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St. Paul in Corinth – Bearing Faith to a Worldly City

text and photos by Gerald Ring

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Leaving the sprawling, noisy, smoke-filled city of modern Athens on the road for Corinth recalls the Apostle Paul, who centuries ago embarked on that same journey. Its fruits, especially the great documents I and II Corinthians, today are an integral part of our Christian faith.

The Corinth to which Paul traveled was far larger and wealthier than its current namesake. Indeed, in that period it outshone Athens in almost every sphere. Corinth’s cosmopolitan character made it a model of the worldly cultures which young Christianity had to confront. Paul helped define the new faith’s response to the spheres of power and pleasure by bringing it into this place.

Corinth was one of the most prosperous cities of Greece. At the country’s commercial and military crossroads, it used its harbors in both the Aegean and Adriatic Seas to control the line of communication in peace and war. Merchant shipping brought wealth to the city, whose pottery was the finest in Greece.

This surfeit of riches encouraged widespread corruption and immorality. Corinth’s first governor, Sisyphus, was a cunning and deceitful ruler. Subsequent leaders tended to be dishonest tyrants. “Living as a Corinthian” was an expression synonymous with leading a decadent and depraved life.

Corinth’s commercial success constantly challenged Athens, and its strategic position on the isthmus also threatened that other great city-state, Sparta. These factors helped lead to the Peloponnesian War. Corinth survived this lengthy conflict and prospered until the Romans destroyed it in 146 B.C. Julius Caesar rebuilt the city in 46 B.C. When Paul visited in 51 A.D., it was a flourishing Roman and Jewish settlement, capital of the province of Achaia, and renowned for its luxury and wealth.

Corinth’s wealth was matched by a natural beauty which is still evident. The surrounding hills are alive with rich greens broken by fields of yellow, ochre, and brown. The sparkling clear blue waters of the Saronic and Corinthian gulfs complete the picture. Today, modern Corinth is a small town nestling along the water’s edge some 3.5 miles from the original site. Ancient Corinth’s ruins are situated against the background of Acrocorinth’s towering citadel, perched above a 1886-foot precipice.

The city occupied two natural terraces at the bottom of Acrocorinth and was joined to the cliff by a six-mile-long circuit wall. Although little of this wall survives, the ruins of the city give a visitor a clear impression of the flourishing city it once was.

Seven remaining pillars of the Temple of Apollo dominate the site, attesting to the pagan nature of Corinth that must have presented a great challenge to Paul. The city was morally decadent, cults thrived, and the sanctuary of Aphrodite owned more than a thousand courtesan slaves for sacred prostitution.

When Paul arrived in Corinth, he easily found the large Jewish community. The synagogue was a prominent building southeast of Apollo’s Temple. Paul immediately met Aquila and Priscilla, a Jewish couple recently expelled from Rome with all its Jews. Already believers, they were also tent-makers like Paul, and he was able to live and work with them (Acts 18:1-3).

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Tags: War Village life Greece Orthodox Church of Greece