Monday, July 12, 2010

The Areopagus or Mars Hill

The Areopagus is a rocky hill northwest of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. Below, the Areopagus as seen from the Acropolis.
The Areopagus as seen from the Agora.
The Acropolis and the Areopagus (to the far right) as seen from the temple of Hephaestus in the Agora.
It functioned as the high court of appeal for criminal and civil cases in Athens. Ares was tried there by the gods for the murder of Poseidon’s son. It was also the site of the trial of Orestes for killing his mother Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. The Romans later referred to the Areopagus as “Mars Hill,” after Mars, the Roman god of war.

On the Apostle Paul’s second missionary journey, he visited Athens. While Paul was waiting there for some people, “he saw the city wholly given to idolatry” and “his spirit was stirred in him..” So he “disputed… in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him. Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say?” Some said, “He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)” (Acts 17:16-21) Paul then gave a famous speech which is given in Acts.

To understand the context of the speech, the Greeks worshiped a deity they called Agnostos Theos, the Unknown god. In Athens there was a temple dedicated to that god. It was not a specific deity, but a catch-all for the god or gods that actually existed, but whose name and nature were not revealed.

"Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” (Acts 17:22-31)

Old steps leading up onto Mars Hill.
A sign at Mars Hill.
My grandfather, Edwin Q. Cannon, visited Athens and on May 8, 1910 noted in his journal, “We…climbed up on the rocks called Mars Hill where Paul preached to the Athenians.”

62 years later, in September 1972, his son, my uncle, Edwin Q. Cannon, Jr. (“Ted”), visited Mars Hill with LDS Church President Harold B. Lee, Gordon B. Hinckley, and their wives. Ted, who was President of the Switzerland Mission, also had responsibility for the Church in areas where there was not a recognized church structure, including Greece. He made 17 trips to Greece during his three years as mission president in an effort to get the church recognized there. This was one of those trips. Before leaving the next morning, “President Lee expressed a desire to be up early enough for a short prayer meeting on Mars Hill. Later that night, Ted woke up thinking of the little group of members in Athens who needed encouragement…” He telephoned several members “to relay an invitation to the meeting on Mars Hill. Ten members and an investigator joined them. Ted’s wife Janath wrote the following about the meeting: “We had a great spiritual experience this morning…At 7:15 a.m. we climbed to the rocky summit of Mars Hill, where Paul delivered his great oration to the Athenians, with President & Sister Lee and Elder & Sister Hinckley…After reading Paul’s sermon, President Lee spoke to the assembled group, reminding them of the persecutions and difficulties endured by Paul and Joseph Smith, quoting from the Prophet’s prayer in Liberty Jail and the Lord’s answer that all his sufferings should be but for a moment and would be for his good, that the Lord’s work would not be frustrated. He then told them that the preaching of the gospel in Greece was the Lord’s work, and He would help them accomplish it. Elder Hinckley gave a powerful prayer in which he asked for the little group of Saints to be dedicated to the work of the gospel in Greece. President Cannon spoke to them of the specific things they now needed to do to get the petition approved and promised to return in about 10 days to follow through.” She also wrote, “Everyone was buoyed up and excited, and the Acropolis shining in the morning sun made a lovely backdrop.” (Janath Russell Cannon and Edwin Q. Cannon, Jr., Together: A Love Story (Desk-top Publishing, Salt Lake City, Utah: 1999), pp. 120, 131-132)

The Acropolis from Mars Hill.
A different view of the Acropolis from a different spot on Mars Hill.
Judy and I visited Mars Hill while in Athens recently. I thought of the Apostle Paul, my grandfather and my uncle while standing there. It was the realization of a dream to visit this very spot. It appears that the first LDS mission in Greece was established in 1990. While we were walking near our hotel, very near Mars Hill, Judy saw a pair of LDS missionaries.

Sources: Wikipedia “Areopagus,” “Paul of Tarsus,” “Unknown God”

1 comment:

  1. Lovely story. I like the linking of your family across the generations, tied together because of this little piece of earth. Thanks.