Sunday, January 26, 2014

Meditating on Meteora

One of the highlights of the trip, I think, has been our visit to Meteora, a site in which there are six monasteries/convents – all of which are still inhabited by a handful of people – in the Pindus Mountains.  Beginning somewhere around the 11th century, the ascetics lived in caves and fissures surrounding the areas where the monasteries and convents were built in the 15th and 16th centuries – truly an architectural feat.  For quite some time, the only way to transport supplies (and people!) to/from the 400-meter (.25 mile) heights was through a pulley system and rope net.

What was striking about both the monastery and convent that we visited was the peacefulness, solitude, and simplicity.  Our guide mentioned that the days of the monks and nuns begin at 4:30 a.m. and are broken down into the following: eight hours of sleep, eight hours of work, and eight hours of prayer.  Their days are regulated by a simple wooden simatron, which while we were visiting, indicated the beginning of vespers. 

Truly the sites were places of retreat, meditation, and prayer, and the visit there reminded me so much of our group’s trip to Turkey and Greece – each of us breaking away from the hectic nature of our busy lives to temporarily immerse ourselves in a new schedule, spiritual and experiential understandings, theological discussions, the breaking of bread together over meals, and friendships.  As we slowly immerse ourselves back into our normal routines in the coming weeks, may we take the time to reflect on the gifts that God has given us during this trip, and enrich our communities’ understanding of Paul’s journey, as well as our own.

 Overlooking one of the monasteries of Meteora
(note the caves in the background)

 One of the surviving monasteries in Meteora

Michael J. examines the rope nets once used
to transport people and supplies 

Pulley system used to transport supplies 

Overlooking Meteora 

Nearing sunset at Meteora 

Our guide explains the simatron at the convent in Meteora

Friday, January 24, 2014

Solitude in Delphi

One of the things that's struck me most about this trip is being surrounded by silence. Other than a couple of nights in Izmir, as booming and noisy a metropolis as New York City (and very reminiscent of Manhattan), our hotels have been havens of peace and solace--sanctuaries away from the busy world and the rancor of our minds.

I imagine that Paul, called by God to spread the news of God's love to a world he imagined cosmically changed forever, found a string of quiet moments in which to connect. Since some of his letters betray his frustration with the young church, perhaps he was able to recenter, refocus, and reconnect at the quiet Inns of his day, as I have found reconnection and focus in the comfort of these quiet villas.

This is the view from our hotel this evening. God's light is literally shining into the world, reminding me we are never alone.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


By far the most extensive excavation in Turkey, Ephesus is simply breathtaking. Founded in the 10th Century BCE, Ephesus began to flourish after Roman control around 130 BCE. At its peak, Ephesus may have been home to 80,000 people. It's astounding amphitheater could seat 25,000 and is still used for concerts today.

Ephesus is one of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation, and its possible the Gospel of John was written here, although its more likely John's community was living nearby, not in Ephesus proper. Touring Ephesus, the incredible technological achievements of the Roman Empire become awe-inspiring.Yes the Empire could be cruel, and yes, they brutally murdered and tortured anyone that disagreed or dared start an insurrection (like Jesus, for example). Yet, there is simply no denying the Romans were among the greatest civil engineers the planet's ever seen. Since we still use so many of their techniques, perhaps they were the best, ever.

I took 211 photos in Ephesus. Here are the highlights:

Reconstructed Arch.
This is a good example of Roman roof construction: Columns, a lentil,
and a crossbeam that served as the support for roofing materials. We construct roofs
in exactly the same manner today (although we use different materials).

A mosaic sidewalk outside a high-incoming housing district.

Many streets jun Ephesus were paved with marble. Many slabs were chiseled
with little marks to help people avoid slipping after a rainstorm.

This little pizza wheel shows up all over Roman ruins. Our Turkish guide told us
that this was an early Christian symbol, because you can spell Jesus in Greek by
overlaying the letters of his name. This is not true. 

It's most likely the pizza wheel is a game board for something like Chess or Checkers!

A view down Ephesus' main street, toward the library.

Archaeologists recently uncovered an entire block of apartments, including
this one, which would have been owned by an extremely wealthy individual--
think the Bill Gates of the Roman Era.

A statuary apse.

Frescoes were a less expensive way to decorate walls, although it wasn't cheap.

Detail of a fresco.

The fresco as part of the larger room. You can see that all the walls and ceiling
would have been decorated.

Looking down into what was probably a sanctuary dedicated to the local god.

An excellent example of fresco painting. This is NOT restored!

Mosaic tile covered all the floors that weren't marble. Marble is plentiful in this area.
Work in progress.
Some of the marble wall panels reattached.
Marble columns adorn the walls of what might have been a ballroom. Marble would
have covered every bit of the floors and walls.

Marble wall panels in detail.
A CGI rendering of how the above room probably looked.
More plumbing!
Notice how it runs in a corner, and is then covered by a decorative wall.
This technique is still in use today.
An overview of mosaic floors with mythological themes.

A wonderful example of frescoed walls.

Fresco detail.

Turkish and German archaeologists have erected a protective covering over this unbelievable
discovery. The homes are well preserved because an earthquake
just happened to cover them with soil that prevented more serious decay.
Long shot of the apartment complex.
Detail of a Medusa mosaic. This is NOT restored!
What would a post be without Roman plumbing? Here, it's easy to see how they
pioneered the in0wall techniques we STILL use today. Amazing!
A wealthy individual would have hot and cold running indoor water. Who's primitive now?
An absolutely astounding room, unrestored, completely covered in frescoes.
This is how a wealthy Roman house was decorated.
Close up of some of the frescoes.
The ceiling of the library. This was the third largest library in the ancient world.
The facade of the library at Ephesus. It has been largely restored, something archaeologists
frown upon these days, but for tourists, it's simply incredible.

Closer to the facade of the library.

Detail of a roof relief on the library,

Reconstructed porticoes on the library.

Mosaic sidewalk.

Mosaic sidewalk.

Nike, goddess of athletic footwear. :-)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sunday's Exploration

Today we traveled from Izmir to the city of Pergamum, one of the seven cities of Revelation. You can read the message given to the church in Pergamum in Revelation 2:12-17. 

From there we took a scenic drive to the town of Assos.  This small sea port town has a breathtaking view of the Aegean Sea.  It is from this port that Paul sailed to Jerusalem for his last time (Acts 20). 

After driving down a winding mountainous road, we arrived just as the sun was beginning to set. It was a perfect opportunity to take a leisurely stroll along the seashore and reflect upon the past few days and the importance of this particular town.  Looking across the vast sea one could imagine years ago Paul saying his final goodbyes to the fellow believers who gathered to bid him farewell.  

It was seaports small and large all along this body of water that carried the gospel to so many in those early years.  Standing on this shore and imagining Paul’s departure, I could not help but think of the price he paid to bring good news that would one day radically change my entire life.

The seaports dotted along these shores are places – most of which whose names have long ago been forgotten -- where women and men set sail and risked their lives to share the good news of Jesus.  It brings a challenge to each of us today.  Most likely we will not be world changers on the caliber of Paul.  We may not be called to leave our homes and climb aboard a ship to a faraway country.  But our lives are not without meaning and purpose.  Who knows, that act of kindness, done in Christ’s name, may have the ripple effect and may one day change a life forever.