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THE CROWN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

 

 

by Rev. M. Meletiadis

Greece is in the limelight this Olympic year of 2004 as the Olympic games return to their birthplace. This global athletic festival could not have left the Church of Jesus Christ uninvolved and indifferent. The New Testament gives first the mark, as it repeatedly uses athletic images, figures of speech and language to convey truths, encourage and call believers to the fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12). The whole of the New Testament but especially the letters of Paul are ample with words that refer to the athletic games of the Greeks. Words (and their derivatives) such as: stadium, race, prize, competing, self-controlling, wreath, boxing (1 Corinthians 9:24-27); goal, prize (Philippians 3:12-14); striving side by side (Philippians 1:27-30); working hard (Colossians 4:13) strive together (Romans 15:30) labored side by side (Philippians 4:3); crown (1 Thessalonians 2:19) rule (Colossians 3:15); disqualify (Colossians 2:18); wrestle(Eph.6:12); train, training (1 Timothy 4: 7-10); race (2 Timothy 4:6). Certainly it is very probable that the Olympic games may not have been the cause for Paul’s use of the athletic language, but the Isthmian games.

 

This athletic language originating from the ancient-Greek gymnasia is not limited to the text of the Gospel only. It is also used in various texts of the post-apostolic period. For example, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas, Ignatius of Antioch in his epistle to Polykarp of Smyrna, use the athletic language. In the apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, Phillip goes on with his personal ‘striving  … so as to bring to completion the stewardship entrusted to me’. In the Acts of Thomas is Christ who appears as our ‘real and unbeatable athlete’. Polykarp with his martyrdom acquires ‘the imperishable crown and the uncontested prize’. The athletic language is so much interwoven with the Church to the point that evangelical hymns have been written with it as the medium, such as:

 

Fight the good fight with all thy might,

Christ is thy strength and Christ thy Right;

Lay hold on life, and it shall be

Thy joy and crown eternally

 

Run the straight race through God’s good grace,

Lift up thine eyes, and seek His face;

Life with its way before us lies,

Christ is the path, and Christ the prize.

 

Though our theme is the ‘Crown of Righteousness’, nevertheless a study of the identity of the prize exclusively would have curtailed the understanding of the biblical message. The crown does not have its own self-sufficiency; it does not exist independent of the fight. On the contrary, it is in direct link and relation with the fight. The fight defines the Crown. It is therefore imperative for the two to be studied together.

 

I. The Ancient-Greek Background
of the Games

 

In order to be able to draw those notions inherent in those athletic images of the New Testament, we ought to examine the ancient-Greek background that generated them. The games had three main features:

A. The Spirit of Competition and Protagonism

 

No other civilization encouraged the training of the mind and the body, not for martial purposes but for gymnastic, equestrian and music competitions. The Greek games offered the citizens the opportunity to compete with each other for strength and dexterity so that the best one is distinguished, in contrast with the example of the Romans, which also had competitions but in which the citizens were passive onlookers, as they watched the gladiators exterminating one another. In the Greek context, fame and victory constituted the goal of each fighter athlete. The contests established the hero (victor) an object of admiration so that his name may be memorialized even after his death. For Homer, the notion of virtue was interwoven with success, achievement, honor, strength, brilliance, and dexterity. The victor in the games was the one distinguishing himself. Homer in the Iliad expresses this ideal, when he writes, ‘urged … again and again to fight ever among the foremost and outvie my peers’ (VI.208).

 

 

B. The Games were Sacred

 

The games were held either in the name of the gods, and within the context of the worship rituals, or in the name of the heroes. For example the funeral games in honor of Patroclus in book XXIII of Iliad. Or the birth of the tragedies from the rituals of the worship of Dionysus in Athens. For this reason the games constituted a form of liturgy, during which the deity was worshipped and honored through the artistic and the athletic successes. By cause of the sanctity of the games, any hostilities between the city-states had to halt. The violation of the truce was a sacrilege committed against the honored deity, before the statue of which the contestants were taking the oath to abide by the rules, prayed for victory and to which later offered the wreath of victory.

 

C. Perfection through Training

 

The gymnasium was the place in which the athletic ideals were promoted. There, the young were educated and trained in various sports events, taught to abide by the rules and finally exert every possible effort. The whole educational scheme of the Gymnasium was imbued with the spirit of competition. Every test was a game and an opportunity for victory against a competitor. Victory was only possible through education and training of those inner strengths and capabilities of the contestants.

 

However, these ideals, as time progressed and especially during the Hellenistic era, did not only lost their attraction but they also became tainted with corruption. This corruption lead the Stoic and Cynic philosophers to despise the training of the body and use the athletic imagery of the games symbolically in the moral fight of the individual between good and evil, symbolizing the fight of virtue.

II. The New Testament and the Games

 

Apostle Paul, when using the athletic language does not aim at approving the games – something impossible for someone with Pharisaic origin - but use it as a paradigm for another fight, in another stadium, with other rules, with another crown of victory. In reality, Paul unmasks the image from the ancient-Greek ideals of competition and protagonism. The athletic image was conductive because the context in which the athlete was competing could be applied, metaphorically to the Christian also. In The Christian fight there is no competition, but emulation, striving together, love, service (Rom. 15:30; Philip. 1:27; Titus 3:8). There is no self-centered protagonism but comradeship, communion, unity, church (John 17). There is no individual choice of the fight but a divine call, ‘I thank him who has given me strength for this, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful by appointing me to the service’ (1 Timothy 1:12), so that the believer may fight as a called servant of Christ, where the judge of the contest Christ may appoint him (Romans 1:1) and so that the divine axiom may be verified, ‘So, it depends not upon man’s will or exertion, but upon God’s mercy’ (Romans 9:16). There is no self-distinction, self-promotion and personal The fight to which Paul, but also each Christian, is called to participate is not some moral, personal or psychological fight, as it has been interpreted on many occasions from the ‘athletic’ New Testament passages. This fight is one: that of the Gospel and the goal of this fight is the victory of the Gospel.

 

fame but the honor and the glory is the One who called him. There is no perishable laurel-leaf wreath but the imperishable crown of righteousness (1 Cor. 9:24-27; Philip. 3:12-14; 2 Tim. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5: 3-4).

 

The fight to which Paul, but also each Christian, is called to participate is not some moral, personal or

psychological fight, as it has been interpreted on

many occasions from the ‘athletic’ New Testament passages. This fight is one: that of the Gospel and the goal of this fight is the victory of the Gospel. For Paul, in all his Epistles, the fight is that of the Gospel. For this fight, which is a good fight (2 Timothy 4:7) ‘… but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ … For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me…  I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings’ (1 Corinthians 9:12, 16, 22, 23). For the sake of the Gospel Paul renounces his rights as an Apostle of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:11-13). The believers are considered as his pride, joy, crown of boasting or his glory (Philip. 2:16; 4:1; 2 Cor. 1:14; 1 Thes. 2:19,20), because the gospel, which he preached, bore fruit. In 2 Thes. 3:1 he asks for prayer, ‘that the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph’. Writing to Timothy he encourages him to strive for the furtherance of the Gospel (1 Timothy 4:10). On his way to Jerusalem, he meets the elders of the Church of Ephesus to whom he also says, ‘… but I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God’ (Acts 20:24). Within this context the hardships he suffers (arrest, imprisonment) he considers as having served ‘… to advance the gospel’ (Philip. 1:12). The admonitions to Timothy  (1 Timothy 4:16) are given so that ‘by so doing’ he will save both himself and his hearers.

 

Nonetheless, it is not only Paul who considers that the fight is that of the Gospel. In the garden of Gethsemane the Lord is in agony for the Church, ‘…and being in agony he prayed more earnestly’ (Luke 22:24). The apostle Peter writes to the pastors, ‘…not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory’ (1 Peter 5:3-4).

 

The fight of the Gospel, as any other fight, has its demands. The goal defines the preconditions, the context, the limits and the rules of the fight. Probably, the most significant demand from the Christian fighter of the Gospel is self-control, ‘every athlete exercises self-control in all things’ (1 Cor. 9:25). Every effort of an athlete shall be futile if he does not train his body according to the match and does not avoid all that could have harmed his bodily condition and endanger the victory. Within this context of self-control for the cause and the victory of the Gospel, Paul experiences the pains (the toils) of the fight (Philip. 2:16), endures the hardships (I pommel my body and subdue it), endure the persecutions (from those outside and those within), wrestles with the heretics, combats against the refusal and the malice of men against the biblical message, finally himself becomes a libation.

 

But not in vain, for each fight has its own end, which is the Crown. And if the athletes pursue the perishable crown, Paul fights for the imperishable  (or the unfading one – 1 Peter 5:4), which is the crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:7-8), or the crown of life (James 1:12), which the just Judge shall award to the fighter of the Gospel, who happily finished to race as victor (2 Timothy 4:7-8). No one not running in this race of the gospel can receive the crown of victory, nor can anyone who does not abide by the rules and the preconditions of the race imposed by Christ the judge of the race (2 Timothy 2:5).

 

Although in Philippians 4:1 and 1 Thessalonians 2:19, the believers of those churches are called by Paul ‘joy and crown’ and ‘crown of boasting’ in the New Testament and within the perspective of the athletic image, the Crown has a future anticipation and not a retrospective orientation. On the other hand, the Crown does not constitute the enjoyment of self-control, faithfulness and completion of the race. It is no a reward. In 2 Timothy 4:8, Paul having made a triumphal retrospection (‘…I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith’) goes on looking to the future with faith and hope. The one enduring ‘to the end’ (Matthew 10:22) trusts the veracity of the One, who not only called him, but as a just Judge, shall give him in the last day the crown of righteousness that awaits him. This is not the certainty of a man, who trusting on and boasting for his achievements, looks forward to the reward. On the contrary, it is the certainty of faith and hope. The one enduring to the end … has confirmed his position within the scheme of the salvation of God and has given to God the glory. His crowning in the last day is the crowning of God Himself on what He created and perfected … This denotes the total absence of the fighting mentality, which usually accompanies the image of the athlete. Not the honor and glory of the ‘spiritual athlete’, but the demanded thing in this good fight of faith for the faith, is the honor of God, who had defined the fight’

 

In contrast to the athletic image of recompense, though the Crown is described in the New Testament, (imperishable, unfading, of life, of righteousness), its identity is not revealed. It may be the eternal life with Christ and the fruit of the Gospel Himself has given. Whatever it may be, it shall be for the glory of the Lord, as all the crowns some day are to be placed at His feet, ‘…the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne …’ (Revelation 4:10).

 

III. The Christian, the Church
and the Fight of the Gospel

 

Though life is a fight and in its course there are many individual fights that each man is called upon to face (economic, educational, professional, family, psychological, social etc.) nevertheless the gospel speaks of one fight. The fight of faith of the Gospel and I would like that we confine ourselves to this. In this fight every believer has been called upon to fight by the same Judge of the event, Jesus Christ. And from the moment he has been called, he ought to run this race without looking back, without becoming disappointed, burned out, but with endurance and patience to ‘run’ ‘in season and out of season’. The fight does not come to an end till he reaches the finish line on the day when the Lord shall call him from this life. As long as the Lord allows him to live, the Christian stands between two historical points: of the beginning and of the end. He is called upon to run from the beginning to the end, where the Crown of Righteousness awaits him, which he cannot enjoy if he does not fight for the Gospel till the fight is over. For this reason, he is called upon to fight within the context of self-control so that he might be enabled to fight the good fight, which means self-denial, so that nothing can become an obstacle. To that purpose the believer not only controls, pommels and subdues himself but also uses the gifts of the Spirit in the fight of the Gospel. Christ, Paul, Peter, the Apostles, the Fathers and so many other saints of God, ran this race. This is the race run by a young man, William Borden, an offspring of the Borden family, owners of the large multinational dairy company bearing the same name. In 1904, he traveled on a cruiser over the whole world, as a present from his family for his graduation from high school. Returning home, he studied at Princeton and thereafter at Princeton Seminary, to prepare himself for the work of God. During his theological preparation and having decided to dedicate himself to missionary work, William Borden wrote on the last page of his Bible the words ‘No Reserves’. After seven years’ studies and despite the pleading of his family and the needs of the family business, he decided to travel to China and work among Moslem populations, preaching the Gospel. The call of God preceded the family businesses. When leaving and abandoning the whole family inheritance, Borden It is high time for the Church to leave behind those things dividing it, to leave behind each form of grouping and ‘party spirit’ and run in this good fight that unites, or at least ought to unite since the Gospel is One!

added another phrase on the last page of his Bible ‘No Retreat’. On the way to China he became ill with acute meningitis and died in Egypt. Later, when someone opened the Bible of William Borden, he came upon the third phrase, ‘No Regret’.

 

Nowadays, the work of the Gospel needs fighters desperately, who shall run with self-control for the sake of the race. Who shall decide to miss the professional, social and financial well being for the sake of the Gospel. Who shall enter the fight (the pulpit, the mission field) and without looking back shall run ‘with no reservation, with ‘no retreat’ and with ‘no regret’ for the prize of the heavenly calling.

 

In that fight of the Gospel the Church is called upon to run. The fight is for the Gospel and not in favor of dogmatic differentiations of each individual practising church. It is high time for the Church to leave behind those things dividing it, to leave behind each form of grouping and ‘party spirit’ and run in this good fight that unites, or at least ought to unite since the Gospel is One! No option of choice is offered for the fight. The Lord Himself has chosen it (Matthew 28:28) and calls the Church to run if it wishes to receive the Crown of Righteousness and of life! In the foreword of the English version of the New Testament published by the Bible Society on account of the Metropolis of Demetrias and Almyros that is to be distributed to the visitors during the Olympic games, the Most Reverend Ignatius writes, ‘Feeling that it is our responsibility to spread the Word of God to all men, it is our great joy to present this version of the New Testament in English. This version is intended for people who shall visit our city for the Olympic games. Some are Orthodox Christians, some come from different traditions. We wish, from the depth of our hearts, that this publication may become the beginning for the relief of the thirst of men and for the renewal of their minds, bringing forth fruit and becoming a challenge for them for the running of a victorious spiritual race’ Amen!     Ì

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                       

Rev. M. Meletiadis is pastor of the Greek Evangelical Church of Volos. He is also the Moderator of the General Synod of the G.E.C.

 

 


                                                                               


BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

§ Life Application Commentary, ‘2 Timothy’

§ MacArthur John, 2 Timothy, Chicago, Moody Press, 1995

§ Mounce William, Word Commentary, ‘2 Timothy’

§ Pfitzner Victor C., Paul and the Agon Motif, Leiden: E.J.Brill, 1967

§ The New Testament, Metropolis of Demetrias and Almyros, Athens: The Greek Bible Society, 2004

 

 


 

 

The ancient athletic ideal and the athletic language of apostle Paul

 

by Dr. Miltiades Angelatos

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘‘I do not run aimlessly…’’

Even the most superficial student of St. Paul’s life shall not fail to observe the fact that ‘an athletic language constantly springs out of his pen’ And this is done with such a simplicity and success, with such a wondrous inductiveness, that the question instinctively is raised: Is that fervent presentation of Christian life and service as an athletic event, a choice of a teaching method based on parables, so to speak, indeed on a subject which the apostle knew that was so dear to ‘those participating in Greek learning?’ Or is it that, without excluding neither the usefulness nor the feasibility of such a method, the writings of St. Paul display an athlete, who thinks, speaks and teaches in a language that expresses him more fully …

For reasons that shall be evident, as the story unfolds, we have selected the temple of Isthmian Poseidon, 12 kilometers from the capital of ancient Achaia, Corinth, in order to approach the answer.

* * *

Even in the first quarter of the 6th century B.C. there were in Greece, indeed in the particular area, which later on during the Roman rule came to be called as Provincia Achaia, four places which with their respective temple sites, constituted poles of attraction and centers of unity of Greeks everywhere. These were, Olympia, Delphi, Isthmus and Nemea. The games that were held around these temples, in their respective order, were called Olympia, Pythia, Isthmia and Nemea. And whilst, each one of them had its distinct peculiarities, nevertheless all four Panhellenic events were governed by commonly instituted rules. These places were the ‘common altars’, before which ‘the small countries (city-states) amalgamated into one’

The first, of course, so far their initiation and their Panhellenic esteem, were the Olympian games. The games began in 776 B.C., which is the first documented accurate chronology of Greek history, and up to 393 A.D. when they were interrupted by the known edict of Theodosius the Great, 291 Olympiads were held. Out of these, the 75th of 480 B.C. is worth mentioning, during which Leonidas with his three hundred fighters were fighting in Thermopiles to stem the Persian invader, in Olympia the sturdy youth were competing for the wreath of the wild olive tree. A fact that prompted a staff officer of Mardonius, according to Herodotus, to exclaim, ‘alas Mardonius, against what sort of men you lead us to fight, who are not fighting for gold, but for virtue only’. And this is so real and noble that in the next Olympiad (the 76th of 476), as Plutarch mentions, when Themistocles, the victor of Salamis appeared in the stadium, the spectators saw him as an Olympic winner and ‘throughout the day their eyes were turned upon him, forgetting the contestants’.

The crowning of an Olympic winner with the wild olive tree wreath in front of the Temple of Zeus, the paramount figure of the Greek pantheon, was the highest aspiration of a mortal, whilst the city from which the winner originated, when welcoming him, used to demolish, symbolically, part of its walls, since it had such kind of youths as its defenders. During the games the athletic events taking place included, stadium (192,7 meters run), double course (two stadia), the long course (20 stadia, approx. 4 kilometers), pentathlon (stadium, wrestling, javelin throw, discus, long jump), wrestling, boxing, pancration (an event between wrestling and boxing), running in armor, chariot races, horse racing, even poetic and oratory contests. 

To these games, as well as to any other Panhellenic games, only Greeks were accepted, since ‘the game is not for barbarian contestants but for Greeks’ and for all the Greeks. A look, for example, today at the stadium of Delphi, attests for this equality of all the Greeks, since no distinct place was reserved for anyone, expect for the Umpires, for which there were stone seats. Slaves, murderers, sacrilegious persons or persons or cities that had violated the sacred truce were excluded from the events.

The games were held in summer during the full moon of August in the even years and of September in single years, every five years. This was kept punctually throughout the duration of the games extending over a millennium, with the only exception being the 211th Olympiad that was held with a two years’ delay, further to an order of Nero, who wished to participate. When the time of the games was nearing, the heralds of Olympia announced the ‘sacred truce’ throughout Greece, during which every hostility ceased, the death penalties were postponed and the entry of an army or even of armed individuals in the area of the temple was prohibited. Thus, the athletes could arrive timely and safely to Olympia and begin their training under the supervision of the Elian judges.

The year of the beginning, or rather of the official reorganization of the Pythian games is given as the year 583 B.C., that is, after the First Sacred War (596-585 B.C.). The games were held every four years, in the third year of each Olympiad, during the month of Voukatios (between August and September). Initially, the games were held in Krisa, and around the end of the 5th century B.C., were transferred to the stadium and theater of Delphi, in honor of Apollo and in remembrance of his victory against the subterranean dragon Python. They were held under the auspices of the Amphictyons (a Council composed of deputies chosen by the States of Greece), whilst to the victors was given as a prize a wreath of bay leaves, which was the sacred tree of the god. The Pythian games were initially games of music, and later on equestrian and gymnastic games were added based on the model of the Olympic games. The famous Charioteer, this original copper statue with the implanted eyes, of the second quarter of the 5th century B.C., is a votive offering of the tyrant of Gela, Polyzalos, for the victory of his chariot in the four-horsed chariot race.

Third in order come the Isthmian games, since the fame and the respect of the Delphic Temple, ranked as second, after the Olympian, the Pythian games. However, the very significant position of Corinth, the important political events taking place usually in that city and its emergence, from 27 B.C., as the capital of Achaia, made, in essence, the Isthmian games, second in participation and importance, in the rank of the Panhellenic games.

The Athenians attributed the founding of the games to Theseus and his victory against the monster of Isthmus, Sine, that is why their participation in the games was always important. However, another tradition presents Sisyphus as their founder, indeed with the characterization of the games as burial, in honor of Melikertes-Palaemon, son of the king of Orchomenos, Athamas and of Ino, daughter of Kadmos. After his drowning in the Moulouridan stone of Saronicos, a dolphin took and washed him ashore at Isthmus and since then, as Pausanias informs us, ‘the Corinthians keep this game’.

The games were initially local, but by the years 580-570 B.C. turned into Panhellenic. The supervision of the games was, of course, under Corinth, and as Pausanias attests, ‘The Isthmian games did not cease to be held, not even in times of insurrection by the Corinthians, but throughout the desertion of the city (from 146 B.C.) the games were allowed to go on under the Si-
cyonians, and immediately after the inhabitation of the city (46 B.C.), the honor returned to their masters’ Probably in the year 2 A.D. Corinth essentially regained the supervision of the games. During the course of the games the Sacred Truce or the ‘Isthmian Solemn Treaty’ was effective. The games were held during July of the 1rst year or during May of the third year of each Olympiad.

The Isthmian games included the usual Olympic events (track events, hurling events, wrestling, pentathlon, pancreation), as well as music, oratory and painting competitions. The latter were so famous that Corinth reached the point of being considered the homeland of ancient Greek painting. The prize was initially a pine wreath and later on a wreath of celery, and indeed, according to Oscar Broneer, a withered wreath, indicative of the burial character of the Isthmian games.

Indeed, after the battle of Action in the year 30 B.C., a second series of events were added to the isthmian games, known as Caesarea. They used to take place every four years and together with the established isthmian games, made up the ‘Major Isthmian’ games. Thus we have Isthmian games in the years, 28, 24, 20 B.C. and Major Isthmian, in 30, 26, 22 etc.

Moreover, by the emperor Tiberius (14-37 A.D.), the imperial games were also instituted – named after the emperors – which lasted up to Trajanus or Marcus Aurelius (98-180 A.D.).

For the fourth in order Panhellenic games, the Nemean, held in the Argolic plane of Nemea, we know very little. The excavations of Steve Miller, which recently, besides other findings, brought to light the biggest part of the stadium, half kilometer to the South East of the 7th century Basilica  (built on the spot of the ancient Gymnasium), are possibly to shed more light on these games and on their Panhellenic character.

These games also had a burial character, since they were established by the Seven on Thebes in honor of young Ofeltes, who died after snakebite. That is, here too the wreath for the prize was of celery (though not a withered one) and the solemn garment worn by the Umpires. Another tradition mentions Hercules as the founder of these games, after the killing of the lion of Nemea. Nevertheless, it is historically established that the games were held since 573 B.C., every two years and that Zeus – as in the case of Olympia – was the master of these games. It appears that the events taking place did not have the variety of those of the other Panhellenic organizations and were limited to running events, wrestling, pancreation, pentathlon and races (equestrian, chariot).

These were then the four revered by all Panhellenic games and unique was the honor ascribed to those few, which in all four of them had managed to distinguish themselves. One of those was Dorieus, the youngest of the three Olympic winner sons of the great Olympic champion in boxing, Diagoras of Rhodes. Pausanias mentions the following about him ‘for Dorieus son of Diagoras except the games at Olympia, had eight wins at the Isthmian games, one in eight in the Nemean games, and that he was crowned at the Pythian ones’. However, regardless of how much respected were those four Temple sites with the Panhellenic character of their games, obviously they were not the only ones. Athletics, which in ancient Greece had the meaning of education, that is, of the harmonious training of the body and the spirit (the mythological model of this notion is the tutor of Achilles, the Centaur Cheiron, who was a trainer and a wise man), with the purely devotional character of the games, since they were always held in the setting of some temple site, had since very early (not later than the 4th century B.C.) resulted in each Greek city having its own seasonal games, usually dedicated to their protector god. ‘No major temple existed in Greece, that did not combine worship with the organization of games’.

The Panathenian games in Athens each year and the greater Panathenian games on the 3rd year of each Olympiad, the Eleutheria in Plateaes, the Delia in Delos, the Jacinthia in Sparta, the Olympics, the Epidavria are but a few of the local games in Greek territory. At the same time, the wrestling schools and the gymnasia were the places in which children aged 8 and over and youth, under the vigilant eye of the tutor and the trainer, were subject to a disciplined training, with equal emphasis on the bodily exercise and the development of the brain. It has to do really with the comprehensive ideal of the ‘good and virtuous’ which is ‘not translated nor is understood outside ancient Greece’.

The expeditions of Alexander the Great to the East, transplanted to the populous centers he established the radiance of the Greek spirit and of this athletic ideal, always interwoven with the Greek language, culture and religion. Indeed, Alexander himself following the custom of honoring the dead heroes with burial games (e.g. ‘the feats in Patroclus’ times’) organized games after his every significant victory, thanking the gods and honoring the dead heroes. In Babylon, for example, 3.000 athletes participated in the games he organized, to honor his dead friend Hephaestion.

This transplantation then, was followed by an extensive flourishing, assisted, in its turn, by the animated interest first of the kings of the Hellenistic states and thereafter of the Romans up to Hadrian and Antoninus (if we are to exclude the cruel behavior of Syllas and Nero).  ‘The athletic ideal’ writes V. Kyrkos, ‘that was born in the ancient cities and reached its culmination in the war with the Medes, with the conquests of Alexander the Great and the establishment of the Hellenistic kingdoms, exceeded the frontiers of Greek territory. Wherever Hellenism was rooted traditional athletic venues were built and this does not stand true for major cities only, but for small and distant settlements’.

 

 

 

‘NIKE’: Work of Peonios from Mende, of the 465 – 455 B.C. decade, thanksgiving offering of the Messenians to Zeus. It is found in Olympia.

That ‘wherever’ undoubtedly includes the native city of St. Paul, Tarsus, which, as we know, was not a small city at all, nor was it insignificant. Built on the two shores of the river Kydnos (the river in which Alexander the Great swam, after his descent from the Taurus mountains and became deathly sick) possessed a fertile soil that from the 5th up to the 7th century A.D. afforded the city an uninterrupted prosperity. Its imposing position, on the other hand, in the Southern edge of Taurus Mountains, made up the only passage to the mountain range in question and its seaport, Regma, afforded the city an even greater significance. During the times of Alexander’s heirs the city belonged to the Seleucids and was the location in which the grandiose meeting of Anthony with Cleopatra occurred. Tarsus was the city in which the emperor Tacitus died and the place in which the emperor Julian was buried. It was the homeland of many outstanding men of culture and letters, such as Artemidorus and Diodorus, of the tragedian poet Dionisidus, of the Stoics Antipater and Archemides and of Athenodorus, finally of the Academician Nestor and of the philosophers Plouteades and Diogenes

The city had a stadium and a gymnasium on the banks of the river Kydnos, and indeed during the imperial Roman times at least four athletic festivals taking place regularly in the city are mentioned. Strabo, in fact, mentions a scandal that occurred a few years prior to the birth of St. Paul, involving some assistant trainer appointed by Marcus Aurelius, as well as repair works that took place in the stadium. Finally, we know from the list of Olympic winners, of the winner in 85 A.D. Apollophanes, a native of Tarsus.

Such was the city in which St. Paul was born. And whilst we lack clear information of his any active participation in some games, in view of the fact that as a young man he should have had departed for Jerusalem to pursue his theological studies, it would nevertheless be far stretched to argue that his love for the Greek games was less than that for the Greek language and culture. After all, we have already stated that athletics was education. Why should we dismiss the fact that young Saul stood as a student or at least as a spectator in the wrestling ring of Tarsus among the 8 – 14 years old kids under the instructions of the trainer or later in the gymnasium among 14-18 years old teenagers under the care of their tutor for the strengthening of the body and the cultivation of the mind!

After all the objection having to do with the child of a devout Jewish family being prevented by cause of his national tradition having any participation or presence in gymnastic events is being questioned by H. A. Harris on the basis of a series of arguments in his book, ‘Greek athletes and athletics’.

Nevertheless, the athletic language of St. Paul cannot be the result of knowledge or childhood impressions, regardless of the fact that the latter remain indelibly impressed in the memory for life. In his missionary activity, St. Paul, visited cities and places where there were Temples of the Greek pantheon and certainly, next to them, theaters, stadia, gymnasia and wresting rings. Such cities were, for example, Salamis and Paphos in Cyprus, Ephesus and Antioch in Asia Minor, Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens and Corinth in Greece.

Leaving aside every other city, even his shattering experience in the stadium and the theater of Ephesus (Acts 19:21-40), let us stop here for a while, in the neighboring with Corinth, Temple of Isthmia. A temple of such a significance that even the chauvinist Socrates appears to have visited it, during his single exit from his beloved city Athens.

 

Tangle of wrestlers. The so-called ‘ram’ position. The two wrestlers push each other head on,
one trying to overturn the other (National Archeological Museum – Athens).

As is known, St. Paul stayed in Corinth and its environs for ‘a year and six months’ (Acts 18:11; 18, 2 Corinthians 1:1). This period of time, which is the longer than any other spent in Greek territory, we already placed from the spring (May) of the year 50 till autumn of 51 A.D., whilst it is established that within that period, and precisely in spring of 51 A.D. the Isthmian games were held. This is firstly established by the fact that the Isthmian games were held in the first and third year of each Olympiad, and in view of the fact that according to the aforementioned list of Olympic winners the 207th Olympiad was held in the year 49 A.D., the Isthmian games should have had taken place in 49 and 51 A.D. Verification of this may be provided by another Olympiad, in relation to another historically established holding of the Isthmian games. It has to do with the 146th Olympiad, which took place in the year 196 B.C. and we know that during the same year the isthmian games were held, during which Coinctius Flamininus, announced the decree of the Roman Senate, for the ‘independence’ of the Greek cities from Macedonia. On the other hand, the inscriptions data that we have at our disposal from the elaborate excavations in Isthmia and Corinth, have given us, besides other information, the names of the sponsors of the isthmian games from 3 to 181 A.D. Among them we have L. Rutilius, a name of well known, from other sources, Corinthian family of the era, as Sponsor of the Isthmian games of 51 A.D. and of his son C. Rutilius in the position of the Introducer. The Sponsor was always a distinguished person of the society, undertaking due to the honor accorded to him and on his own expenses to support the organization of the games. A committee of Umpires (probably 10 in number) was assisting him, whilst the office of the Introducer (usually the son of the sponsor) ‘was an inferior office linked with the Major Isthmian games and the Imperial games, which in the period under study were already added to the program’.

 

 

It is said that they asked the worthy craftsman of the ‘Charioteer’, why such a meticulous job, especially in the feet of the statue, since, as is known, they were hidden inside the chariot? Who was to see them? Probably no man, was the answer. But certainly the god to whom the statue is dedicated! What a lesson, really! …

St. Paul then, came to Corinth, when the Sponsor of the Isthmian games of the year 51 (or rather of the ‘Major Isthmian’ games), was already appointed. When the preparations had begun and the pottery workshops were preparing the famous Corinthian amphorae, the wine cups, the purses and the drinking cups for the coming festivals. When the painters were busy with their pictures for the great competitions and the craftsmen of Anatolia, settled in Corinth with skilful grace were weaving the cloth and sewing the tents to be sold to the visitors and the athletes, the official spectators and the crowds of all sorts from all over Greece and the Mediterranean that were to be streaming in for the ‘Major Isthmian’ games.

Perhaps by cause of the unique possibilities for the spreading of his message that this gathering of people was to offer, St. Paul was to dispense with the waiting in Athens for the return of his fellow workers Timothy and Silas (Acts 17:16-18; 1 Thess. 3:1,2) and come to Corinth, where his craft as a tent maker could naturally introduce him to the great circuit of preparations for the impending Isthmian games. Such a joining was made indeed with great ease when he met his compatriots Aquila and Priscilla ‘and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked’ (Acts 18:3).

St. Peter, if in that situation, would probably not have made the same choice. And even if he had decided to do so, by cause of some expediency, he would soon have felt that the whole environment, the atmosphere, the discussions, all these would have been alien to him. But not so for St. Paul. Not only because the athletic ideal would have appeared – as already explained – since his childhood age, familiar to him, but also due to the fact that he was, under one sense, an athlete; an athlete of the spirit.

His bodily built may have been, as the ancient Christian tradition wants it, that of a small in stature and slender man. But this did not prevent him from being an athlete, not only in soul, but also in body, a runner and indeed a long distance runner, whom if Homer was to know, he would not have hesitated describing, as Achilles, ‘swift-running man’.

This is apparent from his modest boast to the Corinthians, when he enumerates ‘with far greater labors, and often near death, with countless beatings, five times I have received by the Jews the forty lashes less one, three times I have been beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I have been shipwrecked, a night and a day I have been adrift at sea, on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger from false brethren, in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in cold and exposure’ (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).

The one writing those things is definitely not an armchair philosopher, nor a man of the tiers. His slender, vigorous built, was suitable, as the athletic practice concedes, for a long distance runner. And his entire long, eventful and persistent service, proved him to be an athlete of that particular event. He did not run ‘aimlessly’ and did not run ‘in vain’ (1 Corinthians 9:26; Galatians 2:2). He run with the ‘spend and be spend’ philosophy of life and the ‘I may accomplish my course’ as his unwavering aim (2 Corinthians 12:15; Acts 20:24). That is why when the time of his departure from this life finally came, he could triumphally exclaim ‘I have fought … I have kept … I have finished’ (2 Timothy 4:8). The first shows the nature of his work, the second the legality of the game and the third the achievement of the long distance runner, who managed to finish, without prematurely abandoning the long lasting race.

The spring therefore of the year 50 A.D. found the apostle in the cosmopolitan capital of Achaia and the first port of the Mediterranean, busy making tents for the Isthmian games of the coming year. And the extent in which the tents were needed during the games, is evident by the fact that only in the 2nd century A.D. a program for the building of public houses, including accommodation for the athletes and visitors of the games had initiated by the high priest of the temple of Poseidon P. Licinius Priscus Iuventianus. Similar was the need and the situation in Olympia up to the 4th century B.C., when ‘Leonidaion’ was built, for the hospitality of the official foreigners.

Luke the historian, who could have obviously enlightened us for this side of St. Paul’s stay in Corinth, does not go into details, e.g. ‘And he argued in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded Jews and Greeks’ (Acts 18:4). That is, we do not know how many of the arguments that we tied with the vivid images of the athletic life and action were utilized by the apostle. How many times, in the company of Aquila and Priscilla, or perhaps of some from the household of Stephanas, he took the road to the east of Corinth and went through the curved hills towards the Temple of Isthmia, to hand over his tents, but much more so the message burning in his heart, of which carriers to the whole of the Mediterranean, the West and the East could had become those among the athletes, the mere visitors and the official spectators who would have embraced it. Also, which of the spiritual thoughts he shared with some of his close associates, Timothy, Luke, Silas or Erastus, when watching the runners, the jumpers and the other athletes of the Isthmian games. How many times he might have uttered the antithesis, ‘They … but we’ (1 Corinthians 9:25)?

Luke, as we mentioned, in his incomparable conciseness, managed in 18 verses of the 18th chapter of his Acts, to insert 18 months of life and activity of St. Paul in Corinth and Achaia. Nevertheless, this omission of Luke, may, up to a point, be compensated by some significant expressions of St. Paul, taken as reference points by his readers on matters known, discussed and accepted by the sender and the receivers of his letters.

To the Corinthians, first of all. The ‘do you not know’ of the passage 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, with the emphasis given by the negative question type of speech, speaks for something well known by both sides, the Corinthians and St. Paul. The aforementioned antithesis ‘they … but you’, obviously directs the thought of the Corinthian believers to a substantial verbal teaching and perhaps to teaching by visual aids of their spiritual father, for their athletic participation in the ‘good fight of faith’ and its superiority against other contests (1 Timothy 6:12). The ‘perishable wreath’ is certainly referring to the wreath of the Isthmian games, which was neither of bay leaves (Pythia), nor of wild olive tree (Olympia), but of celery, indeed of a withered one, as mentioned above, which appears so insignificant when is compared to the ‘imperishable crown’ the ‘crown of righteousness, which (not some human hand but) the Lord … will award’ (2 Timothy 4:8). Moreover, the reasoning ‘lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified’ shows the reasoning St. Paul did, seeing in the games the heralds announcing the victory of others, without themselves being necessarily victors, ‘lest by proclaiming the victory of others, I miss the prize’.

And it is not only the letters to the Corinthians. The same athletic language is evident in the letters that were written from Corinth during his 18 months stay there in 50/51 A.D. (1 and 2 Thessalonians) during his three monthly winter stay in 56/57 A.D. (Romans and Galatians), even in the remaining seven letters written, as is known, after his first mission to Achaia.

 To the Thessalonians, he would remind that ‘in much affliction’ he preached the Gospel and that from Beroea, Athens and now from Corinth his thought and prayer is that he would be near them. Near them shall also be the emissaries of his fatherly spiritual care. Near them would be his writings full of love. And he is involved in this struggle ‘willing to be left behind at Athens alone … for now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord’, ‘For what is our … crown’ not a perishable and transient crown but that which is never fading ‘ … is it not you? For you are our glory and joy’ (1 Thessalonians 2:3, 19; 3:2,9).

But not only to the Thessalonians that the ‘but we’ is valid. To the Philippians he shall latter on use the same expression and shall assure them that they are ‘his joy and crown’ when they stand ‘firm in the Lord’ (4:1). Because for them also he fought hard, as he is reminding them, encouraging them also to become ‘engaged in the

cont. p. 19
 





 

same conflict which you saw and now hear to be mine’ (1:30). He shall also encourage them to ‘to strive side by side’ with him ‘for the faith of the gospel’ (1:27), as Euodia and Syntyche had strove side by side with him in the same cause  (4:3).

 

Sketch of the Isthmian Temple site

cont. from. p. 14

Writing to the Colossians, he tells them, ‘For I want you to know how greatly I strive for you’ (2:1), how he toils ‘striving with all the energy’ which God “mightily inspires” within him (1:29), having next to him one of their own, Epahras, who is always remembering them ‘earnestly in his prayers, that’ they ‘may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God’ (4:12). Because, they are also striving in the arena of the Christian faith, life and service, he is to draw their attention to the fact that they ought to heed to those luring them with false piety. ‘Let no one disqualify you’ (2:18) is the warning. Here, a very rare Greek verb is used, meaning, ‘be careful lest someone deprive you of the prize belonging to you’.

We could have followed this tireless minister of the Gospel, mile after mile, in his over twenty years run, from the beginning of his first missionary journey in 46 A.D., up to his imprisonment and martyrdom in Rome in 67 A.D. A very rough long distance run and a constant ‘I run’ is the biography of this champion of the Spirit. But if the context of the present study does not allow it, a last but nevertheless impressive instant we may have when this runner of Christ reaches the last finishing line. He is about to finish the race with the ‘I have fought … I have kept … I have finished’ and the Divine Judge, the Lord is to award him the ‘wreath’ (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

But before this, he feels the need, as is the case with any genuine athlete, to pass on the torch to someone else, who, after him, shall go on with the run and the fight. And he chooses Timothy, who, ‘as a son with a father served’ with him in the gospel (Philippians 2:19-23; 2 Timothy 4:9; 21). From Nikopolis, sends him his first advisory letter in the winter of 66/67 A.D. and from a cell in Rome the second in spring of 67 A.D. Both letters show an accomplished and worthy champion, who is passing on his whole experience and his incomparable passion to his spiritual child:

Returning then to the question we raised in the beginning, we feel that the answer should be unreservedly positive. Paul was an athlete. Not only his writings attest this, but also all the archeological and historic facts to which reference was made corroborate it.

 

‘Train yourself in godliness, 1 Tim. 4:7,

 ‘For to this end we told and strive’, 1 Tim. 4:10

‘Fight the good fight’, 1 Tim. 6:12

‘Take hold of the eternal life’ 1 Tim. 6:12

‘An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules’, 2 Tim. 2:5.

He competed in the arena of spiritual life and service with self-control ‘in all things’ (1 Corinthians 9:25), whilst his fight, without having to descend to Palaemon in order to take the oath under the torchlight, was unquestionable ‘according to the rules’ (2 Tim. 2:5). He also competed in the arena of bodily exercise and has given us with the ‘I pommel my body and subdue it’ (1 Cor. 9:27) the model of the Christian ideal for life and service, which is with body and soul to ‘press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call’ (Philippians 3:14). Whatever he likely saw and experienced in Tarsus, his Hellenistic education, his travels to places with Hellenistic brilliance, temples and stadia and especially his stay in Corinth, gave him the opportunity to see, judge and compare, even to reassure himself that he was not ‘contending against flesh and blood’ (Eph. 6:12) and that his own spiritual and bodily ‘labor’ and ‘run’ was not ‘in vain’ (Philippians 2:16). Unquestionably, in the list of the Spiritual Olympic champions, the apostle Paul, occupied an entirely distinct position. ‘He was the first after the One’.

A visit to the archeological site and the interesting local museum, as a sequel to the above thoughts, is, we believe, entirely useful.


 

A visit to the site

The Temple of Isthmian Poseidon, the Paleamonio (the wrestling venue) and two Stadiums and the Theater, constitute the basic buildings of the Temple, which today’s visitor may spot, after the excavations that took place from 1952-60, by the American archeologist Oscar Broneer, for whom Corinth became a second native land and by Paul Clement from 1967 to 1986.

 

The first Temple of Poseidon was built in the center of an artificial backfill square, around the first half of the 7th century B.C. This was a longitudinal temple of 40 x 14m dimensions of archaic style with wooden columns of 7 x 19m and with an inner colonnade. It appears that this is the temple which Aeschylus calls ‘house of the earth- shaking-god of sea’. In 470 B.C., in which the temple was destroyed by fire, had an exceptional wealth of offerings, many of which dated back to the times of Kypselus and Periander. Impressive is the vessel for lustral water  (is on display in the local museum), a splendid art specimen of the mid 7th century B.C., seated on four female figures and placed in the entrance of the Temple. It was used for the ceremonial purification of the hands of the priests and of the worshippers, in general. ‘This practice’, as attested by Broneer, ‘was continued till the imperial Roman times, as was established by a related inscription of 1rst or of the beginning of 2nd century A.D.’ .26

 

A second temple was built in the place of the first one during the 470 – 460 B.C. decade, also colonnaded (6 x 13m), of Doric style of limestone. The facades and the decorations of the pediments were of marble. It appears that Poseidon and his wife Ampitrite were jointly worshipped in this place, in which their statues were erected. Besides these, Pausanias, in his visit, saw in the interior of the temple the offerings of Herod Atticus ‘four gilded horses … two gold tritons by the horses … a chariot with Amhitrite and Poseidon and a child standing … a pedestal holding up a child Aphrodite and sea Nymphs on both sides’ .27

 

This second temple was also destroyed by fire, though not completely, in the year 390 B.C. during the Corinthian war. Thus, it was rebuilt in its initial form and with some reparations made by the Romans (replacement of the floor and of other parts by marble), remained the same up to the times of St. Paul and later (it was destroyed at the end of the 4th century A.D., or later during Justinian’s times 527-565 A.D.)

The Altar of Poseidon, does not appear to have existed in the archaic temple, though the ashes and the half burned animal bones found in front of its eastern side shows that this was the place of sacrifices. Later on, however, a longitudinal altar of approx. 40 meters long was built, which did the Romans destroy in the year 146 B.C., whilst the whole of the temple in Isthmia suffered serious damages during the century intervening between Mommious and Caesar (146-46 B.C.) A second altar, after the return of the Isthmian games under the supervision of Corinth, was built in the beginnings of 1rst century A.D., shortly before the visit of St. Paul to Corinth. At a distance of almost 20 meters from the southeastern corner of the temple, the limits of the first stadium started, from which only the ‘starting blocks’ have been preserved, a different starting manner of the runners from any other stadium of the antiquity. The umpire standing up inside a hole on the top of a stone isosceles triangle, held in his hand 16 threads, which, when pulled them dropped a horizontal piece of wood, standing before the runner and thus allowing him to start. In this manner all 16 runners were starting at the same time (a representation of which we have in the local museum).

 

This stadium soon proved to be insufficient and since its extension, at least towards the part of the temple, was impossible, another stadium was built around 4th century B.C. It was again located to the southeast of the temple, at a distance of some 100 meters from it this time, on the hollowness of the foot of the hill, which is called today Rache. The trial excavation revealing the starting blocks and the finish, give the length of the stadium as 181,15 meters, that is, smaller than the Olympian stadium by 11,12 meters. The life of this stadium extended over 7 or 8 centuries. Today it is again backfilled and its position is barely visible under the thickly planted orange trees.

 

To the northeast of the Temple, in a small hill the concavity of the ancient stadium is visible, which should have been built at the end of the 5th or the first half of the 4th century. It underwent several repair works and arrangements during the Hellenistic years and up to the visit of Nero in 67 A.D. Today, its semi-circled orchestra and sidewalks are visible.

In the position of the first stadium, which appears to have been abandoned during the Roman times, the wrestling arena was built, dedicated to Melikertes-Palaemon, to which the Isthmian games were dedicated. It was a circular building with Ionic columns, housing in its interior, as we see it in many Corinthian coins, the statue of a dolphin, discharging in Isthmus the body of the drowned Palaemon. Under the floor there was the Innermost Sanctuary. May lamps that are displayed in the local museum were lighting the Innermost Sanctuary and the dark passageway leading to it. It appears that this was the place in which the oaths of the athletes were given, pledging that they would compete lawfully, and as Pausanias informs us ‘if any among the Corinthians or among the aliens commits perjury, there is no way of escape from the given oath’28. Was St. Paul aware of this, when making it plain to Timothy, ‘An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules’. (2 Timothy 2:5).

According to another view in this innermost sanctuary mystic rituals were taking place during the nocturnal worship of Palaemon, in which event the entire area around the wrestling arena was lighted up by lamps. The final climax of the ritual was always the sacrifice of a black bull, offered as a burned offering. The characterization of Palaemon as a hero, did not grant any right to the consumption of the slaughtered animal.

‘An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will grant you understanding in everything.’
(2 Timothy 2:5-7).

The local museum is divided into two sections. In the first are displayed the findings from the Temple of Isthmia. Most of them originate from the archaic temple and are: pottery pieces, mural pieces from the exterior of the temple, archaic vessels, various votive offerings, two golden Persian coins, the vessel of lustral water that was already mentioned, the bust of a statue of a female that was attributed to Amphitrite and two Panathenean amphorae. In the same area there are various prehistoric findings from Isthmus, clay idols and matrixes, a rich collection of lamps of many epochs, dumb-bells, javelin tips. Representation of the Temple, of the runner’s starting blocks, as well as photographs of the various ceremonial caves found in the northeastern part of the temple, complete the displays of the first section.

In the rear section of the museum is the hall of Cechrees. Its basic displays are 14 specimens of Opus Sectile paintings (a kind of glass mosaic). They originate from 124 paintings, which in 375 A.D. were transferred to Cechrees, to be placed in the temple of Isis. They were abandoned, however, when the earthquake of that year caused the collapse of the surrounding ground. They have to do with: 7 bird views, 2 harbor views, 2 decorative motifs, 1 with Plato and Homer and two depictions of Nile. Of interest in the same area is the wooden furniture pieces from 4th century A.D., also originating from the temple of Isis and are clad with ivory.

In this Poseidonian Temple, on the eastern end of the Corinthian Isthmus, with its imposing temple of the sea god, its peculiar wrestling arena, especially with its stadium and the theater of Isthmian games and competitions, some of the most significant events of Greek but also of global history took place.

In 481 B.C. the great meeting ‘of the Greeks concerned for the defense of Greece’29  for the joint encountering of the Persian invasion took place.

In 338 B.C., Phillip after his victory in Chaeronia, was recognized as commander in chief of all Greeks, in the campaign against the Persians.

In 336, Alexander the Great after the assassination of his father, was pronounced commander in chief of all Greeks, in the campaign against the Persians

In 196 B.C. during the Isthmian games, in which ‘notable men coming from almost all over the world in anticipation’30  heard the ‘in voice and dialect Greek’ Coinctius Flamininus announcing amidst a delirium of enthusiasm the ‘freeing’ of the Grecian cities from Macedonian subjugation.

In 146 B.C., Leucius Mommius after the tragic ‘sacking and through and through burning of Corinth’, declared the Senate’s verdict according to which every Grecian alliance and meeting was ‘abolished’ 31.

In the year 51 A.D., if our calculations are right, St. Paul and some of his companions attended the Major Isthmian games of that year.

In 67 A.D. Nero took part in the games, he, of course, won (having his servants maltreated his opponent from Epirus, to the extend that he could not appear in the Theater) and delivered a speech for the ‘independence’ again of Greeks, indeed parodying Flamininus 32.

      The above are some of the many and significant historic presences in this location of Isthmian temple. Among them were, the very likely presence of the genuine and model athlete St. Paul and the insulting for the ancient athletic ideal of the mock-athlete Nero. Lawful in the contest the first, perjurer, in case he took the oath, the second. A torchbearer in the spiritual run the disciple of Christ from Tarsus, fire raiser of Rome but also fire extinguisher of the new faith the Roman pupil of Seneca.

In the spiritual struggle, that began in the land of Palestine and which soon extended to Greek soil and to the whole world thereafter, was once heard and is going to be heard as long as the form of this world lasts, the advise-call of the apostle-fighter:

‘In one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel’ (Philippians 1:27).                               

 

 

ÌApostle Paul in Athens

 

 

by Ioanna Sahinidou

 

 

 

Ecological Theology:

An approach to Acts 17:16-34

The Athenian context

 

When the apostle Paul was called upon to preach to the Athenians the message of the Unknown to them God, he had already strolled through Athens, carefully observing the places and the worship objects of the Athenians. He wished to know the environment and the context in which they lived their daily life, as well as the gods they worshipped. The Epicurean philosophers characterized by an inclination towards eudemonism and the material pleasures, and the Stoics the behavior of which was characterized by equanimity and apathy, demanded to hear the new ideas of Paul.

 

The need for the news of the Gospel of Christ springs from the needs of a human being, of a group, of a community, of a region or of a city. Paul perceived the desire, the need, and the hope of the Athenians to know the true God, as he was seeing their sacred places and among them an altar dedicated to the unknown God, whom they worshipped though they were ignorant of him.

 

Paul sees the Athenians … in all respects an extremely religious people (verse 22b) and presents to them the God …who made the world and all that is in it, being Lord of both Heaven and Earth and does not live in temples made by human hands, as though he had need of anything – seeing that He is the One Who gives to all life and breath and everything else (24, 25) Paul brings the Athenians face to face with two realities. The one is that with which they had organized to live their lives within some certain limits, with a worldview they developed to live day by day. The other reality is the presence of God among them and in all existing beings in the world, the presence of God whom they seek after … and search for in the hope that they might feel for Him and find Him- yes even though He is not far from any one of us. Indeed, it is in Him that we live and move and have our being … (27,28).

Paul describes the way in which the Athenians comprehend God. They have developed a civilization, philosophies and a religious piety, based on the understanding of imagining God … in terms of gold or silver or stone, contrived by human art or imagination … (29). The consequence and the outcome of the comprehension that God is human made by precious material, is the building of handmade temples to house him, to worship and serve him. The Athenians tried to captivate and cage God within impressive temples erected by them.

 

The comprehension of God as a human creation, living in handmade temples, is the context of the Athenians’ life. Their worldview for their relation with God and creation fashions the manner by which they live their daily lives.

The anthropomorphism of God (the conception of God in human form) is a precondition but also an outcome of the worldview of the Athenians. They have attributed human characteristics, behavior and needs to God. They think of Him as likened to the most precious things they have known, that is, as gold and silver, as the most precious creation they may be able to construct, but nonetheless God has for them the same nature a human being has, He is an improved human being, who cannot go beyond the human limits and the best human possibilities. He is a human creation, a God created in the image and likeness of humans.

The habitation of God is handmade, built by humans and God is served by human hands as if he was in need of care and the fashioning of a pleasant living environment. The sacred places for the Athenians are places in which the gods live, places where they worship their gods; they are the handmade temples of the gods and the altars dedicated to them. Consequently, the Athenians allow their gods to participate in their lives that is, in the Athenian life, installed is some specific places, which the Athenians have segregated for their gods and which are sacred places.

The sanctity of creation is limited, according to the comprehension of the Athenians, to the places of the gods, that is, to temples and altars. This distinction of the world into Sacred, where God lives and Material or Secular, where God does not live, has led gradually through the next centuries to the maltreatment, the mismanagement and the over-exploitation of creation by humans. The only relationship humans tended with nature by then were usurpation and utilitarianism. Humans considered nature, on the assumption that God does not reside there, as a consumer good, as ‘object’ at the disposal of humanity to be utilized for its progress, its well being and growth.

The anthropocentric worldview is the culmination of the comprehension of God as a work of art and of imagination, living in human made temples. Anthropocentrism has as result of the corrupted nature to form an anthropocentric worldview, centered on human beings. Anthropocentrism has its beginnings in the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, in which humans and especially man occupies a foundational position in creation. According to Plato, clumsy men who committed errors in their lives became women. Birds originated from irrational men, wild animals from men that did not engage in philosophy. Fish, originated from careless and idiotic men . For Aristotle, a free man rules over the slave, the woman and the child. Whilst a slave has not the capacity of reasoning, the woman has it but it is invalid and the child has it, but it is immature. The gallantry of man is to lead, whilst of the woman, to serve.  Hierarchy elements in beings determining authority and submission relations for the Greek philosophers, pass on to Christian worldview and reach our own days.

The preaching of apostle Paul in Athens

Apostle Paul described to the Athenians what he had seen when passing along their city. He is familiar with Hellenic philosophical thought and indeed of the stoic one, since Tarsus of Cilicia, his birthplace, was an illustrious intellectual center in which stoic thought dominated. But he also has a broader Greek training. With respect for the piety of the Athenians, he proceeds now to unfold before their eyes a new, different reality, which overturns, renews and reforms the formatted reality of their life and of their worldview.

God the Creator does not fit in and cannot be limited and caged in handmade temples, nor can He be defined and described by the thought, the art and the imagination of humans. God does not need a habitation built by human hands since He himself is the Lord of Heaven and Earth (24) He is the habitation and the protective bosom of the entire creation. The presence of God cannot be limited to specific places defined by humans since He wishes that humans should seek Him, in the hope that they might feel after Him and find Him, Yet He is not far from each one of us (27).

God the Holy Spirit does not need the care and the service of humans, since He is the One who gives all, life and breath and everything else (25b). If the presence of God is everywhere and in all beings, in the creation and the creatures, then God is a reality, He is the breath and the source of life. This is Divine Providence, the Spirit of God that cares and preserves the creatures in life, inspiring them so that they develop the capacities of their nature. This is the transcendence of God who inhabits creation. Since it is in Him that we live and move and have our being (28a). God contains and pervades creation and creation is pan-en-theistic, that is, everything exists in Him. All existing beings exist in God and God is in all existing beings. Nevertheless, God is not identified with creation, since creation originates, is preserved and depends on God, whilst God is not dependant on creation. 

 

Pan-en-theism: All beings exist in God; God
includes in Him all beings.

Pantheism: All beings are God.

Theism: God is outside creation

 

Christ, God the Word (Logos) is the proof of the new overcoming, reforming reality of the presence of God in creation. The Creator creates His creatures by His Word. Word, in Greek, has many meanings, which are also attributed to Christ, God the Word. Out of all the connotations of the meaning ‘word’ concerning God the Word, I shall refer at this point to word as a meaning denoting a relation and a capacity for communication. God the Word, who creates is Himself the word, that is, the relation with the creation, communicating to creatures the capability of communing with God but also with one another. Thus, we understand each creature of God as a ‘word’, that is, as a being existing only in relation and communion with God the Word, the Creator, but also with every other creature. In order to discover and experience the ‘word’, that is, our relation and communion with all other beings, it is necessary for us to abandon the tendency to subject all beings to our authority and to respect the creation. Beings are not ‘objects’ for use but are the result of the creative act of God and God is inherent in them. The ‘word’, that is, the relation and the capacity of communion of each being given by the Creator has as its beginning and end in God the Word from whom it originates. Therefore, a vital element of our existence is relation, communication, and communion. We cannot survive as self-existent entities, cut off from the Creator and from other beings.

The sanctity of creation is not limited, as the Athenians were thinking, to the places they designated as places of the gods, the temples and altars. ‘For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the beings that have been made’ (Romans 1:19-20). If the presence of God is revealed in all beings and everywhere then the whole creation and all creatures are sacred .

 

Repentance ‘Now while it is true that God overlooked the days of ignorance He now commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has fixed a day on which He will judge the whole world in justice by the standard of a Man Whom He has appointed’ (Acts 17:30,31). Christ by his resurrection becomes the source of the new creation, of the transformation, blessing, glorification and of the divine communion for the entire creation.

Our repentance, conversion, the restoration of our relations with God, our turn towards the Creator, and our non-conformity to the present age, but our transformation and the renewal of our mind is the answer for the survival of the planet. The misuse of our powers leads to the massive destruction of our world. It is necessary for us to engage our understanding so that we improve the distortions we created and to cultivate the harmonies and balances of our ecological system. Repentance within the context in which the Athenians live means for them the recognition that they have relegated God to a human image looking like gold and have fenced God within built temples. With repentance a new reality shall dawn in which the beauty of the creatures shall be the revelation that reflects the mystery of divine life, inherent in all creation and not in handmade and fenced temples only.

There is neither male nor female, the hierarchical and dualistic worldview of Plato and of Aristotle is abolished. The hierarchy elements in beings, defining authority and subjection relationships are abolished for the sake of Christ. Having put on Christ we are all children of God. There is neither Jew nor idolater, slave and freeman, there is no male and female, since all are one  The preaching of apostle Paul in Athens reached its climax. Luke the evangelist, records a result and a sign of the ‘new reality’ that was pronounced. The vision of a human society of men and women begins to become a reality for Athens, a society of men.

 

When Paul visited Athens only men were leaders and representatives in councils. The only thing we know about Damaris is that she was present in one meeting at the Areopagus, a place of men where apostle Paul was invited to proclaim the new teaching. She listened to him carefully and receptively and she responded to the inclusive and reforming message of Paul. Her name is recorded for the coming generations together with the name of a known Areopagus’ member. When Paul begins his speech, following the customs of the Athenians he addresses them as ‘Men of Athens’. The hierarchical society of the Athenians begins to be transformed, when in a place reserved for men an unknown woman expresses her faith and wishes to follow the new vision as member of the new reality, daring to express her response to the news of the resurrection of Christ.

The news of the presence of God in the whole creation and not only in places which men define, as well as the resurrection of Christ from the dead, demonstrate the ‘new reality’ of the entire creation the ‘renewal of the face of the earth’

 

The ecological problem

 

The exhaustion of the natural resources, the pollution and the destruction of the environment in post-industrial societies have assumed terrifying dimensions and concern us all. In Athens today we face a problem of smog. The depilation of the forests, the roots of which hold the ground causes terrible floods with each rain. All the direct and indirect problems starting from the over-concentration of the population in the Attica basin, such as unemployment, the overvaluation of land, the lack of open recreation and green spaces, the turning of the open spaces into plots, from mountains to shores, has already begun bringing us face to face with an impasse.

Works related to the Olympic games, regional development works, large scale and huge financial budget works are in progress. We shall soon realize that the way those are carried out and the priorities they serve shall create even larger problems than the ones we were facing. Works in the historic center of Athens are in progress and especially pedestrian zones. But Athens is not only the historic center. Where to and how is one to channel the car traffic that was taken off from a specific area? The result is that traffic has become much heavier in the immediate zone, and subsequently in the remaining of Athens. The upgrading of an area, if no other provision is made, downgrades another.



 

The Mars Hill in Athens (near the Acropolis)

Another large-scale example: Major and necessary works are in progress in Athens. Airport, underground, Olympic works, tram. Comparatively fewer works are underway in the rest of Greece. What the result would be? More money circulates in Athens, there is more employment, more people are attracted to come and work in capital. The problems of Athens created by centralization are once again intensifying and the provinces shall continue with their downturn trend.

Whatever happens to an eco-system affects the adjoining eco-systems, but also the rest of the planet. There is inter-dependency and an inter-communication between beings, physical phenomena, and events of the planet and beyond. Beings are not autonomous because their interaction is an element inherent in their nature and existence.

 

Which is the cause
of the ecologic problem?



The Mars Hill in Athens (view from  the Acropolis)

In the times of the apostle Paul’s visit to Athens, the ecological problems which Athens and the world is facing today did not exist. Nevertheless, the worldview of the Athenians concerning their anthropocentric and hierarchical philosophy, the anthropomorphism of their gods created in their own measures, and the handmade habitations they had built in order to circumscribe the dominion of their gods to places they defined, are probably the roots, though not the only ones, of the ecological problems of today. If we limit God to some specific places, then very simply the rest of the creation, since we consider that God does not inhabit it, is transformed into a human dominion for use and misuse.

The falsification of the relations of humans with God, the source of life, and the replacement of God with a ‘substitute’ god similar to gold, of human specifications living in fine edifices, led to the selfish, domineering relationship of humanity towards nature, which humans considered as property, consumer good, source of personal enrichment and accumulation of goods. The materialistic way of life we live increased criminality, violence, terrorism and threatens the natural sources of the life of our planet with extinction by misuse and over exploitation.

Within the context of today’s Athens there is no Epicurean School, but eudemonism is a way of life, there is no Stoic School but we are characterized by apathy, familiarization and indifference with what goes on around us. The scenery and the natural environment have been transformed into cement and asphalt, shoddier neighborhoods are those in which economically weaker groups and economic immigrants live, Athens has become nowadays a center for women and drug trading and trafficking.

We have temples and churches we care for so as to worship there with reverence the true God but outside them we worship money as God and the value with which we measure all things is profit which easily leads to profiteering and the exploitation of other humans and nature. The ancient Olympic spirit of noble competition and of the exercise of body and spirit has turned into a global commerce. Really, what   the message of apostle Paul to the Athenians would be today?

 

When in 1955 the plans and studies for the rebuilding of the First Greek Evangelical Church in Athens were being prepared, the late Dimitris Alagialis, showed them to Dimitris Pikionis, a colleague of his in the National Technical University, an architect with profound relationship with the Creator and the creation, so that he might express an opinion. Pikionis replied by a handwritten letter of nine pages. The culmination of his thoughts is like an echo and an interpretation of the words of apostle Paul, concerning the temples the Athenians had built, which look, in the words of Pikionis, like illusionary interpretations. Pikionis gives an inner interpretation, to the architectural building, the church, where the faithful gather to worship God, that is, he highlights the human but also the transcendental dimension of the building:

 

… real grandeur requires content, spiritual magnitude. And your fraternity inspired by the ideals of love, simplicity and humility, needs this inner interpretation, ‘of the exalted in humility’ the ‘poorly rich’ in order to be expressed.

 … in times, such as today’s, in which the illusionary interpretations are commonly established or imbued with the force of law, this work is extremely hard …

During the same period, after 1950, when Athens began to ‘develop’, in anarchy, in absence of any city planning and foresight for its future growth, when land in exchange of apartments turned Athens into a worksite, its mountains and hills into quarries and the rivers Cephysos and Ilisos into sewers, then Pikionis rang the ‘alarm bell’ to the Athenians and raised his prophetic voice:

… You are left with nothing but the lowest form of relation with Nature, exploitation .., But what’s the use, the insult remains. Nothing can efface it anymore, it shall remain forever. Colossal is your guilt. And this is not only against ourselves, but against the memory of those bygone, against the future and against the peoples of the world … if they let loose the rein of the profit instincts and of production, they shall abolish our love for beauty, truth, justice as well as our love towards our neighbor.

The answer to the problems of Athens that had begun being apparent to the perceptive understanding of Pikionis, but also to the overall ecological problems, is given by him in another of his writings:

You have set your laws everywhere, oh God. Grant me to follow them, grant me to offend them not. There is no place to which you do not enter … But how many are the places insulting and rejecting you. Stifled by ignorance they say: There are no laws; everyone is free to do as he pleases …

Oh, grant me, imitating your Nature, to offend not the divine spotlessness of the Heavens, the unspoiled purity of your clouds. Grant me to surmise and respect the Law giving Tranquility to the distant mountains, the power to the rocks, and the grace to the fine flower that animates the grace of the fine plant.

I wished to ascend to you. To stay by you always. Because any other thing is deceit and darkness.

 

When we destroy and pollute the creatures, the natural systems and the earth, and when we misuse the natural resources, we destroy the creatures of God, in which God lives and their destruction grieves the Holy Spirit, the sustainer of life. For since the beginning of the world the invisible attributes of God, His eternal Power and Divinity, have been plainly discernable through beings, which He has made and these divine attributes are stained and are disparaged in each creature when we maltreat, destroy, pollute and annihilate them.

Is the presence of God the Creator and preserver of creation in creation and in each eco-region which human selfishness and avarice destroys, a ‘reminder’ that God wishes for the whole creation to have an abundant life?

Is the revelation that the Triune God dwells in all the creation, in each eco-region and in all creatures, a challenge, an invitation, and a call for a renewed sensitization for us to respect the creation and our eco-region, and to care for it by protecting it without destroying it? 

___________

Mrs Ioanna Sahinidou is Naturalist and Doctoral Student in Theology, Wales Univ. Lampeter.
 

Eric Liddell

 

 

 

 

 

Eric Liddell:

The Christian Champion

 

by John Tsevas

 

 

 

Eric Liddell was born in Tienchin of Northern China in 1902, a son of missionaries from Scotland. As no possibilities for his education were locally available, in 1907 when his parents returned briefly to Scotland, young Eric remained in a boarding school in Scotland. In 1920, he entered Edinburgh University, where he was offered the opportunity to distinguish himself as a short and medium distance runner, but also as a rugby player. At the same time he was also engaged in evangelistic work among his compatriots.

 Eric Liddell (left) winning at the olympic games

 

 

Many had thought that his involvement in evangelistic work would have brought about adverse effects on his athletic performances. However, the opposite occurred. Three months after his first public confession of faith in Christ, he run better than ever and this went on in all the cases of evangelistic campaigns. In the winter of 1923-24, he dedicated himself, besides his studies and evangelistic work, to the preparation for the Olympic games of Paris. The question for the Olympic committee of Great Britain was in which event he would participate. The strong point of Liddell was the 100 meters race. But according to the program that was issued in advance the qualifying events for the 100 meters were to take place on a Sunday. The first reaction of Liddell when informed of this was, ‘I would not run’.

 

All the efforts of the English officials to dissuade him came to nothing. Liddell based his life on principles from which he never and under any circumstances swerved. He believed that the Lord’s Day belonged to the Lord and this was exactly what offered meaning to the remaining six days.

In Paris, he competed in the 200 meters and finished third. Though this victory was sufficient the 400 meters race was to give him the top place.

The whole stadium was exulted when he passed the 400 meters mark, whilst he explaining his technique, said: ‘the secret of my success in 400 meters is that I run the first 200 as fast as I can. Thereafter, for the remaining 200 meters, by the help of God, I run even faster’. Before the race someone (one of the trainers) handed him a note saying ‘Those who honor me I will honor’ (1 Samuel 2:30) and the reference was that Liddell honored God by keeping holy His day. The simplicity of Liddell was exemplary. Immediately after his astonishing victory he returned to the hotel to prepare the Sunday’s message, which he delivered in the small Presbyterian church of Paris that was literally over packed. His return to his country assumed a hero’s welcoming features, since so much the crowds waiting for him, as much as the various organizations and private individuals were displaying their enthusiasm by any means.

In the official luncheons given in his honor, Liddell announced that he was by now preparing for missionary work in China, whilst in the meantime he was active in evangelistic work among the youth of Scotland.

Soon the time arrived for Eric Liddell to go to China as a missionary. For some time he taught physics in the college of Tienchin but soon after he dedicated himself to the evangelistic work in rural and distant regions. This pioneering work went on for two decades till the Japanese who invaded the country arrested and imprisoned him in a concentration camp together with other missionaries. In the midst of very hard conditions, Liddell tried to make the life of his fellows and especially of the children more bearable. Occupying them with sports and scripture studies they did not lose heart under the terrible conditions in which they were living. He was obliging to all, offering his services and a pleasant smile. Liddell died of brain tumor shortly before his liberation at the end of the war. In freedom and in bondage the supreme aim of his life was to honor God with all his deeds and thoughts. His respect for God and His commandments made Liddell a legend and an example.  Ì


 

IOANNIS CHRYSSAKIS:

THE STORY OF A GREEK CHRISTIAN BUSINESSMAN

 

by John Tsevas

 

 

 

 

One of the first Greek businessmen and the first in the dairy-farming sector, Ioannis Chryssakis, was born in 1852 in Lakki of Crete, a village that was the birthplace of many heroes of the Cretan revolts. In 19th century Crete, the revolts against the Ottomans were frequent. Cretans could not endure the Ottoman yoke, whilst the thought of union with the national corpus of Greece was animating the thought and the heart. The father and uncle of Chryssakis fought in the Cretan revolt of 1866 at Arkadi: his father was killed in the holocaust that took place there. In that terrible juncture, Ioannis Chryssakis and his mother together with thousands of others, were forced to leave and flee to free Greece as refugees, as a similar fate with that of his father’s were waiting for them in Crete.

 


IOANNIS CHRYSSAKIS

In the ship, full of refugees, among dramatic conditions of sanitation and feeding, Ioannis managed to secure a portion of spaghetti and hid it in his bosom. When he took it to his weary and hungry widow mother, she told him prophetically:

‘My son, may the earth you touch become gold’.

As we shall see, his mother’s prayer became a reality.

In order to deal with the wave of Cretan refugees and their daily needs, the pioneer of evangelical faith and national struggles, Michael Kalopothakes, the founder of the Greek Evangelical Church, formed a relief organization. This organization was offering food, clothing and shelter to refugees, whilst Kalopothakes and Howe, being medical doctors, tried to do whatever they could to physically heal their wounds.

It was there that Ioannis Chryssakis and his mother, found comfort and peace for the relief of their pain and the recovery from the drama of being uprooted from their homeland. It was there that Ioannis Chryssakis heard from Kalopothakes the preaching of the gospel of salvation of Jesus Christ. With simplicity he believed in the gospel and resolved from then on to follow the principles of the Holy Scriptures in whatever he did. From that moment, he took the important decision of his life and followed the way of God.

He had to work, so that he and his mother may earn their daily bread. It was again Kalopothakes, as director of the Bible Society, who hired him briefly and made him a colporteur of Scriptures. Thus, Chryssakis toured Greece and Turkey selling copies of Scriptures.

Dairy Farmer

In those days, cow’s milk was unknown to the Athenians. Sheep or goat’s milk was sold by itinerant milkmen going around on donkeys, who, however, were in the bad habit of adulterating it as a rule. Also, milk drinking, that is, the daily consumption of milk, was unknown among the population. Very often, bread dipped into wine constituted the breakfast of children in the provinces.

In Athens, in the then desolate Kolonaki area, an Englishman, Charles Merlin had his land. He was the one who first introduced to Greece the edible oranges known by his name. Merlin was the photographer of the royal court. He had four children needing milk. He detested sheep and goat’s milk and therefore imported to Greece two Swiss cows of Schwyz breed.

Looking for job, Chryssakis began to work as a stable-man in Merlin’s farm. There, his honesty and conscientiousness were quickly appreciated. The surplus of the rare for Athens cow’s milk, Merlin used to send it with Chryssakis to the royal palace opposite his house, so that the small children of king George may have their milk. There, Ioannis became acquainted with Queen Olga, a pious woman who learned of and appreciated his Christian convictions. When she came to know him better and there were political or other upheavals, she used to ask him to kneel down to pray with her. Chryssakis kept his contact with Queen Olga for many years. Frequent were the occasions in which she called him to palace to discuss things and pray together.

In the meantime the cows multiplied and Merlin began selling milk. By now Chryssakis was managing the cowshed.  After awhile, Merlin sent most of the animals to a farm he had in Lamia and went on with less activity with the remaining animals. It was in 1881 that he decided to close his stable.

Chryssakis realized that before him was a unique opportunity to do something on his own. He went to Reverend Kalopothakes, the pastor of his church and his spiritual father, and asked for his counsel. Kalopothakes was direct. He gave him money, which Chryssakis deposited with Merlin as a guarantee. He even suggested that he asks the queen to tell Merlin to give him the cows.

 

 

 

Advertisement of the “Tea Rooms”

Chryssakis, worked even with greater zeal. Once he paid his debts, he bought a farm at the foot of Acropolis, in Gargareta. There, in 1887 he built, a modern stable for the animals, conforming to international standards. The newspapers of the times announced the unprecedented for that era dairy farm. Over the facade of the farm, Chryssakis inscribed a large sign with the following verse from the book of Proverbs:

‘A slack hand causes poverty but the hand of the diligent makes rich.’

The five cows he had bought from Merlin, became forty with regular purchases from Switzerland. At the same time, many animals were sold in the Greek provinces resulting to Chryssakis becoming the patriarch of dairy farming in Greece. In the farm, Chryssakis gathered having bought from abroad the best machines for the production of butter, cheeses and other of his products. The care and the cleanliness of the animals and the facilities were his trademark. For the feeding of the animal he was bringing in from all over Greece and Turkey the best animal feeds. In the newspapers of the times there are references to the radical innovation Chryssakis brought about for the establishment and function of a dairy farm.

The entire elite of the Athenian society became his customers. He was appointed as the official purveyor of the royal court on dairy products. The king inaugurated the frequent exhibitions of his products in his farm, whilst the prime minister and all the officials of the times were present.

His consistency, sincerity and honesty, the quality of his services, the quality of his milk and of his dairy products, their purity was unique for Athens of that time. People appreciated all those virtues.

Characteristic is the report of the journalist and author of the times, Alexandros Philadelpheas:

‘Which is the great factor of this fertile strength in a simple and humble man, who, at the foot of Acropolis, as a dairy farmer lives a tranquil, quiet and innocent life?

This great factor is simply, conscience.

Chryssakis, is conscientious in every sense of the word. He is a Christian, not in the meaning we are accustomed to render to this word but in its broader meaning. His Christianity is very spiritual. He believes and loves: One fearlessly may say of him: Here is a man in whom there is no guile.

The enterprising spirit in him is accompanied by a strong measure of honesty and altruism. The social progress for which he works contains in this manner a certain moral beauty. He weighs his profits primarily in the balance of justice and measures his works with the compass of virtue.’

His works were based on the principles of the Bible. Throughout the weekdays Chryssakis was working hard for many hours to manage to have his facilities in

 

The Prime Minister El. Venizelos (left) visiting the Chryssakis’ farm.

perfect condition and respond to the demands of his customers. One day, however, Sunday, was sacred. In an epoch in which seven-days work, as well as the exploitation of the working people - of the adults as well as of the children, under inhuman working hours, were widespread - the evangelical believers of those times fought the battles against social injustices, with Kalopothakes as a forerunner, with deputations and memoranda to the government.  Chryssakis followed devotedly the example of his spiritual father. The whole family was in church on Sundays, relaxing for the rest of the day, no financial transaction was made, no sale or payment on the Lord’s Day.

 

 

Milk Delivery

The Tea Rooms – The first Olympic games

A habit Chryssakis, picked up from the time he was working with the Briton Merlin, was that of afternoon tea. The moment arrived to popularize this habit. In 1896, he decided to open the famous Tea Rooms or Five O’clock Tea, a model patisserie, where dairy products, tea and pastries as well as meals were served, in the center of the city, in Syntagma Square. It was the only respectable shop in Athens, in which people could have their tea or enjoy various pastries and quality food. The Tea Rooms was a great success becoming popular among Greek society. There again Chryssakis followed his principles. The shop, despite the tremendous demand there was for it, remained closed on Sundays.

The same year, 1896, was marked by a glorious event: the revival of the Olympic games and their holding for the first time in Athens. The infrastructure of the capital was rudimentary in many respects. Problematic was also the hotel infrastructure but also the catering sector. The crowds, which gathered, and the athletes were many. Athens for the first time since the liberation of Greece was seeing such a throng. Foreign officials, missions, journalists, athletes and their companions, and many other visitors converged to watch the first rebirth of the Olympic games in their place of origin and to celebrate the event. The new Panathenian stadium, rebuilt with funds donated by Averof was glistening. The city was decorated with flags. A frenzy of joy came over Greeks when Spyros Louis won the gold medal in the historic event of the Marathon.

The shop of Chryssakis was at the height of its glory. It was just inaugurated and the novelty together with the quality offered, attracted people. And the first Sunday was at hand. King George knew that Chryssakis was to close the Tea Rooms on Sunday and the foreign visitors would have nowhere to go since this was the only respectable shop in Athens. He called the president of the Olympic committee, Vikelas and the secretary Baron de Coubertin for an audience and drew their attention to the fact that on Sunday the Tea Rooms would be closed and people would have no alternative solution for entertainment and refreshments. The heads of the committee begged the King to call Chryssakis for an audience to try to dissuade him. Despite their efforts they did not manage to change the mind of Chryssakis so that he opens the shop on Sunday. He told them that God honors those who are honoring Him and that this was the experience of his entire life. The Sunday, he dedicated – he stated – to the worship of God in his church, and to rest.

 

 

The Album for the Olympic Games of 1896,  where the company of I. Chryssakis is presented

 

 

 

The New Farm

With the growth of the city, the dairy farms were transferred, by the beginning of the 20th century, to the area of Nea Smirni, near Syngrou Avenue. There too the Chryssakis family went on with its activities. With the coming of Venizelos, Chryssakis, due to his common ancestry also (they were both Cretans), became a close friend of the prime minister. Frequent were the visits of Venizelos to the farm of Nea Smirni, whilst frequent were also the commendations of the prime minister for the dairy products sent to him by Chryssakis. In 1914, as a reaffirmation of his knowledge and of his services to dairy farming of Greece, Venizelos appointed him to consultative council of the zootechny and veterinary department of the National Economics Ministry.

Chryssakis was an exemplary family head, a tender husband, father and grandfather. His wife raised his large family under his principles and supported him in every respect so much at the beginning of their lives when they were poor, as well as later on, in the times of wealth. His only son studied in England in a specialized farming school and was by then suitable to succeed his father. After all, he had already assumed responsibility for the business. Nevertheless, he died young in 1924, leaving his father disconsolate up to the end of his life in 1934. Two of his daughters were nurses, having studied in Boston and were cadres of the Patriotic Foundation. They took part in the Balkan Wars as reserve nurses and worked in various hospitals.

 

All of them together worked hard, so much in the farm of Nea Smirni, as much as in the shop of Syntagma Square, animated by the principles of their father, till the Second World War came. There, at the farm during the war, they offered shelter to a family of Jews, something that was acclaimed by the state of Israel. The war was finally the reason for the abandonment of all the trade activities by the family in the dairy products sector.

 

Epilogue

This is the story of one of the first businessmen of the Greek state, a pioneer of his kind, who started as a poor refugee from Crete to become the first industrialist of the dairy sector – as we would have said in modern terms – of Greece. An expert of his trade, progressive, industrious, honest, sincere, with profound love for work, he introduced cow’s milk to Greeks, and the manner a European standards’ dairy farm is set up and maintained, he helped with his know-how the establishment of similar units in the provinces, he has shown how an exquisite restaurant is established and maintained, in an era in which almost none had any knowledge of these things. But above all he left an example of a Christian businessman, of a man with principles, who conducts his business affairs, knowing that God watches over him and is honoring so much his toils and honesty, as much as his attachment to the principles of the Bible.   Ì

 

I am grateful  to mr J. Vamvakaris, grandson of I. Chryssakis
for the valuable information he shared with me.

 

John Tsevas is a Dentist

 

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