When the alarm went at 2.30am I can’t say that I was delighted. Though I’m not averse to the morning this was too extreme. But one you’re up you’re up and by the time the taxi arrived I was ready to go and embark on this pilgrimage. It was amazing to emerge from the Deanery and see joggers at that time, lycra clad, running past, and this was now 3.30am! Don’t these people sleep?
The journey through south London to Gatwick reminded me that whilst I am normally asleep there are many people who are moving around, making their way to work, or home, any where, and the roads were busy. So when the group of us travelling together found that we were the last to arrive at the airport we were a bit shocked. But it just shows the eagerness of this group of pilgrims!
So after a relatively easy flight we landed in Thessalonica, retrieved our bags and met our guide. Mara will be with us for the whole of our journey from the north to the south of this country.
On the two and a half hour journey that then followed she reminded us what we will be doing as we travel together in the steps of St Paul and she told us interesting things about why Greece is called Greece in the Latin world and Hellas in the Greek-speaking world. And driving through some lovely countryside seeing the peninsula that ends in Mount Athos and the islands in the Aegean we began to get a feel for the place.
So after a break for something to eat we arrived at Kavala. This is the place where St Paul landed, where he first stepped onto European soil and began this part of his missionary journey. Mara said that she thought that his intention all along was to head for Corinth but coming from Asia Minor this was where that journey to there began.
Paul’s story and our story for this pilgrimage begins in the Acts of the Apostles 16.9-12
During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days.
The church of St Nicholas just close to where we are staying and by the port boasts a pillar outside which is said to be the one that Paul tied his boat too when he landed here. And behind the pillar is a lovely mosaic.
On the left we see Paul being visited in a dream by a Macedonian who is in the middle of the picture. On the right we see Paul arriving and on the far right the pillar.
It was the beginning of a journey that would help to form so much of the church as we know it. Five of Paul’s letters are addressed to churches we will be visiting, two to the Thessalonians, the community in Thessalonica, two to the christians in Corinth from where he wrote his letters to the Thessalonians (by tradition) and one to the church in Philippi, which we will visit tomorrow.
It is wonderful to be here, wonderful to arrive and wonderful to be in the place where Paul also began his encounter with the people of this country.
Lord, for the journey
and for the arrival,
Bless us as we journey
as you blessed Paul
on his journey.