From HUGer Justin:
It was a gray and gloomy day… okay this may sound like a mediocre bedtime story (or the feeble attempt at creative writing that it is) but our day actually did start in a gray gloom of rain. We, however, stayed dry on the bus as our morning was spent driving to Philippi, the last city we would visit on our journey through northern Greece, and the first city in Greece visited by the apostle Paul on his second missionary journey. We traveled from Thessalonica to Philippi along the modern super highway often called the “New Egnatia.” It received this moniker because it runs almost parallel to the ancient Roman highway known as the Egnatian Way.
Almost two thousand years ago that highway would have carried supplies, trade, arms, communications, and the apostles from Asia Minor to Europe. I was fascinated by what seemed to be a paradox. This country has existed for millennium, seen cities grow into great empires, and then see those cities fall to the point that their very location was forgotten, but basic human behavior is the same. People still travel the same paths looking for food, treasure, power, knowledge, and sometimes the Truth is allowed to pass by unnoticed.
Other times the Truth is attacked. This was the case in Philippi when Paul was there; we were there to see the evidence of those attacks. Philippi was a Roman colony with a high population of retired soldiers – not the kind of city that makes a sprawling archaeological site. Instead we toured a small site comprised of the Agora where Paul and Silas were most likely beaten (Act 16:19-40), the alleged jail where they were imprisoned (a sobering site when I disregarded the fact that it was never used as jail and therefore not the place where they were), and 3 different church buildings.
Our guide, James, described Philippi as a study in the development of the first 500 years of Christianity. The first ruins we saw were of a large space that circled around a massive stone pulpit, symbolizing the central authority of the Word. All that remained of the second was four columns which James informed us once supported a dome that inspired the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
Then James lead us to the last one, although it was really the oldest – not just the oldest in Philippi, but the oldest known church in Europe, debatably the world. Construction began not long after the last persecution ended in 313 A.D. As I gazed at these remnants from 1,700 years ago, I realized that it was also remnants of how scripture was originally interpreted. Everything in the building told of the beliefs of the Christians who built it. It was in the shape of an octagon (a shape where all are equal, just as all are equal in Christ). Again, scripture was placed in the center of the room (and the lives of those who worshiped there). And what I found most striking,a cross shaped baptistery.
James explained that early baptisteries were often shaped as crosses or graves – indeed the word for baptism in Russian is “crucified”— because one dies to sin and enters into the death of Christ when one is obedient to the will of God. Although the New Testament teaches this in many places, my mind thought of Romans 6:3-4. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” As I surveyed that cross in the ground, a mere symbol of the “wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died,” I thought of how truly graceful our Lord is to die to conquer death and then give us the victory over the gloom of helplessness and hopelessness. Which is a gloom far worse than a sunless sky.