On The Aeropagus: A Reflection


This past month, I stood again on the Aeropagus in Athens, just below the Acropolis.  It was almost seven years to the date when I first stood there and read aloud the story of the Apostle Paul's speech on that site from Acts 17.  

The author on the Aeropagus, October 2023

In the Acts account of Paul's speech on the Aeropagus, there is this line: 

34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

Let me share a bit about the traditions and historical accounts of who Dionysius and Damaris were. 

Tradition holds that, at a young age, Dionysius found himself in Heliopolis of Egypt (near Cairo) just at Christ's crucifixion in Jerusalem. On that Great Friday, at the time of the crucifixion of Christ, according to the gospel, "From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land." (Matthew 27:45). 

The young boy, Dionysius, was shocked by this paradoxical phenomenon and exclaimed: "God suffers or is always despondent" ("God suffers or is lost all"). He noted the day and hour of this supernatural event of the darkness of the Sun.

When Dionysius returned to Athens, he heard the preaching of the Apostle Paul in the Areopagus Hill in Athens and was stirred to believe Paul's teachings about Christ. He was baptized with his family thereafter. 

Historical accounts wrote that when he learned that the Mother of Christ, Mary, lived in Jerusalem, he traveled to Jerusalem to meet her. From this meeting, he said: "Her appearance, her features, her whole appearance testify that she is indeed Mother of God." 

It is also noted that he attended her funeral in Jerusalem and wept "torrents of tears," along with the Apostles at her passing.  

Dionysius suffered a Christian martyr's end by burning. His story was preserved by the early Christian historian Eusebius of Caesarea in his Ecclesiastical History.

Dionysius eventually became the first Bishop of Athens. He is venerated as a saint in the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches. He is the patron saint of Athens and is venerated as the protector of the Judges and the Judiciary. 

In Athens, two large churches bear his name, one in Kolonaki on Skoufa Street, while the other is the Catholic Metropolis of Athens on Panepistimiou Street. The pedestrian walkway around the Acropolis, which passes through the rock of the Areios Pagos, is also named after him.

Dionysius is the patron saint of the Gargaliani of Messenia, as well as in the village of Dionysi in the south of the prefecture of Heraklion. The village was named after him and is the only village of Crete with a church in honor of Saint Dionysios Areopagitis.

Damaris (Δάμαρις) was one of those present when Paul preached in Athens. Her name means "Gentle." Like Dionysius, the Areopagite, she embraced the Christian faith following Paul's speech. 

Because women were not present in Areopagus meetings, Damaris was traditionally assumed to have been a hetaera (courtesan, high-status prostitute), but modern commentators have alternatively suggested she might have been a follower of the Stoics (who welcomed women among their ranks) or a foreigner visiting Athens. 

Damaris is a Saint of the Greek Orthodox Church, remembered on October 3rd with Dionysius the Areopagite and two other disciples of Dionysius, who also became martyrs.

In modern Athens, Saint Damaris is also honored by having a street named after her — Odos Damareos — near the Profitis Ilias Square, one of the main urban open spaces in the Pagkrati neighborhood.

Years ago, I uncovered this beautiful poem by Jessica Coupe about Damaris: 
Damaris of Athens 

It was on Mars Hill
I first heard the small man preach.
He whom some called ‘the Babbler’.

“I noticed,” he said, “you have an altar
inscribed ‘To the Unknown God’.
Listen, as I tell you about Him
whom you ignorantly worship.”

His voice sounded as sure as a lion,
as he spoke of the God
who had met him
on the road to Damascus.

Around me people scoffed.
Each day we wake
to a multitude of stories.
Athens is full of stories.
Full of distractions.
To them this seems but one more.

But to me this story is different.
This story has a Spirit about it…
The Babbler, whose name is Paul,
says that we are the offspring of God.

Not just any god but the Almighty.
The Creator of sun and moon and stars.
The Creator of order and beauty and bounty.

“He is not far from us, his children.”
Not far from us…
My heart sings for very joy,
even as those around me mock.
The Spirit of Life, my Father’s spirit,
whispers through my soul,
brushing the cobwebs from my heart,
and filling me with heaven’s love.

The short man leaves the scoffers
to the cold comfort
of their own intelligence.

“Wait,” I call to him.
He turns with a smile.
I would learn more
of the Unknown God.
I will feel after him.

I will find him…

These two people were changed forever because Paul wasn't afraid to share his faith and to do so in a way that was inclusive and filled with grace and peace.  

As I stood on the Aeropagus, reflecting on all this and more, I remembered my previous visit, which occurred during a crossroads in my life.  

When I read those words of Paul back then, I had no idea that seven years later, I would be there once more.  On that first visit, I wept as I read Paul's words, realizing that they were placing a renewed sense of call upon my life. 

It was a call to continue sharing my own story, reaching out to those who might not ever give church or Christianity a chance.  

The words of that short rabbi from Tarsus, the "Babbler," are still alive and powerfully moving all these two thousand-odd years later.  

And to that, I say, "Amen."  And also this: May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  

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