Tomorrow we go to Szczecin, Poland. This beautiful city in Western Pomerania was our home for two years. We have not been back since we moved in 2008. It is much colder there than Sofia. Winter has not left Northern Europe according to the news. Yet we are very much looking forward to seeing several old friends.
Spring break in the snow? Why not? Good company makes every day warm.
Let me tell you about one of my favorite structures in Bulgaria. Tsarevets is a fortress on a hill in the former Bulgarian capital of Veliko Turnovo. To enter the stronghold an invading army would have two choices. Either they could cross the long and narrow bridge to attack the main gates, or they would have to scale the cliffs to attack the outer wall. Either way would be very difficult and costly.
The stronghold did eventually fall. On July 17, 1393 the Ottoman Empire succeeded in taking and burning the fortress. This event marked the fall of the Bulgarian Empire, and for 500 years Bulgarians would suffer as slaves before regaining their freedom in the late 19th century.
The stronghold remains to this day, and an evening light show now tells the story of the fall of the fortress. It is quit the sight. I would recommend a visit to Tsarevets to anyone who has an interest in Bulgarian or Ottoman history.
Yesterday, Sasha and I saw a great performance of "Йоан Синът на Гърма" ("John Son of Thunder") at Theater Sofia. It's the story of Jesus' close friend John. It was very good. From a technical aspect, the show was well put together. The music was great, and the dancing was amazing. There was significant artistic liberty taken in the story, but that didn't bother me as little is known about John's early life. You have to make stuff up to write an interesting story about young John. Besides, the world was represented as a train station, so it's not exactly like this was supposed to be a pure historical play. There were many powerful songs and great moments in the play, but my favorite was at the end of the first act. John and his friends had been waiting their whole lives for the Messiah to come and free them from Rome. Additionally, John had been seeking the meaning of life since he was a boy. John, his brother James, and friends Peter and Andrew were attending a synagogue service. The synagogue leaders invite a man sitting in the back to come share a word from the scriptures. The man stands up, comes forward, and reads, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good newsto the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He then finished by saying, "Today, this scripture is fulfilled." I know this story well. The man reading was Jesus, and He had just announced that He was the Messiah. But to see it from John's perspective, where this nobody stands up, reads a passage, then drops the bombshell that the prophecy is referring himself was powerful. This was who John was waiting for and suddenly he was there. What a powerful moment! I really enjoyed the play. It was well done and the message was a message of freedom from sin and death that can be found through the light of the world, Jesus. I told Sasha afterward that if understanding that play was the only benefit I ever received from learning Bulgarian, it was worth it.
This week, Sasha and I took a trip to Athens for a conference with the ReachGlobal Europe-South leaders. While there we visited several amazing sights in Athens.
We started our sight seeing day at the parliament building. This building was built in the early half of the 19th century which makes it one of the youngest sights we saw. I was interested in seeing this building as it has been on the news quite a lot frequently (usually with protesters in front of it).
After seeing the parliament building we stumbled upon the Greek version of The White House. This guy was very busy keeping the palace grounds safe.
A few blocks later we saw the Olympic Stadium. This stadium was used for the ancient and modern Olympics. It is also the ending point for the Athens marathon.
The next two sights were the temple of Zeus (top) and Hadrian's Arch. These two ancient relics of a time long gone were impressive, but not nearly as impressive as what was to come. (Look through the arch and you can see where we went next.)
We worked our way toward the Acropolis. To get there, we walked through a very tiny path that almost felt like it was running through back yards and along the roofs of the good people of Greece. It afforded a great view of the city though.
Acropolis means "Sky City." This is a fitting name. High above the city it can be seen from far away. It takes quite a climb to get there, but it is worth it. It was an ancient sight of worship that has been there for thousands of years. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. This is but a portion of what we saw. It truly was a city in the sky.
It was unlike anything I have ever seen before.
After seeing the Acropolis we climbed up nearby Mars Hill. This ancient sight was where the local Roman approved Greek government convened during the time of the Roman Empire. It was also the sight of Paul's famous sermon. As we stood on on the hill a friend of ours read the message Paul delivered to the leaders of Rome nearly 2000 years ago.
“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
That is what he said, and this is what they all saw as he was speaking.
For years I thought of this passage as one of Paul's softer messages. He certainly does show a great tolerance as he compares the Greek gods to the true God who made heaven and earth. Yet there is still a very real element of confrontation as Paul speaks of God not living in temples built by human hands. These words would have brought to mind the massive temple that was right in front of them. "God overlooked such ignorance in the past but now he commands people everywhere to repent." This sermon would have been hard for the learned men he was speaking to to hear. It is interesting that this sermon is overwhelmingly used by theologians today as an example of making the Gospel more appealing to a specific audience. It would appear that Paul had an intent to hit at the heart of the pagan worship of ancient Greece.
That was most of our sigh seeing day in Athens. We ended the day with a sunset walk on the Aegean Sea. It was a great day, and a great week.