The Winds of Crete: A Bible Study

Article excerpt

Do not be afraid Paul, you must stand before Caesar: and lo God has granted safety to you and all who are with you. Acts 27:27

Most of you, like me, will have been to many ecumenical meetings from large assemblies to small groups like this one. You will have taken part in many worship services and heard countless meditations. Although at the time the meditations have spoken to you and to the theme of the meeting, few stay with you. As soon as I knew that we were coming to this place, there came into my mind the phrase "the winds of Crete" and a meditation given in this chapel in 1984. It was the first meeting of the new standing commission of Faith and Order which had been ratified at the WCC's Vancouver assembly in 1983. The new commission was having to plan its agenda for the years ahead. After the success of BEM, what next? The late John Deschner, the new moderator of the commission who had succeeded Nikos Nissiotis (whose spirit is evident in this Academy), opened the meeting with a meditation on the passage from Acts, chapter 27 and the text:

   Do not be afraid Paul, you must stand before Caesar: and lo God has 
   granted safety to you and to all who are with you. 

So, in honour of John Deschner, I decided to offer you John's three thoughts as I remember them and put into my own words. They are reflections on the experience Paul had with this island of Crete. John offered the three reflections to give direction for Faith and Order as it began a new phase of its work. I offer them to give direction to our work these days. I offer them in thanksgiving for John's contribution to Faith and Order and his contribution as a wonderful teacher to the ecumenical movement.

The story from Acts is familiar. I guess that as children in Sunday school some of you, like me, will have drawn maps of Paul's journey to Rome in Sunday school.

--Paul, before Festus in Caesarea, had appealed to Caesar. Now, together with other prisoners, he was being taken by sea, under the charge of the centurion Julius, to Rome.

--The boat coasted up to Sidon, rounded Cyprus, and sailed along the coast of southern Asia Minor to Myra where they changed ships.

--They put to sea with difficulty. The winds began to become disturbing. They sailed under the lee of the southern coasts of this island, Crete, until they came to Fair Haven--the most southerly part of the island. There is a lovely icon in this chapel of Paul and his companions in Fair Haven with the boat in the harbour. The gentle winds of Crete blow through the sails.

--There was an argument about whether to stay for the winter or continue the voyage. Paul counselled staying for the winter. But they put to sea, hoping to reach a better wintering place along the coast.

--But no sooner had they put to sea than the winds of Crete began to blow. First gentle and promising, but then blasting and furious. The boat drifted for two weeks in violent storms. First they battened down the hatches, then they threw the cargo overboard.

--Paul tells them to take heart--there will be no loss of life, only loss of the boat. An angel, he says, had told him:

   Do not be afraid, Paul: you must stand before Caesar. God has 
   granted to you safety and to all who are with you. 

--We all know the rest. The ship was lost--but all were saved and Paul and the others did reach Rome and, with Paul, the message of the gospel.

Three things then about this story.

First, those winds of Crete. The WCC has never been pictured as a steamship, a huge ocean-going liner, but as a sailing boat, small and modest. It has sailed through the years by the winds of God, by the breath of God, by the Holy Spirit of God. Sometimes the Spirit has blown gently, and we have sailed calmly together, sometimes the winds have been stronger and we have seemed to be being taken off course. …