Christian Athens

Paul, Lucas and Philip

areopagus church 16th century

Notwithstanding, the story of Christianism in Athens starts with Apostle Paul journey in 51 AD in pagan Athens, so not that successful as he may estimated. Paul started preaching in Athens agora, but he was rejected by Athenian audience, probably because Athenians were really much more advanced from his teaching, not like the Palestine’s average Jesus audience, Athens was a center of philosophy for over five hundred years already, what had Paul to offer?
Accordingly, we can estimate social environment that was much wealthier than other cities of its time. Paul abandoned Athens and he never referred to his experience here, not like Apostle Lucas writings. Athens was the only city that Christian teaching didn’t pass.

Moreover, Paul is said to have used Stoic sayings as «του γαρ και γένος εσμέν». Paul, speaking of God, quotes the fifth line of Aratus’s (Aratus had met Zeno and his origin was from Tarsos, Paul’s homeland) Phenomena (Epimenides seems to be the source of the first part of Acts 17.28, (in Greek Ἐν αὐτῷ γὰρ ζῶμεν καὶ κινούμεθα καὶ ἐσμέν, ὡς καί τινες τῶν καθ’ ὑμᾶς ποιητῶν εἰρήκασιν• τοῦ γὰρ καὶ γένος ἐσμέν — Πράξεις 17:28).
Paul student Lucas, was also maybe the first Christian scientist, since he was a doctor and visited. Lucas’ martyrdom took place in Theba, hanged in an olive tree.
Also Apostle Philip is claimed to have visited Athens around 55 -59 AD. Of course the problem of early Christians were not Romans or Greeks, but Jews, since the new religion was considered as a herecy. Ananias arrived from Jerusalem to Athens, and there was a conflict between the two men. At the point were two person met, a temple of Saint Philip was raised later (Philippou & Adrianou). Philip ordained St. Narcissus bishop of Athens. His feast day is October 31. Narcissus of Athens is numbered among the Seventy Disciples. Along with the Apostles Urban of Macedonia, Stachys, Ampliatus, Apelles of Heraklion and Aristobulus of Britannia he assisted Saint Andrew, brother of Peter.

Athens first saints and martyrs: Athenian apologists 
Athens was keeping its cosmopolitan tradition in the Christian context as well. The successors of the first bishop were not all Athenians by lineage. They are catalogued as Narkissos, Publius, and Quadratus. Narkissos is stated to have come from Palestine, and Publius from Malta. Therefore, Christians should defend themselves from jews and pagans accusations regarding their rituals.

During Hadrian christians were under pressure around Mediterranean

Quadratus is revered for having contributed to early Christian literature by writing an apology, which he addressed to the Emperor Hadrian. This was on the occasion of Hadrian’s visit to Athens. Hadrian sent to the responsible person not to persecute anyone without specific charges. Saint Quadratus is counted among the Seventy Apostles in the tradition of the Eastern Churches.

Another Athenian who defended Christianity in writing an apology was Aristeides, in 2nd century as well. Aristides’ apology was directed to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, conversely he was hanged in the center of Athens agora. Athenagoras likewise wrote an apology, who in his writings he styles himself as “Athenagoras, the Athenian, Philosopher, and Christian”. There is some evidence that he was a Platonist before his conversion, but this is not certain.

In the second century there must have been a considerable community of Christians in Athens, for Hygeinos, Bishop of Rome, is said to have written a letter to the community in the year 139.”

Moreover, in 250 AD Athens archbishop Leonidas was killed in Corinth and buried in Ilissos basilica, that was excavated in 1916. In 267 Athens was sacked by Goths Heroulians. In illissos basilica there were also found Athenian lamps, dated in the 5th century. Between 267 – 400 Agora abandoned. 280 Athenians built a new fortification wall and a construction of large houses on the south is mentioned. On 400 AD Gymnasium was built.

Christianity becomes a  trend 
The next 4th century found the future Fathers studying in Athens, together with the last Emperor who fought them. Moreover, it was the time that Christianity was established as the main religion.
In 325 Rome was transferred to New Rome and the father of Gregory Nazianzus converted to Christianity. Nazianzus’ son, Gregory, was sent to Athens for studies, with Basil of Caesarea. On the way to Athens Gregory’ ship encountered a violent storm, and the terrified Gregory prayed to Christ that if He would deliver him, he would dedicate his life to His service.
In Athens, Gregory studied under the famous rhetoricians Himerius and Proaeresius (an Armenian Christian teacher and rhetorician originally from Caesarea. He was one of the leading sophists of the era along with Diophantus the Arab and Epiphanius of Syria). The two students also spent almost six years in Athens starting around 349, where they met a fellow student who would become emperor, Julian the Apostate. Consequently, Julian was also initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries, which he would later try to restore.

During 353-356 all sacrifices were forbidden, and pagan world was coming to an end. Basil left Athens in 356, and after travels in Egypt and Syria, he returned to Caesarea, where for around a year he practiced law and taught rhetoric.

In 361 Julian tried to restore ancient religion and banned Christians from holding chairs of education in 362, Prohaeresius was among them. The historian Eunapius was Prohaeresius’ favorite student and biographer.

Gregory left Athens in 361 and returned to Nazianus. In response to the emperor’s rejection of the Christian faith, Gregory composed his Invectives Against Julian between 362 and 363. Fortunately for Christians, Julian died in 363 and Christianity won. In Athens pagan worship was active in Elefsis. In 375 Nestorius Ierofantis of Elefsis, tried to put a statue of Achilles in Parthenon, because he saved Athens from earthquake.

Acropolis view from Filopappou Hill

Theodosius, Alaric and the end of Classical Greece 
During 379 Theodosius’ reign (a Spanish army commander and the last emperor of east and west parts of the empire) ancient temples were sacked and antiquities stolen. On 26 November 380, two days after he had arrived in Constantinople, Theodosius expelled the non-Nicene bishop, Demophilus of Constantinople, and appointed Gregory of Nazianzus, patriarch of Constantinople. Theodosius had just been baptized, by bishop Ascholius of Thessalonica, during a severe illness, as was common in the early Christian world. In 393, Theodosius banned the pagan rituals of the Olympics Greece.
Parthenon was never made the same again, as of Pericles’ era. A new rooftop from clay tiles –not marble ones- covered only the alcove and was conscrated to Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) a Christian temple during Iustinianus reign, after 529, around 530 AD. In an anonymous hand written description of 15th century, kept in Vienna Library, is named as «the temple of Panagia that is is Acropolis was made by Apollontas and Eylygios,» who were of the time of Iustinianus and Tiberius II. In 662 Parthenon was rededicated in honor of the Mother of God, “Panagia Atheniotissa” (Panagia of Athens), and remained so until 1204, that was renamed Santa ti Atene.

After Alaric I destruction (396-397) of Athens and Elefsis, the way for Christians was open.
Few years later another Roman official, Herculius, (408 – 412 AD), split equally the space of Hadrian’s Library equally to Pagans and Christians. The restructured sides of the Library, were given to Pagans and the yard to Christians, a new temple was built. It is the Tetraconch in the yard of Adrianos Library in the Roman Agora.  It had a central square hall with conches in its four sides – hence, it was named Tetraconch. Marble revetments and rich decoration characterize the building, which was associated with the Athenian empress of Byzantium, Eudokia, who was daughter of Leontius, teacher in Athens, and her original name was Athinais. It seems that the monument was converted into a three-aisled basilica in the beginning of the 6th century, and in the following centuries it became known as Megali Panagia.Nowadays, it is totally ruined.In 426, Theodosius II converted pagan temples into Christian churches Olympian Zeus temple in Olympia is burnt.

Proclus and the last 100 years of Athens’ knowledge fame  

Agia sophia church at areopagitou, where Proclus house was in 5th century AD.

In 450 director of Plato’s Academy was Proclus. He studied rhetoric, philosophy and mathematics in Alexandria, with the intent of pursuing a judicial position like his father. In 431 he arrived to Athens, to study at the Neoplatonic successor of the famous Academy founded 800 years earlier (in 387 BC); there he was taught by Plutarch of Athens, Syrianus, and Asclepigenia; he succeeded Syrianus as head of the Academy, and would in turn be succeeded on his death by Marinus of Neapolis.
Proclus’ house has been discovered recently in Athens, under the pavement of Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, south of Acropolis, opposite the theater of Dionysus. He had a great devotion to the goddess Athena, who he believed guided him at key moments in his life. Marinus reports that when Christians removed the statue of the goddess from the Parthenon, a beautiful woman appeared to Proclus in a dream and announced that the “Athenian Lady” wished to stay at his home. Proclus died aged 73, and was buried near Mount Lycabettus in a tomb. It is reported that he was writing 700 lines each day.
Few decades later after Proclus, in 529, Justinian I forbade pagans to teach. In 529 some may feared that Academy would favor and promote anti-Christian, so antigovernment views that the world was without end. So Academy could be a threat to empire power. Justinian was making reforms, built Agia Sophia in Constantinople and introduced various changes in empire. 529 was the same year that Benedict founded Montecassino in Italy.
Furthermore, the invasion 50 years later of Slavs in Greece (582) marks the end of Athens as of any category or center of education and the burden of providing education passed to Constantinople, Rome and Alexandria.

 

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