Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Climbing the hill to the Acropolis

"Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, Athenians, . . . " So we, five clergy women on a SPE trip, began the walk up the hill from our hotel in Athens, one year ago this week. I never made it to the Acropolis. My desire to see Athens and it's people was stronger than my wish to stand where Paul stood. Maybe I was following Paul in my own way.
"For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, 'To an unknown god.'" (Acts 17:23)
As I went up the hill I found the Church of the Transformation.
It drew me in because I knew the word, metamorphosis. And it drew me in because we were studying how "Story, image, and place create an opening in us for transformation." The doors were locked, but there was a fascinating pillar outside with a picture of Mary(?) holding the Greek evil eye; or so it appears.
Take a look:
It was faded and weather-stained, but there was a bench right by it so I sat and contemplated the meaning. Perhaps you will shed light on what you think you see as the eye looks back at you.

I let the group go on without me and I began to explore this hill of Ares. It is interesting what you find when your eyes are open to seeing. Perhaps that was Paul's gift, to see budding faith, right in front of him. The Athenians were seekers and open-minded at that. In order to speak their language he paraphrases their poet, Epimenides (6th century) with a quote we still hang on today. "In him we live and move and have our being."

My seeking took me around a corner and into a Greek Orthodox church where a special service of healing was about to begin. I took a seat in the small sanctuary and listened to the lectors chant back and forth across the front of the church. It was an eye-opening experience. My limited Koine Greek left me clueless for most of the service. But I didn't need the language to understand the act of worship and I could join in praying and standing in reverence as the gospel was read. The fascinating part was the continual stream of people coming through the sanctuary, right during the service, to venerate before the icons. Each one set down a briefcase or shopping bags, to pray, kiss the icon, cross themselves, then leave. It was an act of worship as part of everyday life. Like Paul's observation, they groped for God and found God and no worship service, or clergy could get in the way. These people were living and moving and having their being in God.

This church on the hill of Ares was a place of transformation for me as I sensed the unity among all people who worship God. It is a picture that my mind won't soon forget. And it is all about a story, of One who changed lives. Metamorphosis.

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