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

Friday, 23 October 2015

Travelling through Greece - in the Steps of St Paul - Thessaloniki

sunrise in Kavala
Another lovely day has dawned. The fishing boats have left harbour by the time I awake - the sea is still and shimmering in the pink hue of dawn before the sun is fully risen. After an early breakfast we all make sure that our own bags have been placed on board and so we are off again in the coach bound for Thessaloniki, retracing our steps of the day we arrived and once again following in the steps of St Paul

Not much survives here from the 1st century BC but not only has it always been a thriving seaport, it is an important city for the spreading of the Christian gospel - there was a large Jewish community here and Paul preached several times at the synagogue albeit with little success, but many pagans and women were open to his message, some taking it so literally that they ceased work as they waited for the second coming, understood to be imminent. But he thereby also infuriated many Jews, who mobbed Jason's house where the apostles were lodging. So Paul and Silas set off once more this time for Beria. (Acts 16:11-17:14)

Much of the highway we are following from Kavala to Thessaloniki is easy on the eye - with plenty of pink Oleander, tall cypress trees and dramatic rock faces interspersed with woodland and agricultural tracts of land.

We cross the Strymonas River near to the city of Amphipolis, an important city for Philip II - this very fertile area of Macedonia was much fought over. Paul, Silas and Timothy used this as a staging post on their way west to Thessaloniki from Kavala. 
on the seafront at Thessaloniki
We do not have time to detour to see the Lion of Amphipolis, reassembled from 4th century fragments and guarding the mouth of the river. It is quite probable that the apostles saw and appreciated the splendid mane and glaring eyes of this huge statue. Amphipolis made headlines recently with the discovery of a huge funeral monument - to a woman - who could be Alexander the Great's mother Olympias so there is obviously a  huge interest. But there is also controversy and uncertainty as the research continues. There is a superb website where full analysis is available with 3D and interactive representations.

the White Tower
The modern service areas on this new road are superb. At our comfort stop today along the road we enjoy great coffee overlooking the Aegean Sea - and no queues for the loo either! We see storks flying over the Volvi lake - this is good luck for Greeks. Suddenly a loud bang - the lorry we are about to overtake blows a tyre - lots of dust and debris fly up - our driver skilfully avoids a more serious mishap. Few seem to wear seat belts here - even young children.

Workers are hand tending grapes, small herds of cows are seen but they are few and far between, a man kneeling in his field waves to us - he is planting something, but I cannot see what? A solitary manual job but he is clearly happy. Grain is being harvested - there are beautiful red poppies among the oats or barley. Nearer to Thessaloniki farming is on a larger scale. There is a large American Genetics factory . Here is not the forum for me to delve deeper into my own concerns re genetic modification if that is what they do. Then we see lots of closed down industrial units on industrial estates on the outskirts of the city. It all seems very sad, looking for all the world as if the owners just locked up one night and walked away from their failed businesses leaving vehicles to seemingly rot away in the yards.

up at citadel above Thessaloniki
So we arrive. I love the way Mara our guide pronounces Thessaloniki, with emphasis on the "al" and the "iki"! 

First we have a brief photo stop down on the port front, to see the imposing White Tower, and statue of Alexander the Great. We stroll down to the water's edge - it is very pleasantly warm at 11.30 in the morning and there are plenty of families strolling and relaxed - in spite of all their troubles - as Mara puts it: "how unhappy can you be in this sunshine?"
Then we drive up to Ano Polis, the highest point, to the Acropolis and what remains of the city walls - just 8km. There are panoramic views up here and on a clear day Mount Olympus can be seen more than 62 miles away.

We can see churches everywhere here.
Agia Sophia - wedding in progress
In 1917 seventy percent of the old city was destroyed by a great fire starting in a kitchen, destroying much of the Jewish quarters, which gave the city planners the opportunity to come up with a chance to redesign the layout.
Up at the citadel we have a short reading (Philippians1:27-30, Paul urging the young church in Philippi not to be intimidated by their opponents) and we reflect on "turning the world upside down" - and how the residents here must also have felt about Paul's visit. We sing the hymn: "City of God, how broad and far Outspread thy walls sublime!" and have a short prayer.
St Demetrius Basilica 
On our way through the town we see the new construction of the metro underground in progress - it is taking a long time Mara tells us because of cost, budget cuts and austerity measures, and archaeological discoveries which intervene - this will bring huge improvement to the city once completed and it is popular with students.
Taxis in Kavala were orange and white - here they are blue and white - in Athens they will be yellow - different cities had different colours - you knew where you were by the colour! Colours still stick although no longer obliged by regulation.
There is so much Graffiti - Mara says this is mostly about football and not political - but surely much elsewhere is political?

The condition of many houses seems appalling - even when occupied! This is because ownership is often not clear - they could have been lived in by Armenians, Jews, Muslims we are told - who have moved out and they then get very rundown. It is of course difficult to sort out ownership without deeds but the Greeks are trying to sort this out. 
Now it is time to visit some of the important churches here...Agia Sophia and St Demetrius Basilica - described next...

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