CORINTH, Greece — After 2,000 years, maybe it is time for a letter from the Corinthians.
A recent two-week trip I took to Greece brought us to several sites involving St. Paul. First, there was Athens, where he spoke at the Roman Agora and from a rock promontory on the Acropolis below the Parthenon.
If today’s Corinthians were to write to Paul, they may well have to explain to him why he is a victim of NIMBY, or “not in my backyard.”
Our guide said there was little in the modern city of Corinth remaining from Paul’s time among the early Christians. There was, however, the location where Paul departed from the Gulf of Corinth. On it were the ruins of a church built by first-century Christians and used to mark the spot from where Paul departed. Would we like to see it, our guide asked? Of course, we said.
A few minutes later, he turned off the four-lane road into a dirt lot. We walked through some wild bushes to a long rectangle of stones — the foundation of what had been the church — extending out from the beach a few hundred feet into the water.
That was it. There was no monument, no shrine, nothing to indicate the significance of a location that played heavily in the history of a 2,000-year-old worldwide religion.
“How come?” I asked.
“Because of them, the holiday homes,” he said, pointing to many nearby modern condos. “These are second homes owned by people from Athens and they do not want tourists or traffic.”
Somehow, I imagined Paul would have been amused at being the victim of Corinthian lifestyle, something he took to task repeatedly in his letters.
Other sites in Greece were more contemplative. In Athens, it was not difficult to look at the ruins of the Roman Agora to visualize Paul in that marketplace, not only preaching a new religion to the Athenians, but participating in the intellectual give and take among people who enjoyed robust debate.
Standing beneath the rock at another location, known as Mars Hill, one can place oneself among the crowd listening to this preacher giving his backhanded compliment to them for their religiosity. They built temples to so many gods. They covered their bets by building one to an unknown god, he wryly noted.
But Paul preached the one God and it was from these places that the Gospel began its move from Israel to the rest of the world.
One could not help but be moved by thinking about the effect of that one man, inspired by the Holy Spirit, has had upon the world for two millennia.
Paul preached in the heart of the pagan world. The Gospel message was heard within a stone’s throw from the massive Parthenon. One could think about the transition from paganism to Christianity. And, unhappily, further in history, to the fissures and ruptures of unity in the faith, the divisions.
After a day of tourism-inspired meditation and contemplation, came a reminder: divisions continue.
That day’s news mentioned that the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. voted to change its definition of marriage from “a man and a woman” to “two people,” and to allow its ministers to perform same-sex marriages, a position opposed to Christian belief in marriage for the past 2,000 years.
If that was not enough to end the reverie and return one to the 21st century, there was an announcement on the flight back to Athens that lavatories in the first-class section were reserved for first-class passengers, “and others should use the bathrooms according to their class.”
The experience, however, was not lessened by the reminder that a divided faith still exists and that a classless society is still to come.
Kent is the retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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