The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville

On 24th March - Feast of the Annunciation - our group flew to Cyprus (one of the first countries to be converted to Christianity) and held a prayer meeting in the Anglican Church of St Barnabas before embarking in MV Spirit of Adventure for our epic voyage from Limassol. Next day saw us at Lattakia in Syria where we visited the remains of Tartous Cathedral before going on to the most famous Crusader castle of all, the mighty Crac de Chevaliers, which incredibly was still inhabited as recently as 1935!

Summer Edition 2010

Easter in the Footsteps of St Paul

Crac de Chevaliers

After a day at sea, we next came to the first of three ports in Turkey - Alanga for visits to its Byzantine chapels and Seljuk Sultans’ landmark cliftop Red Fort.

Palm Sunday saw us at Antalaya. After our  service and Palm Cross distribution we set off for the Anatolian city of Perge, where Paul began the mainland part of his first voyage. The next very exhausting but rewarding day took us first to the House of the Virgin Mary (her last known home), and the basilica of St John where lie the apostle’s remains (not in Patmos as is sometimes claimed). Thence to a mosque where the Iman gave us an intriguing insight into Islam, and then the great city of Ephesus, where St Paul spent two years teaching and our group had the memorable, unique experience of conducting readings and prayers in the very amphitheatre where Paul spent so much of his time.

Back to the ship at Bodrum and an overnight sailing to the historic island of Rhodes. Here we went to Lindos and its acropolis (to my surprise I managed the steep climb without the aid of a donkey) which overlooks St Paul’s Bay, where he sheltered from a storm.

Next was Heraklion in Crete, where St Paul united the Hebrew Cretans and appointed St Titus as the first Bishop of the island. Here we were conducted around the famed museum at Knossos.

Then to Monemvasia - the ‘Gibraltar of Greece’ and a trip to the UNESCO World Heritage site of medieval Mystras, overlooking Sparta, where we were introduced to their Greek Orthodox churches - by happy coincidence the two Easters fell the same week this year - some still in use. A festive Greek taverna lunch followed, contrasting on our return to the ship with a Maundy Thursday dinner set in the context of the Passover meal.

Good Friday was spent at sea, and there is always something special about services conducted afloat. 3rd April and a quite different experience with an excursion from Al Khums in Libya to the magnificent Roman city of Leptis Magna, including sightings of the arch of Emperor Septimus Serverus, Hadrian’s thermal baths and the 26,000 capacity amphitheatre. Awesome!

The Roman Theatre at Leptis Magna

Easter Sunday was spent in Malta. Following morning service in St John’s co-Cathedral, we crossed the island to the ‘silent city’ of Mdina, site of St Paul’s Church, catacombs and grotto, which hosted Pope Paul II and was going to receive Pope Benedict just two weeks after us on 17th April, and so in readiness the church was full of a dazzling array of treasures not normally seen. What luck! We returned to Valletta by way of St Paul’s Bay - where he was shipwrecked - St Paul’s Island and St Julian’s (where I lived 1938/39).

5th April took us to Gozo, which like its big sister has numerous associations with St Paul and has three churches bearing his name, plus the pre-historic Ggantija Temples. One final day at sea to recharge our batteries before disembarking at Piraeus for our flight to London.

Altogether this was a most absorbing fortnight. The main problem being to take in all that was seen. I found that the most significant feature of this voyage was the realisation of just how far had St Paul travelled in his three journeys plus the fateful final one to Rome, and the tremendous achievements accomplished in some 15 years during the days of such primitive transportation, especially when observed from the comfort of a modern cruise ship. Not bad for somebody whose original mandate - as Saul of Tarsus -  was to stamp out this new, upstart religion!

A special pleasure on this voyage was to renew my acquaintance with one of the cruise lecturers, Pam Rhodes, who has presented the BBC’s ‘Songs of Praise’ for some 23 years. Pam is a native of Gosport, which is also my home town and where I first knew her when she was a schoolgirl.

Vic Brown