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Day 3: The Acropolis and Traditional Greek Meal

Imagine, it's between 6-7am and you and some of your friends make your way up to the rooftop of your hotel to see the sunrise over the Acropolis. I (Mrs. Cathcart) also have to imagine it because I was happily asleep. Elijah, Katie, Joel, and Kyla (and others I am unaware of) took some beautiful pictures which are attached to this post. 

We started the day with a bus tour led by a certified guide who specializes in tours of Athens. Her name is Eva, short for Evangelia, which is of course Greek for “good news”. And it was good news that we had her as a guide for the morning, as she shared with us about the history of the city with knowledge and passion. We learned that Ancient Greek mythology is not the same as legends or fairy tales because it provides an explanation for the reason of things as well as provides moral education. Their religion was anthropocentric (human-centered) meaning the gods look like humans but they are more: more envious, more happy, more intelligent. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that in Ancient Greek mythology, the gods are made in the image of man. In contrast, our faith says that God made us to be an image of himself with the same capacities of compassion, creativity and love. 

As we drive through the city, we saw the Athenian Trilogy, the three most iconic neo-classical (19th century) buildings in Athens: the Academy, National Library, and University. The Athens National Library of Greece houses over 600,000 printed manuscripts and the Academy of Athens, is crowned by statues of Athena -Goddess of wisdom- and Apollo -God of light and the arts-, while at the front are located the statues of Plato and Socrates, the two famous philosophers.

Our tour culminates in a visit to the Panathenaic Stadium. The ancient Olympic games were held in Olympia, Greece in honor of Zeus among representatives from each city-state from 776 BC. Athletes would compete in sporting events to earn a laurel crown. When a victor was announced, the city would remove a piece of their wall. Why did they do this? Because, an athlete represents a skilled soldier, and if you have skilled soldiers, you don’t need protective or defensive walls. 

However, in the 4th century, the emperor Theodosius issued the Edict of Thessalonica, which made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. As a result, any Hellenistic festivals or traditions that celebrate the ancient gods are eliminated, including the Olympic games. The stadium was abandoned and fell into ruin. It took 1503 years for the Olympics to return with the first modern Olympics being held in Athens, Greece, in 1896. This is the venue we now stand at. 

Since then every two years, the Olympic flame lights in Ancient Olympia Stadium and is transferred by torch relay to Athens. In this 11-day relay throughout Greece, more than 550 torchbearers will carry the flame, which will arrive on April 26 at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, where the modern Games were born.

Our next stop is the Acropolis which overlooks all of Athens. In fact, it’s illegal to build anything too tall so that it remains at the very top of Athens. Our guide gives us earphones and a transmitting device so that we can hear “the whispers”, as she calls it, as we walk through the site.

Before walking up to the entrance, our guide gives us a wise word: this is the path that the Apostle Paul would have walked. He walked this same way and made history. When we walk up this path, we make our own history too. It is just amazing that these very same buildings are here and they will always be here. Maybe one day, a thousand years from now, someone will be talking about the students who came from around the world on EF Tours to walk the footsteps of the past. 

The entrance itself is majestic and we can see the location of one of the first art galleries of the ancient world. As we walk through the narrow pathway, columns lining us on either side, the view opens to reveal two temples including the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to Athena. We learn that there are no straight lines in the parthenon. They look straight, yes, but the pillars had to be designed to tilt towards the center, so that if you continued a line from each one upwards, these lines would converge. The floor and the ceiling are also cured, like U-shapes, to avoid water build up. All this careful engineering and 13 years of work from the citizens of Athens results in this monument of achievement. It shows what can happen when people pursue their own destiny. In fact, Eva calls the Parthenon democracy itself. 

We have time to explore the site and take some pictures. Most of us, including myself, don’t have a lot of words to express what it felt like to see these sites. I said I felt particularly inarticulate. Elijah said he was “speechless” and Aimee said it was just all so amazing. 

Our next stop is a group photo atop the Areopagus, meaning the “Hill of Ares” or “Mars Hill”, an outcropping of rock near the Acropolis. This is where Athenian men of age would vote and where Paul delivered his speech to the “Men of Athens” in Acts 17. In this passage, Paul is greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols and begins to debate with some stoic philosophers who then invite him to join a meeting of the Areopagus to tell them more and discuss these ideas. 


“Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.” 

Acts 17: 22-32


On this hill, each one of us stood in the place that Paul did 2000 years ago and preached about the good news of a God who would give his own life to save his people because of his great love. Wow. It really was surreal and makes this passage and the history come to life. 

We visit the Acropolis Museum to see other artifacts that have been preserved and restored. We break off into smaller groups to spend some time eating lunch, shopping, and (for some) watching the change-of-the-guard ceremony at the parliament building. 

Do you remember Dionysius from the Acts passage above? Next, we proceed to St. Dionysius Catholic Church, a church dedicated to Dionysius as the first Athenian man to become a Christian as a direct result of Paul teaching of the gospel atop Mars Hill. 

Returning to the hotel, we have some time to prepare for our traditional Greek meal and entertainment. Upon arriving at the restaurant, we learn about the process of making olive oil, taste their samples of olive oil, and get seated. We are among a number of other high school tour groups, many also from Canada. The meal is fantastic, a buffet with many traditional Greek dishes: Greek salad, meatballs, moussaka, lemon roasted potatoes, roasted vegetables, chicken, tzatziki, pasta, and much more. As we eat, we watch professional dancers perform a series of traditional Greek dances to live music. 

The evening is only getting started. The energy starts to build and keeps building as all the students are all called up to learn a traditional Greek dance. They squish onto the dance floor and hold hands in a giant spiral, moving three steps to the left followed by two kicks, slow at first and faster and faster until no one can keep up. Throughout the evening, there are many opportunities for students to dance. Then, students are handed plates… yes, for smashing. Students stand in a circle and throw plates in the center, shattering them and sending white dust into the air. 

Next, eight males are invited to the front, including Keagan, Arie, and Mr. Hartley. They are told to shut their eyes… nervously, they comply. Their faces become even more nervous as the crowd erupts at the surprise; they are each handed a push broom and told they must compete to be the best sweeper. We cheer on our representatives as they frantically sweep up the broken plates. 

To decide the winner, we cheer and scream loudly for our representatives. Ultimately, Arie is crowned the champion!! Our tables erupt in excitement. He is crowned with…you guessed it… a laurel crown. 

Later, the same team members plus Ann are escorted out of the hall. Minutes later, they return dressed in traditional clothing and perform a special dance for us all. The evening ends in one last group dance and a loud shout of “OPA!” 

Note: Thank you so much for your encouraging comments and prayers. We plan to share them with the students in our devotional time tomorrow. What amazing journey it has been so far! 

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Jeanne Encarnacion


We are truly enjoying the blog, good job Mrs Cathcart-keep it coming ! Though we miss our kids we can see that they are having an experience of a lifetime and life shaping time of the their lives. We continually cover all of you with our prayers!