Philippi: Where Saint Paul Spoke to the Philippians
Last Sunday, November 16th, Chika’s program was taking a trip to Philippi and Kavala, both in eastern Greece. Luckily for me, they had several open spaces on their bus for the day trip, so I had the chance to go along with them. We left their hotel at 8am, plenty early for a Sunday morning for a group of 18 year olds. The bus ride took us east From Thessaloniki on Via Egnatia, originally a Roman road built in 2nd Century BC, which connected what is now the Adriatic Sea of western Albania and the city of Istanbul. The road is now a highway and still takes the original route. We arrived to the site of Philippi after the journey lasting about 2 hours.
The city of Philippi was established by Philipp II in 356 BC. Its location, about 10 miles north of the Aegean Sea, was selected because of the nearby Mt. Orbelos, which contained a large gold mine. The city became an important strategic location along the Via Egnatia road, and it was finally abandoned in the 14th century after the Ottomans took over.
After the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC, the Battle of Philippi took place here. Caesar’s heirs, Mark Antony and Octavian battled Caesar’s assassins, Brutus and Cassius. Antony and Octavian won the battle here and eventually sent more people to Philippi to increase its population.
Philippi again became an important part of history after Saint Paul preached for the first time on European soil in Philippi. Our tour guide gave us great information, including reading off scripts from the Bible like The Letter to the Philippians.
After Paul arrived with Silas, Timothy, and possibly Luke, he preached to the townspeople from the agora, the city’s main meeting place and commercial area. After exorcising the soul of a slave woman fortune teller, Paul was jailed and chained to a stake when her owner’s found out what he had done. “He [the guard] put them in the innermost cell and secured their feet to a stake.” (Acts 16:24)
The guide takes us in front of the remains of the prison and reads off scripts from the Bible. After being imprisoned, there was a severe earthquake and “The doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose.” The jail guard, amazed by the earthquake, became a believer and allowed Paul and the others to go. After being released, they then moved on to Thessaloniki, where I’m currently living.
Later on in the tour, we drove to the town of Lydia, named after an important Christian woman by the same name. The guide took us down to a small river, flowing with cold water on this autumn afternoon. Here, in this river, is where Saint Paul baptized Lydia, the first European woman to be baptized. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my home.” (Acts 16:15) The apostles then stayed with Lydia throughout the time in Philippi, outside of their jail-time, of course.
Our guide led us around the Agora and the Acropolis (the highest, most important part of the city). She showed us stone seats with small holes in the front which are thought to be toilets. The remains of several churches are still there, and pictures illustrate what the churches once probably looked like. The Ancient Theater is still intact and features performances in the summer months. Lastly, we visited the museum which houses many of the original relics and sculptures, including pottery which is thought to have been created by people from 3,000 BC.
Again, I was shocked and amazed by the archeological sites found in Greece. I had never even heard of Philippi until I was invited to visit it with Chika and her program. Once an important city to the Macedonians and later the Romans, it is now completely abandoned with only ruins remaining, now in the middle of nowhere. Visiting these sites really puts things into perspective. Powerful empire, cities, and people all come and go. They will forever be changing and all become another mark in history.
After Philippi, we had lunch in Kavala, a small port city in eastern Greece. The large lunch of Greek salad, calamari, and whole fish left me in a food coma. However, we took about an hour to walk along the port and get glimpses of the old walled city built on the hill overlooking the city and the sea.
Afterwards, we jumped on the bus and happily slept the entire way back to Thessaloniki.