13 Days / 11 Nights
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John was instructed to write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea (Rev. 1:11). We embark on an unforgettable spiritual adventure as we visit these and other sites of early Christendom in our journey through Greece and Turkey. Here we’ll begin to imagine what Paul and John and other apostles must have experienced as they established the Church in these ancient lands. We’ll be awed at the beauty of this landscape and inspired to thus accomplish our own work on earth.


Tour Itinerary

Day 1: Departure from the USA Enclose in your soul Greece (or something equal) and you shall feel every kind of grandeur (Dionysios Solomos; Note to “Free Besieged”).

Our adventure begins with an overnight flight to Athens.

Day 2: Athens God… made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth (Acts 17:24).

Upon arrival at the Athens International Airport, we meet our Faith Journeys’ Tour Manager who will assist us through the customs and baggage claim. Our exploration of Athens, the “divine city,” begins with the Acropolis, a flat-topped rocky area that rises 490 feet above sea level, where we explore the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the Greek goddess, Athena. The Parthenon, one of the world’s greatest monuments, is considered to be the most enduring symbol and important surviving building of Ancient Greece. We will also visit the Areopagus or Areios Pagos (in Greek pagos means big piece of rock) north-west of the Acropolis, which in classical times functioned as the high court of Appeal for criminal and civil cases in Athens and from which the Apostle Paul gave his famous sermon about “The Unknown God.” From here we have an excellent view of the ancient agora; former center of the Athenian public life. We’ll enjoy seeing Syntagma Square (with the Evzones or guards in uniform guarding the Presidential Palace and the Tomb of the Unknown Solder), the Library, University and Panathenaic Stadium where the first modern-day Olympics was held, as well as the Olympieion (constructed in the 6th century BC), a colossal ruined temple that was dedicated to Zeus, king of the Olympian gods, Adrian’s Arch, and structures of the modern era. We’ll enjoy dinner and overnight stay in Athens.

Day 3: Corinth [A]nd many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized (Acts 18:8).

We travel today to Corinth, one of the oldest towns of Greece which in classical times rivaled Athens and Thebes in wealth. Paul lived in Corinth for 18 months working as a tentmaker and establishing a church, and as we know, the Corinthians caused Paul much grief as evidenced by the four letters he wrote to them. We’ll visit the ruins of this ancient city including the remnants of the first-century shops, the agora (where Paul’s trial by Gallio took place), the Fountain of Peirene, and Temple of Apollo, one of the oldest stone temples in Greece and built on a hill overlooking the remains of the Roman marketplace (where Paul preached to the Corinthians). We’ll also see the ruins of the basilicas in Lechaion and Cenchreae. Rest of the day will be at leisure. We’ll enjoy dinner and overnight stay in Athens.

Day 4: Samos, Kusadasi & Ephesus Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me Rev 3: 20).

After breakfast we fly to Samos, an island in the eastern Aegean Sea and home to such notables as Pythagoras (philosopher and mathematician after whom the Pythagorean Theorem is named), Epicurus (philosopher), and Aristarchus of Samos (first known individual to propose that the Earth revolves around the sun). After, we leave Samos and sail to Kusadasi in Turkey whose name comes from words meaning “bird” and “island” because the peninsula upon which it sits has the shape of a bird’s head as seen from the sea. After disembarking, we head to Ephesus one of the Seven Churches in Revelations (“Churches” in this context refers to the community of Christians living in each city, and not merely to the building or buildings in which they gathered for worship), and for many years the second largest city of the Roman Empire ranking second only to Rome. While in the ancient city of Ephesus, we’ll look with wonder on many historically rich sights including the Temple of Artemis (Diana), the fountain of Trajan, the Baths of Scolastika, the Temple of Hadrian, the Library of Celsus and the Great Theatre capable of holding 25,000 spectators (used initially for drama, but during later Roman times for gladiatorial combats) where Paul preached and where the riot of the silversmiths occurred. We will walk along Arcadian Way where Mark Anthony and Cleopatra once rode in procession. We’ll return this evening to Kusadasi for dinner and an overnight stay.

Day 5: Laodicea, Hierapolis & Pamukkale I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth… As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. (Rev 3:15 – 16, 19).

We travel today to Laodicea, one of the Seven Churches which was chastised for being lukewarm. Laodicea is situated on the long spur of a hill between the narrow valleys of the small rivers Asopus and Caprus. Archeological remains near Laodicea still attest to its former greatness as evidenced by the relatively well preserved stadium, gymnasium, and theatres (one of which is in a state of great preservation, with its seats still perfectly horizontal, though merely laid upon the gravel). There are other buildings atop the hill and to the east the line of the ancient wall may be distinctly traced, with the remains of a gateway, colonnade and numerous pedestals. We then make our way to Pamukkale (meaning “cotton castle” as the city contains hot springs and white terraces of carbonate minerals left by the flowing water), by way of Hierapolis (another famous site of hot springs) where Paul brought Christianity (Colossians 4:13). Before dining and enjoying an overnight stay in Pamukkale, we’ll enjoy seeing Arcadian Way, the Nympahlonium (Theatre from about the 2nd century) and the Necropolis.

Day 6: Philadelphia, Sardis & Izmir Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, and to Smyrna, and to Pergamos, and to Thyatira, and to Sardis, and to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea (Rev 1:11).

Our first destination today is Philadelphia (Alasehir), another of the Seven Churches (Rev. 3:7-13), to see its several mosques and ancient Christian churches including the remains of a Byzantine basilica built of brick with 11th century frescoes. Next we travel to Sardis, an ancient city whose importance was threefold: first to its military strength, secondly to its situation on an important highway leading from the interior to the Aegean coast, and thirdly to it’s commanding the wide and fertile plain of the Hermus. As important as Sardis may have been, the city was berated by John for its facade of strength and its notoriously soft and fainthearted population (Rev. 3:1-6). Today in Sardis, we will explore the massive Temple of Artemis, the white marble royal road, the impressive gymnasium, and the synagogue, where, since 1958, both Harvard and Cornell Universities have sponsored annual archeological expeditions. These excavations unearthed perhaps the most impressive synagogue in the western Diaspora yet discovered from antiquity, yielding over eighty Greek and seven Hebrew inscriptions as well as numerous mosaic floors. We’ll enjoy a midday meal en route as we continue to Izmir (Smyrna) for dinner and overnight stay.

Day 7: Smyrna (Izmir), Thyatira, Pergamum & Canakkale [T]he heresies are at best novelties, and have no continuity with the teaching of Christ. Perhaps some heretics may claim Apostolic antiquity: we reply: Let them publish the origins of their churches and unroll the catalogue of their bishops… as the Smyrnaeans count from Polycarp and John, and the Romans from Clement and Peter; let heretics invent something to match this (Tertullian, circa 208 A.D).

As one of the principal cities of Roman Asia, Smyrna vied with Ephesus and Pergamum for the title “First City of Asia.” Today we’ll drive to Smyrna, rich in history and archeology, to visit Mount Pagus once called the crown of Smyrna where temples ran along the lower slopes like a necklace on a statue (to use the terms of Aristides the orator). We’ll see the Church of St. Policarp, the oldest church in what is now called the city of Izmir. The Church represents ancient Smyrna’s role as one of the Seven Churches of Revelation. Saint Polycarp (after whom the church was named), was converted by John the Apostle, became Bishop of Smyrna, and was martyred by the Romans at age 86 in 155 AD at Kadifkale, which was atop the hill near modern-day Izmir. According to tradition, when they tried to burn Polycarp at the stake, the flames wouldn’t touch him so they finally stabbed him to death. Our tour also includes the archaeological museum, the Clock Tower, and the Bazaar. Our next stop is Thyatira (also called Akhisar), in far west Turkey almost due east of Athens, and one of the Seven Churches of Revelation (Rev. 1:11; 2:18-29). Paul and Silas might have visited Thyatira during Paul’s second or third journey, although the evidence is entirely circumstantial as they visited several small unnamed towns in the general vicinity during the second journey. While in Thyatrira, we’ll explore the impressive Acropolis, the steep Theatre, the Aesculapium, the Altar of Zeus, the marble columns of the Temple of Trajan and the Library (one of the foremost in the world). After a full day and much to think about, we’ll drive to Canakkale for dinner and an overnight stay. Canakkale is the nearest major town to the site of ancient Troy; the “wooden horse” from the 2004 movie Troy is exhibited on the seafront.

Day 8: Canakkale & Istanbul The fates have given mankind a patient soul (Homer, Iliad, XXIV, l. 49).

We awaken in Canakkale, the second city (after Istanbul) to be situated on two continents, before traveling to Troy (Troia), an ancient city, both factual and legendary and best known for being the focus of the Trojan War described in the Iliad one of the two epic poems attributed to Homer. Excavations reveal several cities built in succession. Today, Truva, a small Turkish city, supports the tourist trade visiting the Troia archaeological site. We then cross the Dardanelles, formerly known as the Hellespont, which is a narrow strait connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara and head for Istanbul for dinner and an overnight stay.

Day 9: Istanbul But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ (Ephesians 4:7).

Our sightseeing tour of Istanbul, cultural, spiritual and economic hub of Turkey (and called “The City of Seven Hills” (like Rome!) because the oldest part of the city is alleged to have been built on seven hills), begins with a visit to the magnificent Topkapi Palace, home to the Ottoman Sultans for approximately 400 years (1465-1856) of their 624-year reign. The palace is a major tourist attraction containing the most holy relics of the Muslim world such as the Prophet Muhammed’s cloak and sword among many other treasures and antiquities including twelve thousand pieces of fine Chinese porcelain. The sight of cascading domes and six minarets of the Blue Mosque, built in 1609 by Sultan Ahmet, will undoubtedly thrill us. These still dominate the skyline of Istanbul and the interior walls are covered with twenty thousand blue iznik tiles. We’ll also visit the Hippodrome of Constantinople (which had a capacity to accommodate more than 100,000 spectators for sporting events such as the quadriga chariot races during the Roman and Byzantine periods) and the Grand Bazaar. Tonight: dinner and another overnight stay in “The City of Seven Hills.”

Day 10: Turkish-Greek Border & Alexandroupolis God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands (Acts 17:24).

After a morning tour of more of the unforgettable sights of Istanbul, we continue our journey to Greece. Our destination is Alexandroupolis, meaning “tree of the grandfather”, a name based on a local tradition of a wise dervish having spent much of his time in the shade of a local tree and being eventually buried beside it. We’ll enjoy dinner and an overnight stay in Alexandroupolis.

Day 11: Philippi, Kavala & Thessaloniki “And from there [he went] to Phillipi, which is the leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman Colony. We remained in the city some days…” (Acts 16:12-18).

After breakfast, we make our way to nearby Philippi, where Paul, accompanied by Silas, Luke and Timothy, first preached on European soil to sow the seeds of Christianity. Paul and Silas were arrested and beaten while in Philippi, but an earthquake caused their prison to be opened. It is said that when their jailer awoke, he prepared to kill himself, thinking all the prisoners had escaped and knowing that he would be severely punished, but Paul stopped him, convincing him that all the prisoners were still there. The jailer became one of the first Christians in Europe (Acts 16: 12-40). It was in Philippi that Paul met with a woman named Lydia, a purple-dye merchant (Rev. 2:18-29 and Acts 16: 14-15) who became the first Christian convert. We continue on to Kavala, the ancient port of Neapolis, and in the late afternoon, we arrive at Thessaloniki, celebrated as “the city whose praises are sung” for dinner and an overnight stay.

Day 12: Berea & Thessaloniki Now… they came to Thessalonica… And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures. Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ (Acts 17:1-3).

Today we explore Vergina which became internationally famous in 1977, when the Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronikos unearthed what he claimed was the burial site of the kings of Macedon, including the tomb of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great. Our tour will include the archaeological museum to see the findings from the Macedonian Tombs. Then we return to Thessaloniki where Paul preached; and as we know, wrote letters to the Thessalonians. Our panoramic tour will reveal the massive walls of Theodosius. We will see the ancient Agora, and the Church of St. Demetrius (Hagios Demetrios) constructed on the site of an ancient Roman bath. The basilica, the most beautiful in the city, is famous for six extant mosaic panels (depicting St. Demetrius with the founders of the restoration and with children) that represent a rare example of art surviving from the Dark Ages. After seeing the ramparts of the city and the Triumphal Arch of Galerius (composed of a masonry core faced with marble sculptural panels celebrating a imperial victories) and the Rotunda (a massive circular structure with a masonry core that had an oculus like the Pantheon in Rome), we move on to beautiful Berea where we’ll see Paul’s Bema where both he and Silas preached in AD 54 or 55 to a Jewish settlement after leaving the Thessalonians and where a Byzantine mosaic commemorates his preaching. We will enjoy dinner and our last overnight stay in Thessaloniki.

Day 13: Thessaloniki & Depart for Home Watch ye, stand fast in faith, quit you like men, be strong. Let all your things be done with charity (1 Cor. 16: 13-14).

Today marks the end of our magnificent journey. We’ll transfer to the Thessaloniki airport for our flight back home.

© Faith Journeys LLC

A pilgrimage to the Holy Land is a rare and privileged event. Every person of faith should make such a trip a priority in one's life. However, great care is needed to make sure the experience reflects the intent of the traveler. Without careful planning, advanced preparation and attention to details while in the Holy Land, the pilgrimage can fall short of expectations. Faith Journey's is a trusted, experienced partner who can make sure your journey is a critical step towards a deeper communion with Our Savior and his people.
Deacon Bill Garrett, Archdiocese of Atlanta and President Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School