We were sad to be leaving Kavala. It is a beautiful town and I don’t think any of us became tired of looking at the view from the hotel across the harbour. But after two days it was time to move on and so we took to the Via Egnatia, which is along the route of the old military road of that name, and headed for Thessaloniki.
The journey was lovely because at first the road hugs the Aegean coast, passing the peninsulas where Mount Athos is found and then heads inland past lakes with storks flying overhead until you drop down into Greece’s second city.
First, we went to the citadel from where we gained a view over the city and there we read this passage from the Acts of the Apostles.
After Paul and Silas had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.’ Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. (Acts 17.1-4)
The account continues with the dispute that was then created and the accusation made of Paul, Silas and Luke that ‘These people … have been turning the world upside down.'(v6). It was a real reminder to us that Paul came with such a powerful and persuasive message that for those in authority, who had a vested interest in manintaining the staus quo, he was a disturbance they could do without. Ultimately he was thrown out of the town.
But the seeds had been planted and a church grew and he was to send Timothy there to make sure that the church was well looked after. Again, it was women who took the message to heart, but also people like Jason, who is mentioned in Acts. In successive generations they were followed by other faithful Christians.
We visited two churchs – Agia Sophia and Agios Demetrius. Both have byzantine foundations, the latter in a very early, though reconstructed form. In the church of St Demetrius there are two lovely shrines, one holding the relics of the patron and the other the bones of St Anyssia.
Anyssia was a native of Thessaloniki, a contemporary of Demetrius, who was himself a soldier. She was the daughter of devout and rich parents who, on the death of her parents, gave all her wealth to the poor and devoted her life to Christ. On one occasion on her way to church she was confronted by a soldier who was worshipping at a pagan shrine. He tried to force her to deny Christ and when she refused but instead confessed her faith in the One True God, he killed her.
In that church, not far from her shrine, we read the beginning of St Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians.
‘In spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. … For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God.’ (1 Thessalonians 1.6,9)
What Paul recognised and heard of continued in the centuries afterwards and is remembered and venerated today. And the churches are still busy. Today being Sunday many people were coming and going as we visited. We were fortunate to ‘gate-crash’ a wedding in the Cathedral, the people gathering in this holy place to seek God’s blessing on their life together.
The Thessalonian church is alive and continues to witness to the One True God and to look, as Paul encouraged them to do, for ‘the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.’ (1 Thessalonians 3.13)
May St Demetrius pray for us;
may St Anyssia pray for us;
may all the saints pray for us
and may we look
for the coming of our Lord Jesus
with all his saints.