The Dangers of Bitterness in the Lives of Christians: The Case of Simon the Sorcerer (a.k.a. Simon Magus)

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” (Ephesians 4:31; NIV; emphasis mine)

The Apostle Paul instructed believers in the church of Ephesus to get rid of all bitterness, and based on the book of Acts, we have also on record one believer  (Simon Magus, who was also known as Simon the Sorcerer) who was in bondage to bitterness, as well as other sins (Acts 8:18-24; NIV; emphasis mine):

18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

24 Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”

Unforunately, church tradition suggests that Simon the Sorcerer did not end well. According to The Search for the Twelve Apostles, this is how Simon met his eventual death:

The magician, vanquished by a superior power, flung his books into the Dead Sea, broke his wand, and fled to Rome, where he became a great favorite of the Emperor Claudius, and afterwards of Nero. Peter, bent on counteracting the wicked sorceries of Simon, followed him to Rome. About two years after his arrival he was joined there by the Apostle Paul. Simon Magus having asserted that he was himself a god, and could raise the dead, Peter and Paul rebuked his impiety, and challenged him to a trial of skill in the presence of the emperor. The arts of the magician failed; Peter and Paul restored the youth to life and on many other occasions Simon was vanquished and put to shame by the miraculous power of the Apostles. At length he undertook to fly up to heaven in sight of the emperor and the people; and, crowned with laurel, and supported by denons, he flung himself from a tower, and appeared for a while to float thus in the air, but St.Peter, falling on his knees commanded the denons to let go their hold, and Simon, precipitated to the ground, was dashed to pieces.” (“Sacred and Legendary Art,” Anna Jameson, p.209).

The church tradition of Simon Magus crashing to the ground at the feet of Emperor Nero when the Apostle Peter commanded the demons who suspended him in midair to let him go is depicted in an artwork commissioned in the 1460s by the Alessandri family in Florence, and which is now exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Saint Peter and Simon Magus Painting by Benozzo Gozzoli

Simon Magus is considered to be the first Christian heretic, the first Gnostic, and the founder of the sect of the Simonians. Had he been diligent in getting rid of his bitterness and other sins, it seems certain that history would have painted him in a different light.

Church of the Thessalonians: Understanding What Life for Those Believers Was Like (Travel Photos)

On a trip to Thessaloniki in November 2011, I visited the Museum of Byzantine Culture, and it is a place that I would recommend for those of you who would like a deeper understanding of early church history in Thessaloniki.

Museum of Byzantine Culture

Museum of Byzantine Culture

At the museum, look out for exhibits related to the early Christian church:

Museum of Byzantine Culture

Museum of Byzantine Culture

Here is a panel which nicely explains what early Christian life in Thessaloniki was like:

What early Christian life in Thessaloniki was like

Meanwhile, here are a couple of random things that caught my attention.

Firstly, here is an archaeological finding of a mosaic floor from the reception room of a house of the 5th century Thessaloniki:

Mosaic floor from the reception room of a house of the 5th century Thessaloniki

Mosaic floor from the reception room of a house of the 5th century Thessaloniki

Here are some oil lamps used during time the early Christian period (I have seen similar lamps in Israel). It serves as a reminder to me of what the Lord Jesus Christ said in Matthew 25:3 (NIV): “The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them.

Oil Lamps in Thessaloniki

Here is a 4th century statue depicting the parable of the Good Shepherd (John 10):

4th century statue depicting the Good Shepherd

4th century statue depicting the Good Shepherd

Finally, here is mid 19th century engraving of the Last Judgment. In the engraving, you see magicians represented among the sinners of hell.

Mid 19th century engraving of the Last Judgment

TRAVEL AND HISTORY: Which Idols Did The Thessalonian Believers Forsake When They Became Christians (Travel Photos)

The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. (1 Thessalonians 1:8-10; emphasis mine NIV)

In the above passage in 1 Thessalonians, it tells us that the Thessalonian believers had “turned to God from idols“. Which idols had they turned away from?

Scripture does not tell us, nonetheless, during a visit to the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki in November 2011, I gathered that one of the idols that they may have worshipped is the goddess, Roma (please see the two photographs below; the former shows a headless statue of Roma and the latter is the signage that appeared in front of the statue):

Idol of Roma at Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki

Idol of Roma at Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki

The Thessalonian believers may have also been involved in Emperor worship. The photo below shows the door of the temple dedicated to Julius Caesar…

Temple dedicated to Julius Caesar (Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki)

… and the accompanying poster suggests that Caesar was probably worshipped in Thessaloniki, together with his mythical ancestor, Aphrodite.

Temple Dedicated to Julius Caesar (Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki)

In addition, the Thessalonian believers may have been involved in the worship of Dionysius. The photograph below shows a statue of Dionysius, which was exhibited at the ‘The Gifts of Dionysius’ exhibition area of the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki in November 2011.

The ‘The Gifts of Dionysius’ exhibition in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki

Indeed, an inscribed marble block found in Thessaloniki suggests that the city had been dedicated to Dionysius:

Inscribed marble block found in Thessaloniki that suggests that the city had been dedicated to Dionysius

Inscribed marble block found in Thessaloniki that suggests that the city had been dedicated to Dionysius

I learnt from the poster below (behind the head sculpture of Dionysus) at the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki that the worship of Dionysus was linked with sexual orgies.

The worship of Dionysus was linked with sexual orgies

But who was Dionysus? According to Tom Horn’s book, Nephilim Stargates: The Year 2012 and the Return of the Watchers (with emphasis added):

Dionysus, the Thirteenth God of the Greeks, was the divine son of Zeus and of the mortal Semele. He was often depicted as the inventor of wine, abandon, and revelry, but this description seems inadequate in that it refers only to the basic elements of intoxication and enthusiasm which were used by the Bacchae (female participants of the Dionystic mysteries; also known as Maenads and Bacchantes) in their rituals to incarnate Dionysus. Followers of Dionysus believed he was the presence otherwise defined as the craving within man that longs to “let itself go” and to “give itself over” to baser earthly desires. What some might resist as the lustful wants of the carnal man, followers of Dionysus embraced as the incarnation of power that would, in the next life, liberate the souls of men from the constraints of the present world and from the customs which sought to define respectability through obedience to moral law. Until that day arrived, worshippers of Dionysus attempted to bring themselves into union with the god through a ritual casting off of the bonds of sexual denial and primal constraint by inviting him through to them via a state of ecstasy.

I suppose this explains why the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Thessalonian church singles out “sexual immorality” as a sin that the believers needed to avoid:

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7; NIV; emphasis mine)

In ancient times, Artemis was one of the most widely venerated of the Ancient Greek deities (her Roman equivalent is Diana). Indeed, in Acts 19, we see that Artemis was much venerated in Ephesus. While visiting the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, I do not recall seeing any information about Artemis worship in Thessaloniki, however, when I visited a souvenir shop, I found the following idol souvenir:

Souvenir of Artemis at Thessaloniki

TRAVEL AND HISTORY: Agios Pavlos — Paul Preached Here When He Was in Thessaloniki, Greece (Travel Photos)

In a previous post, I reported that while in Thessaloniki, the Apostle Paul desired to preach at the Roman Forum (Roman Agora) but was denied permission because of the strong pagan influence around the area. If Paul could not preach at the Roman Forum, then where did he eventually preach at?

Well, on a trip to Thessaloniki in November 2011, I visited the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, where at the ‘The Jews at Thessaloniki’ exhibition, I came across a poster which indicated that the Apostle Paul had preached at the city’s synagogue in 50 AD.

Poster at the ‘The Jews at Thessaloniki’ exhibition in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki

Indeed, this would be consistent with the book of Acts, where we read:

When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came toThessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. (Acts 17:1; NIV; emphasis mine)

Tradition has it that the Apostle Paul had preached in the area of Agios Pavlos (Greek: Άγιος Παύλος; which means ‘St Paul’), an uphill suburb.

Agios Pavlos, Thessaloniki, Greece

Agios Pavlos, Thessaloniki, Greece

Agios Pavlos, Thessaloniki, Greece

Agios Pavlos, Thessaloniki, Greece

One day, while preaching in the area, Paul was purportedly chased by the Jews, and while taking refuge at a slope of the hill, drank water from a spring.

The spring is located in the Old Agios Pavlos Church and the water of the spring is considered by Christians living in this area as agiasma (holy water).

Agios Pavlos, Thessaloniki, Greece

The church was undergoing renovation when I visited it, and I was prevented by the workers from entering the premises. Nevertheless, I was able to take photos from outside the gates. Here, you can see a statue of the Apostle Paul on the left.

Agios Pavlos, Thessaloniki, Greece

The spring is located in the open-air shelter, next to the rectangular pool of water. The church is on a hill, so, as you can imagine, the source of underground water that supplies the spring, also flows downwards to fill the pool.

Agios Pavlos, Thessaloniki, Greece

Agios Pavlos, Thessaloniki, Greece

This photo shows the steps leading to the open-air shelter (which houses the spring where the Apostle Paul is believed to have drunk from). The steps has a sign that reads agiasma (holy water).

Agios Pavlos, Thessaloniki, Greece

TRAVEL AND HISTORY: Roman Forum (Roman Agora) In Thessaloniki, Greece — Paul Wanted to Preach Here But Was Denied Permission (Travel Photos)

On a trip to Thessaloniki in November 2011, I visited the Roman Forum (Roman Agora) where the Apostle Paul is believed to have visited and attempted to preach at (Note the background of the first few photographs:  this place is now in the middle of a housing estate).

Roman Agora, Thessaloniki, Greece

Roman Agora, Thessaloniki, Greece

Roman Agora, Thessaloniki, Greece

Roman Agora, Thessaloniki, Greece

Roman Agora, Thessaloniki, Greece

Roman Agora, Thessaloniki, Greece

The signboard here reports the church tradition that Paul had visited the site and asked to preach at the Agora’s podium, but his request was denied as the pagan element held strong within Thessalonicca.

Roman Agora, Thessaloniki, Greece

Below are photos of the very podium that the Apostle Paul would have stood on to preach the gospel had he been given permission to do so:

Roman Agora, Thessaloniki, Greece

Roman Agora, Thessaloniki, Greece

Roman Agora, Thessaloniki, Greece

Stone cutting found at the site which reflects the strong pagan influence in the area

Roman Agora, Thessaloniki, Greece

Roman Agora, Thessaloniki, Greece

Church of the Thessalonians: Where Is It and Does It Still Exist Today? (Travel Photos)

One of the first Christian communities in European soil was established in Thessaloniki and according to Wikipedia, the “Rotunda is the oldest of Thessaloniki’s churches“.

Wikipedia also notes thatsome Greek publications claim it is the oldest Christian church in the world, although there are competitors for that title“.

I am in doubt over Wikipedia’s claim of the Rotunda (also known as the Church of Agios Georgios) being the oldest church in Thessaloniki. In particular, the Rotunda was formerly a pagan temple before it had been converted into a church, and perhaps if you also took into account the number of years that the building had pre-existed as a pagan temple, then yes, the Rotunda would be the “oldest” church. The Rotunda is believed to have been built in 306 A.D. by the Romans.

That said, on a trip to Thessaloniki in November 2011, I visited the Rotunda and took some photographs of it:

Rotunda,Thessaloniki, Greece

Rotunda,Thessaloniki, Greece

Rotunda,Thessaloniki, Greece

Rotunda,Thessaloniki, Greece

Rotunda,Thessaloniki, Greece

Rotunda,Thessaloniki, Greece

Rotunda,Thessaloniki, Greece

Rotunda,Thessaloniki, Greece

Rotunda,Thessaloniki, Greece

Rotunda,Thessaloniki, Greece

Arch of Galerius, Thessaloniki, Greece

Just a couple of months before visiting Thessaloniki, the Greek Reporter newspaper reported the finding of the oldest Christian church in Thessaloniki:

Greek Reporter report on the oldest Christian church in Thessaloniki discovered

The ruins of this church was discovered during the construction of a metro and the site was not open to the public when I visited. Based on the pattern of floor mosaic discovered at the site, the church is believed to have been built sometime toward the end of the 4th and start of the 5th centuries A.D.

At the time of writing this article, I could find no further information (in English) about this archaeological discovery.

Before travelling to Thessaloniki in November 2011, I had the good fortune of purchasing the “Walking Thessaloniki‘ guidebook directly from the author, Parissis Panou (I highly recommend this guidebook to anyone travelling to Thessaloniki)

Walking Thessaloniki travel guide written by Parissis Panou

I had purchased the guidebook over Ebay, and on discovering that I had purchased the guidebook directly from Panou, I wrote to him to ask some questions concerning Thessaloniki, and he was most helpful.

In the guidebook, it is stated that the “oldest” basilica (a 4th century one) ever found in Thessaloniki is situated beneath Tritis Septemvriou Avenue. However, that information was correct as at the time of the publication of the guidebook (in early 2011), and in writing to Panou in 2011, he conceded that it was probably made outdated by the finding reported in the Greek Reporter newspaper.

However, going back to the question of whether the church of the Thessalonians (the very one which the Apostle Paul had written to in his letters) still exists, sadly, I think the answer seems to be ‘no’, and I am not aware of any existing fellowship in Thessaloniki that has claimed to be a continuation of the one associated with the Apostle Paul.

Nonetheless, there exists very old church ruins in Thessaloniki (dating as far back as 4th century A.D.) — for example, one situated beneath Tritis Septemvriou Avenue, and another reported by the Greek Reporter newspaper — and perhaps either of these (or even all of them) may have had a connection with the Apostle Paul.

During my trip to Thessaloniki, I managed to locate the one situated beneath Tritis Septemvriou Avenue. It is actually rather inconspicuous; beneath a highway (so inconspicuous that I had difficulty finding it).

Tritis Septemvrious Avenue, Thessaloniki, Greece

The site was enclosed by a wire fence, but could be accessed through a metal gate that was open on two occasions that I visited.

4th Century Basilica Found at Tritis Septemvrious Avenue, Thessaloniki, Greece

There was no security guarding the place, and I didn’t have to pay anything to get in. On both visits, there was nobody there but me — which was nice, because it allowed me to sit down, reflect, and just unhurriedly soak in the surroundings.

4th Century Basilica Found at Tritis Septemvrious Avenue, Thessaloniki, Greece

4th Century Basilica Found at Tritis Septemvrious Avenue, Thessaloniki, Greece

4th Century Basilica Found at Tritis Septemvrious Avenue, Thessaloniki, Greece

4th Century Basilica Found at Tritis Septemvrious Avenue, Thessaloniki, Greece

4th Century Basilica Found at Tritis Septemvrious Avenue, Thessaloniki, Greece

4th Century Basilica Found at Tritis Septemvrious Avenue, Thessaloniki, Greece

4th Century Basilica Found at Tritis Septemvrious Avenue, Thessaloniki, Greece

4th Century Basilica Found at Tritis Septemvrious Avenue, Thessaloniki, Greece