Thursdays are dedicated to men’s outreach at the ministry center, so the ladies get the day off. I’ve taken this day once a week to see a bit of the city, wander around Athens, cater to the junior high version of myself who once poured over books on ancient Greece and Greek mythology.
I do it in good spirits, grateful for the opportunity many never get, but the truth is, I never wanted to visit Athens.
I have always held strongly to the belief that you shouldn’t visit your favorite places, the ones you’ve built up in dreams and imaginings. Because there is just no way that the real thing can ever live up to the idea.
So when I began my trip to the Acropolis on a frigid, blustery day, I tried to put away the 13-year old and approach this exploration without expectations.
The previous week I had gone to the Acropolis museum. It had been a quick drop in-drop out kind of visit. Frankly, the museum isn’t large. But it gave me some good background on the temple of Athena and the surrounding structures. When I would find myself standing beneath the arched columns, I would know that the faded carvings around the rim were depictions of centaurs carrying women away from a feast. (I did wonder, both in the museum and again on the Acropolis, how grown men could have actually believed in centaurs and fauns. Like, wouldn’t someone have eventually been like, “Bro, shouldn’t there at least be skeletal evidence of these guys? Do you know anyone who knows a centaur? Like, what the heck, man?” …Just my thoughts).
The walk up the hill was quicker than I expected. Cold weather and brisk walking made the time fly by.
A whistle blew as I walked through the entrance and a guard raced down some stairs towards a girl doing a handstand in front of the entry steps.
“Stop! No funny pictures!” he shouted as the few passersby paused their ascent to stare at the bewildered girl. “You think this funny? You think this not serious? You take funny pictures?”
The poor girl just babbled incoherently, so taken aback by the outburst of the furious guard, who by this time had lathered himself into a righteous wrath.
“They’re not funny,” she tried to explain as he insisted she delete them. “They’re just for me. I’m not putting them anywhere.”
I could hear them squabbling all the way up the huge stone steps to the Pantheon until the wind whipped their voices into the distance. Most museums and monuments in Athens have signs that request visitors to be respectful of the history – no singing, no “funny pictures,” no nonsense.
By the time I found myself on top of the massive steps leading under the marble pillars of the entryway, I couldn’t feel my hands. My eyes watered from the wind and I had to pull my scarf over my head to keep my ears from retreating up inside my brain. The good news: no one else was there.
Pockets of other humans, yes. But the crowds were nowhere to be found. For all intents and purposes, it was just me and the Acropolis. And I wouldn’t have had our first meeting any other way.
The Acropolis is gorgeous, don’t get me wrong. Still standing after more than two millennia is quite an architectural feat. Both temples on the hill, and the crumbles in between, were visually stunning. And, like, really big.
But it wasn’t the ruins that stole my breath when I crested the top of the mountain. It was the view.
On one side, beyond a city of dirty-white rooftops, enormous mountains were enveloped in clouds that seeped between ridges of the ancient rock. When the wind picked up and the clouds pulled back, slivers of snow were visible on the peaks.
On the other side lay the sea. One minute it would be brilliantly, deeply blue, set against azure islands and indigo skies. The next minute, the clouds would break open, spilling golden sunlight on the water, causing the waves to turn silver beneath them.
Someone I work with at the center here said Greek ruins make him sad. He reminded me that these once great structures were built to worship gods that don’t exist. Their pagan worship included forced prostitution and their false gods certainly had none of the power and wisdom attributed to them.
The truth about the Acropolis is that it is cheerless. These broken pillars are all that are left of a magnificent people with incredible minds – minds given to them by the God of the Bible, who they rejected and refused.
But God’s workmanship stands as glorious as it did they day he created it. His mountains, his seas, his skies.
On top of the Parthenon, surrounded by the eroding testimony of man’s finite nature, I realized once again how great is my God, greater even than my largest expectations.