For the first time all week, we didn’t have to catch an early morning bus; our trip to Corinth didn’t begin until 12:30, which, in Greece, does not mean after lunch – the meal times run a bit later. We left the hotel and drove along the Aegean coastline to the bottom of the Corinthian Canal, which connects the Aegean and Ionian Seas. People have been trying to figure out how to connect the two bodies of water, which are only separated by 6.2 kilometers of land, for centuries. One ruler dreamed of a canal a millennium before Christ. Another realized he didn’t have the technology for a canal, but built a stone road which allowed for ships to be pulled from the water and rolled on giant tree trunks across the land to the other side rather than make the six hundred mile journey around the Peloponnese, so Corinth became a city with two harbors. That road was used for centuries. The canal, as it stands today, was constructed in the nineteenth century and remains the third deepest canal in the world, behind Suez and Panama.
Corinth has had several incarnations as a city, all of them with attitude. Edward Stourton quotes H. V. Morton’s picture of Corinth as
a city built on a narrow neck of land, with the eastern harbour full of Egyptian, Asiatic, and Phoenician galleys, while the western harbor was full of the cargo boats of Italy, Spain, and the Adriatic. Wagons must have been constantly crossing the few miles from Cenchreae with the good of Egypt, Asia Minor, and Syria for transshipment to the west at Lechaeum; and a reverse line of wagons from Lechaeum must have carried western merchandise to Cenchreae from transshipment to the Orient. No wonder that Corinth, situated between two such ports, developed a cosmopolitanism tinged with the vices of the foreign nations
whose ships lay in her harbours. (120-21)
The ruins we saw were of the Roman city built by Julius Caesar in 44 BCE. The Romans razed the city that stood before that one in 146 BCE because the Corinthians were too rebellious – and kind of nasty, too. Stourton says what really ticked the Romans off was the way “its rebellious citizens threw turds into their chariots as they passed” (120). That will get you in trouble in most any country. Besides being rebellious, the city was Vegas without the lights: a place where any appetite could be gorged without any guilt at all. What happened in Corinth stayed in Corinth.
Walking the ruins here was particularly meaningful because we have a more detailed account of Paul’s feelings for and dealings with the Corinthian church than we do any other, thanks to the two letters we know as 1 and 2 Corinthians. (There were at least two more letters that we don’t have – ours, as best we know, are really 2 and 4 Corinthians.) There is also particular evidence that connects the archeological discoveries with the New Testament. Erastus was a government official mentioned in one of the lists of people Paul mentions at the end of the letter to the Romans (Romans 16:23: Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you). We saw a stone inscribed with Erastus’ name and title in the ruins that have been unearthed.
Beyond that, walking the streets of a city – the largest Roman forum in Greece – where the church had drawn such deep emotion from Paul, and such amazing writing, spoke to the heart of our faith which has come down through the centuries:
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
The legacy of what has been done in the name of God over the centuries is not necessarily admirable. Many of the Acropoli in the cities we saw held the remnants of fortresses built during the Crusades when “Christian” soldiers destroyed the cities that stood in Jesus’ name, thinking God’s cause could be advanced by armies. They were wrong. The layers of civilization we have seen, stone stacked on fallen stone, demonstrate again and again that those who live by the sword will die by it as well. As obvious as that lesson is, we have yet to learn it.
The legacy of faith was passed down incarnationally, from person to person, in love. Even if Constantine had not made Christianity the official religion of the empire, or the Popes had not amassed such wealth and power, walking among the ruins and listening to the stories, I believe our faith would have still traveled the centuries to find us because of people like Paul and Phoebe (who let the Corinthian church meet in her house), down the days and dreams until the list of names would include our own. Love never ends.
Our trip to Corinth marked the last official segment of our group tour. All of us are headed in different directions from here. Ginger and I have Friday to do nothing but be together in Athens and then we head for Turkey and a whole different kind of experience. As we neared Athens last night, we sang, “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.” We said goodbye to Betty, who has been amazing, and to Christos, our bus driver, and wished each other blessings as well. Our group will never be together again as we were this past week. Nothing stays the same.
And love never ends.
PS — Today marks my 100th post, a landmark significant to me, I suppose, yet still worth marking.