety of complications.  Though the delay would turn out to be a blessing later.

We stayed three nights in a hotel in Kusadasi where it was pleasant to have real showers and a little space.  From there, we spent a few days visiting Ephesus, Miletus, Dydima and Priene.   Ephesus was swarming with tourists from the three cruise ships that had pulled into port that morning.  We had the privilege, unlike the crowds, to visit a new site there: Paul’s Cave.  We hiked a hill and ducked into a deep dug-out cave with paintings of Paul and others that dated to the 5th or 6th Century CE.

At Miletus, we had quite a surprise. Linford was explaining an idea he had found in a book by John Crossan when who should show up but John Crossan himself, followed by Marcus Borg.  Our skipper on the Morning Star has said all along that we have to find the good in the unfortunate situations.  We found that encounter to be the silver lining in all the delays and complications we had experienced getting to Turkey.  Had we been 5 minutes earlier or later, that never would have happened.

After 4 days in Turkey, we ferried out to Samos where we met the Morning Star once again.  We spent the day exploring the island, spent the night, then took off in the morning for Patmos, where we are now.  Patmos is, of course, where John wrote the book of Revelation.  We’re probably going to leave here tonight.  About a week left and the whole sea to sail!

Christian Movement in the Mediterranean

May 12th, 2011

Eastern Mennonite Seminary has TWO cross-cultural programs during summer 2011. Places, People and Prayers is spending three weeks in Israel/Palestine and Linford Stutzman is leading Christian Movement in the Mediterranean, which follows parts of Paul’s missionary journey’s by boat. This group had quite an adventurous start to their journey. Read on below or see photos.


Eastern Mennonite Seminary students, students from Israel, Turkey, Minnesota and Indiana, twelve in all, met at the Athens airport on Thursday, May 5 to embark on our trip following in Paul’s footsteps across the Aegean Sea.

The scene in Acts 2 where we see people from all over the known world comes to mind as we navigate through the airport.  One cannot avoid hearing an international chorus of languages.  Religious pilgrimage was one of the few reasons that ordinary people might have travelled in the ancient world.  By the time of Jesus of Nazareth, there were Jews living in every major city around the Mediterranean basin, and many had lived there for generations.  This means they were molded as much by those local cultures as they were by their Jewish roots.  They really did speak a multitude of languages.  Their scriptures and the Talmud had been translated into many languages partly because the longer they lived in any place outside Israel the less they knew of Hebrew.  Peter’s stirring sermon in Acts 2 reached the ears of people who were as different as they could be.  From the beginning the gospel was for everyone.

We traveled from by van Athens to Port Astro, a Christian camp Skorponeria Bay to the Morning Star, our home for the next three weeks.  This schooner was anchored off a camp run by Hellenic Ministries, our hosts who are providing the boat and the excellent crew.   We got situated on board, had a fine welcome meal provided by our hosts and crawled into our bunks for a much desired rest.

We began the next morning with a devotional provided by our skipper and a hearty breakfast as we prepared to get underway to begin our cruise to various Greek islands visited by Paul.  We are motoring because our intended course takes us directly into the wind, the one direction you cannot go in a sailboat.

While under way we have been pounded by waves.  Two crew members were standing in the bowsprit which is the very tip of the front of the boat.  The waves were not high, but very steep and choppy so the bowsprit was rising and falling about 15 feet vertically- like riding an elevator that goes really fast.  On the downward motion the bow plunged into the water and they were dowsed.

The pounding waves of this morning took their toll.  No worries- we are all safe and sound- but the bowsprit slapped so hard against the waves that it cracked!  We are talking about a heavy timber about 6 inches thick.  We turned around in our tracks and came back to our mooring.  This on a day we were expecting to begin our journey across the Aegean.  The remains of the day were spent in lectures and reading while the crew worked on making repairs.  We don’t know when we will be able to re-start the trip.

The next day we went by barge to the shore near the camp to explore a bit of the area.  The group hiked up the rocky peak ahead of us to a cave about halfway up.  The wildflowers were blooming in a profusion of colors punctuated by bright red poppies.  The sky was blue and the sun was shining.  Some of the group continued to the top where they had a spectacular view captured by some of the photographers in the group.

Everything we are doing is an object lesson in travel by sea.  How many times did Paul have to delay a crossing due to weather, repairs, or other unforeseen obstacles?  Perhaps he wrote some of his letters during those unexpected and frustrating down times, as I am now doing.  Reading about Paul from the deck of a boat makes his circumstances more real.

May 8, 2011

In Chapter 10 of Acts we have the account of Peter and the Centurion Cornelius.  Remember that Cornelius is a gentile.  Another point to emphasize is the fact that this story occurs in Joppa, which is a port city.  Standing on the deck of a boat helps us pay attention to details like that.  Port cities all around the Mediterranean were always more multi-cultural than inland cities.  Traders, government messengers, mercenaries, and pagans on religious pilgrimage all crossed paths in the Port cities.  Devout Jews would consider such places unclean, and the people in them unworthy. Peter has a clear vision to meet Cornelius, a Roman.

Here is a provocative thought Dr. Stutzman presented to us.  It is precisely in a port city that one expects to meet people who were considered ‘unclean.’  And at the waterfront the sails furling and unfurling would be a daily sight.  In Peter’s dream the unclean animals are let down from heaven in a large sheet.  Clean white sheets are common bedding for us, but not for the poor of that era.  Could the large fabric be a sail?  Nothing in the language of the text suggests a sail, but this is a vision of events in another port city, Caesaria.  We don’t need to press this point, but what we do know is that after this point in the book of Acts, events strongly turn to the west, with Paul’s mission concentrated west of Palestine.  Some journeys were on foot, but Paul covered many more miles aboard a sailing vessel.  The gospel was spreading first to port cities, and this began in dream in Joppa.

We spent another day waiting for the bowsprit to be repaired.  We continue with the same lectures and readings as we would, so that time is not lost, but we are losing opportunities to visit more islands on our way from the Greek mainland to the island of Samos.  It may not be fixed until late in the day tomorrow, meaning we don’t sail until Tuesday.  There is one thing to say about it.  “This IS sailing.”

May 9, 2011

Today we did a lot of deck work on the boat.  We had lessons from Dale Smyth, a Yacht Master from South Africa who volunteers his expertise to the Morning Star ministry.    Dale began with basics- terminology, essential knots and a little bit of theory about what makes a sailboat move through the water.  Some in our group have never been on a sailboat before, so he began at the beginning.

We are each keeping a log/journal for the class which is intended to include both a record of the sailing, as well as thoughts and reflections about the course content.  The first part of any sailboat’s log entry is the longitude and latitude at the time of the log entry.  Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday all begin with the note that we are located at 38 degrees 36 minutes North Latitude and 23 degrees nineteen minutes East Longitude.  We are still waiting for the repaired bowsprit, but we are told it will arrive tomorrow for installation.  Once it is in place we will make all speed out of here, as all are getting cabin fever from being anchored in one place for five days.  All are getting along famously in spite of the altered schedule.

During class time we talked about Paul’s message that did not ignore differences but did not let differences be a cause to be enemies.

Thomas Cahill’s book, “Sailing the Wine Dark Sea” talks about Greek literature, particularly the Odyssey.  We made a comparison.  Paul and Odysseus both travelled about 10 yrs.  Luke for sure, and perhaps Paul, knew of Homer’s writing.  Odysseus was a strong and clever war hero.  He spent all his energy on a homeward journey, trying to get back to a fondly remembered past.  Paul’s life and writing turned all of this idea on its head.  Paul used warrior images, and he travelled by sea like Odysseus, but Paul boasted of his weakness. Odysseus fought Poseidon, the god of the sea.  Paul was not fighting against the God who controls the sea, but is allied with Jesus, the storm-stiller.  Paul never went home for good, always moving further outward, focused intently on the future, not the return to his past. What does that say for us?

We are all hoping tomorrow will find us at a different longitude and latitude.

May 10, 2011 (from the sailing logs)

Acts 12

P1050942_800x600 First things first, WE ARE UNDER WAY!!    We waited from Friday to Tuesday for the repair of the bowsprit.  No study time has been lost, but we will miss seeing some of the Greek islands on this first leg of the sail journey.  Instead of island hopping, we will be sailing night and day to make it to Samos in time to meet our schedule.

The group morale went rocketing higher as soon as the boat started moving down the bay, the same course we took the first day when the waves broke the bowsprit.  Weather is much more moderate today, with the boat gently rolling side to side, not pounding waves head-on.

On a decent map, look north of Athens for a series of small bays and islands that are embraced by an exceptionally long curved island.  The island is called Evvia.  We’ll be sailing past it the rest of the day, heading southeast, generally, and then we turn more directly east for the trip across to the island of Samos, a Greek island just off the Turkish coast.

We sailed to a beautiful town called Halkida, located on Evvia, the second largest of the Greek islands, with Crete being the largest.  We had Greek food in a Greek restaurant near the quay.  Most of us ordered gyros and loved eating it the way gyros was meant to be.  The food was excellent.  There are lots of boats in the town, though mostly commercial tour boats, Coast Guard, ferries, and some shipping. A few tug boats chug by now and then.

After the evening meal, we walked back to the boat, to wait for a lift bridge to open.  There is a narrow natural channel between the island and the mainland, with one bridge to join the island to the land.  This bridge does not lift on demand for boats.  Rather we were required to wait  for the next opening, and join the line of boats waiting to pass through.   We waited from 9:30 pm until 12:30 am to pass through the opening.  After that we tied up beside another boat, and slept.

ACTS 12 is today’s chapter.

May 11, 2011

Yesterday we motored from our starting point to a place called Halkida on the huge island of Evvia.  Today was our first day of actual sailing, and what a day.  We put up a double-reefed mainsail- this reduced the sail area by 60 percent.  We also put up the smallest jib.  On a two-masted boat that can carry up to six sails, we were using the two smallest sails, and making fast speed.  Why?  Because the entire day we were sailing in 40 plus mile per hour winds.  (Beaufort force 8.)  This boat is extremely seaworthy and handled the wind and waves well, but it was a rock and roll day.  We sailed from 8:30 am to about 7:40 pm and covered about 58 miles with the deck pitching and rolling every moment.

Tonight we are anchored off of the town of Karystos at the extreme southern tip of Evvia Island, ready to make the leap across the Aegean to Samos, near the Turkish coast.  Tomorrow we will attempt to make that crossing, hoping that the wind is milder.  The delays from the bowsprit repair are putting pressure on the schedule, but it seems we will still reach Samos on time, weather permitting.

There are eight people on board who have never sailed before, and they are doing wonderfully.  Everyone has been game for managing with the deck in constant motion.  The local skipper says this is very odd weather for May which usually has mild winds and warmer temps.

The sailing is fun, and the discussions are every bit as enjoyable.

Acts 13 begins with a list of names of Christians, a list that reveals a variety of ethnicity and of social status.  This already says much about the nature of the early church and how it was indeed counter-cultural as to matters of social standing.

Here, in verse 4 we begin tracing the sailing journeys.  They begin by preaching in the synagogues, a natural connection for the travellers.  As we will see in other locations, Paul is embroiled in controversy.  Elymas the magician tried to intervene to stop the missionaries from preaching the gospel to the proconsul Sergius Paulus.  Notice in verse 8, we have the remark that Saul is also known as Paul.  This is significant.  Up to this point in the account, Saul has been a Jew among Jews for the most part.  Now his attention turns outward from the center of Jewish faith to the west- the Roman Empire, and its Greek-speaking, Greek thinking inhabitants.  Speaking to a Roman, a Roman name makes Paul seem less foreign.  Perhaps his words gain an audience by his identification with this wider culture.  As a Roman citizen, Paul must have been reared in a home that, while genuinely Jewish, was also influenced by the Greek world.  As Paul turns west, he embraces his western, Greek heritage.

In verse 13 the journey resumes, with the note that John-Mark left to return to Jerusalem.  There is something between the lines here, though we cannot be certain what that might be.  Did John-Mark find the rigors of travel too difficult?  Was it too hard to be an observant Jew away from the communities that kept kosher?  Were there differences of opinion sharp enough to cause a falling out?  Certainly the internal church controversies that would soon take up much of Paul’s time and thought may already have been brewing.  Being disciples of Jesus and guiding the church has never been easy.

Paul’s message is also recounted here, and it matters a lot that Paul begins with strong, deep roots in the story of Israel.  However far he may wonder from Jerusalem, Paul will always remain Saul- rooted in the promises that began with the call of Abraham, who was blessed to be a blessing.

This blog is written by Pastor Glenn Berg Moberg and EMS student, Victoria Squire.