The East Window of the Church at Philippi's baptismal site
We travelled yesterday from Kavala (Neapolis) following the route that St Paul would have take from the coast to Philippi along the Egnatian Way. We visited the beautiful area of the stream where Paul met Lydia on the Sabbath day and spoke to her and the other women, having failed to find a synagogue (a collection of at least ten Jewish men) in the town of Philippi itself.
Lydia, we learnt, a seller of purple goods, would have been a woman of some wealth, and, as we read in Acts, “The Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was said by Paul”. She was baptised, with her household, and so was the first European convert to Christianity. We celebrated Holy Communion at the baptismal place and quite a number of our party renewed their baptismal vows at the riverside.
Then we visited the Greek Orthodox Church nearby and learnt of the traditions of Orthodox baptism; the godparents are the supporters for the couple’s wedding, best man and bridesmaids; a cross is given to the infant by the priest and he/she has it throughout their life. It is theirs and ultimately will be buried with them at their life’s end. Moving on, and seeing our first swallow of the year en route, from this interesting place, to the extensive archeological site of Philippi itself we were shown just how the ancient highway passing through the town explained its crucial importance.
We learnt of the Christian community that had built no less than six churches in Philippi, with the use of much marble, carving, mosaics and other decoration. While we listened, the profusion of Spring flowers was almost dazzling in the sunshine, whilst yellow, white and tortoiseshell butterflies flitted round us.
We sat or stood reading of Paul’s first visit, of his arrest, beating, imprisonment and ultimate release, giving thanks that we were there and able to envisage the scene of nearly two thousand years earlier, whilst basking in a glorious Greek day. Then it was a long drive, past Thessalonica, to our evening destination of Beroea. I have just witnessed a beautiful sunrise over the city before posting this blog.