In the footsteps of Apostle Paul


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Lydia of Thyatira and the Baptistery named after her

Photo by Giannis Giannelos

When Paul the Apostle visited Philippi in AD 49/50, founding the first Christian Church in Europe, the appearance of the city changed. Among those who heard the Apostle Paul’s sermon was a woman called Lydia. Lydia decided to be baptised in the waters of the River Zygaktis and she thus became the first Christian woman in the whole of history. The Apostle Paul visited Philippi on another three occasions, a fact that, along with his Letter to the Philippians, shows the long and close relationship between the saint and the community of Philippi.

The modern Baptistery of St Lydia (1974), with an octagonal design, can today be found very close by to the archaeological site. On the adjacent bank of the River Zygaktis there is an open-air baptistery within the flowing stream, similar to those that survive in the Early Christian basilicas of Philippi in the shape of a cross. On 20 May each year, the day of memory for St Lydia of Thyatira, an adult baptism is performed in the River Zygaktis after the Divine Liturgy. Being present at the mystery of baptism is a unique spiritual experience.

The archaeological site of Philippi borders to the east with the village of Krinides and to the west with the hamlet of Lydia, where St Lydia’s Baptistery is to be found. The name Philippi has today been given to a hamlet that is located 10 km from Krinides.

Paul the Apostle at Neapolis

Monument dedicated to Apostle Paul - Photo by Artware

Photo by Artware

During his journey through Asia Minor in AD 49-50 (the second phase of his Apostolic mission), the Apostle Paul saw a vision of a Macedonian man standing and pleading with him: “Come to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16, 9). This vision provided the motivation for St Paul to come and preach in the name of Christ, the Resurrection and his Church in Europe. From Troas, he proceeded with his group to Samothrace and from there disembarked at Neapolis (today’s Kavala) in the winter of AD 49, at the spot where today the mosaic monument of the Bema of Saint Paul is located. From Neapolis he went, along the old Via Egnatia, to Philippi, which was then one of the most important cities of Eastern Macedonia and a Roman colony. His entourage included the Apostles Silas (the Holy Monastery of St Silas in Kavala is dedicated to this saint), Timothy and Luke the Evangelist.

Paul the Apostle at Philippi

St. Lydia's of Philippi holy baptistery - Photo by Giannis Giannelos

Photo by Giannis Giannelos

Philippi was one of the Roman colonies of Macedonia, inhabited by Greeks, Romans and a few Jews (Acts 16). St Paul and his entourage stayed at Philippi for a few days. It was on a Saturday when they left the city to go to a place near the River Zygaktis because they had heard that people gathered here to praise God. This is where the Apostle Paul decided to give his first sermon on European soil, addressing the women that he had encountered there. Among them was a porphyry trader, Lydia, who came from Thyatira in Asia Minor, a pious woman who accepted the word of the Apostle and believed in Christ. Lydia was the first European Christian woman to be baptised along with her family on the banks of the River Zygaktis. She hosted St Paul and his entourage in her home, and helped to spread the Divine Word throughout the whole of Europe. For this reason, the Orthodox Church proclaimed her a saint and an equal to the apostles. An impressive octagonal church and baptistery was built in the area to honour her, adorned with mosaics and stained glass windows.

Paul the Apostle was accused of perversion and of forbidden – for the Romans – practices for a miracle he performed on a young female fortune teller. The authorities arrested him, had him beaten with rods, and imprisoned him. That night when he was in the jail, there was an earthquake and the gates of the jail opened. When the guard saw the open gates he became very frightened because he thought that the prisoners would escape and so pulled out a knife to commit suicide. The Apostle Paul, however, reassured him and told him that they had not left. The guard then came to believe in Christ and was baptised a Christian along with his family. The place where St Paul was jailed can still be found within the archaeological site of Philippi, near the ruins of Basilica A, the large Early Christian church dating from the 5th century AD. The rulers of the city freed him and told him to leave Philippi. Before he departed, he thanked his brothers and then went to Thessaloniki via Amphipolis. St Paul later made three further visits to the city of Philippi.

The first Christian community in Europe

Photo from Dimofelia’s archive

The Christian community of Philippi was founded by St Paul in AD 49/50; it was the first on European soil and played an important role in strengthening the Apostle’s mission on his journeys, even financially. Philippi was experiencing a golden period at that time because of the prevalence of the new religion and the transfer of the capital of the Roman state to Byzantium (later Constantinople). The town was also actively involved in supporting local Churches, such as that of Antioch, which was deprived of its pastor, St Ignatius the God-bearing. The Philippians had a spirit of ecumenical brotherly love and giving and it is not a coincidence that St Paul sent them a letter of love and thanks for the help they had offered him in his work (Letter to the Philippians).

In the Early Christian period (4th-6th century AD) the Octagon complex was built. It contains the octagonal church in which three building phases can be noted (from the late 4th/early 5th until the mid-6th century) and was built on the site of the first house of worship dedicated to St Paul (early 4th century AD). There are even a phiale (fountain structure), a baptistery, baths, a two-storey Bishopric, and three grand basilicas: Basilica A (a large, three-aisled basilica dating to the late 5th century AD); Basilica B (a three-aisled, domed basilica dating to around AD 550); and Basilica C (a grand, three-aisled 6th-century basilica).

The town of Philippi was gradually abandoned from the early 7th century AD, due to large earthquakes and Slavic raids. It survived in the Byzantine period as a fortress, but was completely abandoned after the Turkish conquest in the late 14th century.

The Holy Metropolitan Church of Philippi, Neapolis and Thassos

Photo by Giannis Giannelos

Since the early 20th century, the area of ancient Philippi has been the most important archaeological site of the Roman and Early Christian years in Northern Greece. The Church of Philippi went through various administrative and organisational changes and is today known as the Holy Metropolis of Philippi, Neapolis and Thassos, with its seat in Kavala.

The local Church founded a church (in 1900) in honour of the city’s patron saint, Paul the Apostle and it celebrates his memory on 29 June, along with St Peter. Behind the church of Agios Nikolaos, it has placed a mosaic “Bema of the Apostle” in memory of the arrival of St Paul. This work is by the painter Vlasios Tsotsonis and the mosaicist Pino Pastorutti, while a church and baptistery modelled on an older baptistery have been built in honour of St Lydia of Thyatira on the spot where she was baptised. The Holy Metropolis of Philippi has even created the Apostle Paul Centre for Historical Studies in the space of the baptistery of St Lydia, so as to promote cultural and conference tourism and to develop and showcase the route taken by St Paul. It is also hoped that the Centre will contribute to unifying the local archaeological sites (Philippi, Krinides and the Baptistery of St Lydia), and facilitate research activities. The building has a library, exhibition and meeting areas as well as conference rooms.

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