Harding students travel back in time in Greece
Atop the Acropolis early on a Sunday, visitors gazed at the Parthenon and ancient wonders, but their ears heard bells ringing from churches below them, throughout the morning .
The ruins above the city may be pagan, but the metropolis below is solidly Christian, Orthodox, and Greek.
In a remote suburb, however, the tired students of Harding University, who had just returned from recounting part of the Apostle Paul’s second missionary journey, were free to sleep, if they wished. Rather than rising at sunrise, they pray most Sundays at more conventional American Protestant hours.
The Searcy School, which is affiliated with the Churches of Christ, has had a campus near Athens since 1994, according to the director of Harding University in Greece, Daniel Adams. It had worked year after year until the outbreak of covid-19 in the spring of 2020.
âThe day they declared it to be a pandemic, we sent everyone home. So we had no one for the rest of the spring, this summer, this fall or this spring. , we restarted, âAdams said.
During the week, around 15 participants study Modern Greek and a variety of other subjects in Porto Rafti, east of the capital and near the Aegean Sea.
On average, 25 students attend each semester, but with covid-19 still circulating, “some people are still reluctant to travel,” Adams says. Those who make the trip can glimpse the cradle of Western civilization.
For students in Harding, Greece and elsewhere, spiritual development is a priority.
âWith all of our programs, no matter where they are, we always have a Bible class, whether it’s back in Searcy or in overseas programs, and a daily chapel when we have class,â Adams says. walking down a cobbled path near the Parthenon.
“With Greece’s program, this is particularly relevant,” he said.
Travel is key.
âWe are very close to Israel and Egypt. We go to those places, âAdams says. In Galilee and Jerusalem, âwe are following in the footsteps of Jesusâ.
In Egypt, two hours from Athens by plane, “we follow the life of early Jesus in Cairo,” he says.
With King Herod killing infants, Mary and Joseph fled with their son to the land of the Pharaohs, the New Testament reports. According to the tradition of the church, they lived for four years in Heliopolis – the Greek meaning “City of the Sun”.
Later during the field trip, Adams said, “We take a Nile cruise, look at all the ancient temples, [and] spend a lot of time in Luxor, where Moses grew up. “
Jesus never visited Athens, at least in the biblical accounts. But Greece and its language figure prominently in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles that follow.
Some of the first New Testament congregations sprang up near the Aegean coast nearly 2,000 years ago, stretching along major trade routes connecting Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome.
At the time, Greek was the language of commerce and culture, a legacy of Alexander the Great and others. It was also the language of the gospels and of the first church fathers.
The New Testament records that Paul spent time in Athens, observing his religious practices and evaluating his various deities.
While there, “Paul’s spirit was awakened in him, when he saw the city completely devoted to idolatry,” Acts 17 states in the King James Version.
Thus the Apostle “quarreled” with the philosophers and the Jews and other “devotees” as well as with those whom he met “daily in the market”.
While in Greece, Harding’s students visit the Agora, site of the city’s old market. And they climb the Aeropagus, sometimes called Mars Hill, where Paul, according to the New Testament account, denounced the pagan shrines around him.
Two millennia later, visitors to the Aeropagus (or “Rock of ArÃ¨s”) can read Paul’s entire sermon in the original, somewhat archaic Greek; it is inscribed on a plaque not far from the top.
During the one-semester program, students visit key sites in the city and learn about Hellenic culture. They also attend at least one Orthodox service.
“Usually we go to a small church in [a suburb called] Markopoulo, âhe says. âWe’re going to come in and go up to the balcony and watch. This way we can see everything that is going on … [without] being a disturbance. “
The service, in its entirety, can last three hours, although worshipers sometimes come and go in the middle of the service, he says. The gatherings of the churches of Christ are generally a little shorter.
The native Greek Orthodox and the Protestant transplanted people of Arkansas come from distant continents and speak different languages. Their doctrinal beliefs differ and their liturgical traditions diverge.
But what they share. Every Sunday they commemorate the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
When worshipers gather to pray on this particular Sunday – socially distanced and properly masked – they sit in chairs instead of benches and sing songs that Searcy worshipers would likely recognize. There are about two dozen of them, about as many as covid-19 restrictions would allow.
Tim Tripp, senior minister at the West Side Church of Christ in Russellville, delivered the message Sunday evening, reading one of Paul’s letters to church in Corinth, a town “just down the road” from Glyfada , he notes. The city, along with Mars Hill, was on its Greek itinerary.
Next, a student from Harding enthusiastically talks about his recent pilgrimage to Philippi, Thessaloniki and other places with New Testament churches; the apostle Paul visited both cities during his missionary journeys.
“We grew up reading or hearing about him, and it’s just amazing [to be there]”said Dylan Holland, 19, a major in the Bible and family ministry in Fayetteville.
Thanks to Harding University in Greece, the dots on a New Testament Bible study map are no longer abstractions, he notes.
What he learns, he believes, will help him prepare for a future ministry.
“It was a determining factor in wanting to take this trip, to go to all these places where I can one day teach and preach,” he says.