Thursday, September 2, 2010

BLACK SEA TRIP: PART 14, Christianity in Athens

One of the truly moving parts about being in Greece is reflecting on the role Greece played in the spread of Christianity. No tour of Athens would be complete without a tour of some of its beautiful Christian churches or important Christian sites. I have selected five of my favorites to share here.

1. One of the places most important to early Christianity has to be Mars Hill, known more commonly in Greece as the Areopagus or "Rock of Ares." Ares is the Greek god of war. When Rome conquered Greece, they renamed the rocky hill after THEIR god of war: Mars.

The stairs leading up to Mars Hill:
Anyway, sometime near the middle of the first century A.D. Paul is said to have converted a number of Athenians by preaching a sermon from the summit of this large, flat-topped rock. Acts 17:22 reads, "Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars Hill and said . . . "It was all Bob could do not to SHOUT Paul's words in his best Hugh B. Brown voice: "Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this description: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him I declare unto you."

I love that right next to Mars Hill, indeed what Paul would have had in front of him as he preached, is the crowning symbol of Greek mythology, the Acropolis, with its many temples to various Greek gods.

2. Christianity grew and spread, and so did the building of churches. We loved this old, crumbling church situated right in the Agora, The Church of the Holy Apostles, built in about A.D. 1000 but only restored fifty or sixty years ago:

3. Certainly the most dramatic setting I've ever seen for a church would have to be this one, the top of Mount Lycabettus, the tallest point in Athens.

We walked up a long, steep trail with plenty of stairs . . .
. . . and spectacular views:

. . . and at the very top, we found this simple, charming little church, The Chapel of St. George. Unfortunately, it was all locked up:

4. Athens has two churches side-by-side that have an interesting history. One is enormous and one is diminutive. The former, the Church of Theotokos Gorgoepikoos (translated something like "Annunciation of Mary"), aka the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens, was built in 1842-1862 using parts of 72 demolished churches. It now serves as the base church for the Archbishop of Athens and is the site of all the celebrity weddings and funerals in Athens.

It is undergoing some major renovations.

There are two statues in the courtyard, one of Constantine XI, the last Byzantine Emperor who lived during the 15th century:. . . the second of Gregory V, who helped start the Greek war for their independence from Turkey, and who was subsequently hung by one of the Turkish sultans, who then had his body thrown into the Bosphorus:
There was also this awesome quote from the Archbishop during World War II:
The cathedral itself was spectacular, the colors and architectural details stunning:Next to this grand cathedral was a tiny little church called Ayios Eleytherios. Some think it may be the smallest church in the world, which seems a bit of an exaggeration, but it did look pretty miniscule next to the cathedral:

5. Finally, I end with a more modern site. In the early Christian era of Greece, an important man named Dionysius, who was part of the judicial elite, was converted to Christianity by the preaching of the Apostle Paul on Mars Hill. Dionysius subsequently became the second bishop of Athens. The Church of Dionysius of Areopagite was built during 1923-1931. I don't know why neither Bob nor I got a picture of the exterior. Maybe it's because the interior was so breathtaking. I loved the rich color scheme and the geometric patterns that drew the eyes upward to the soaring domes and downward to the intricate tile floors. This cathedral had a wonderful blend of old tradition and new presentation.

Only two more posts to go, and then I'll finally be done with our incredible journey.

Next up: A trip to Delphi to consult The Oracle


  1. Just absolutely incredible Judy. Your pictures are wonderful and I have learned so much through the posts. Gosh, these churches/cathedrals/architectural feats all make the Smiley Library and Morey Mansion seems quite insignificant. It is an amazing world out there and I have loved sharing this trip through your eyes and words. Kinda hate to have it end!

  2. We could make quilts out of some of these patterns, yes? I'll draft them up on the computer and we'll get started.