[WARNING: Due to the nature of the subject matter in thisAsia Minor. About 45 AD
edition, it is intended only for mature readers. The scenes in the
pagan temple and the services therein are represented as close to
reality as good taste will allow. Even then, the imagery may be too
intense for some readers. thank you]
Corellia was at the peak of her profession. As the Priestess of the town's only temple to the gods, she was the supreme authority within the walls of the compound that faced the market, and a person of great importance in the town as a whole. As a small town, it had only two temples, one on the outskirts to Zeus, which had fallen in importance to the locals, and hers which was the center of religious activity dedicated to Apollo and Aphrodite, and several of the other gods and goddesses, including Dionysus.
With nearly two thirds of the Pantheon represented, there was a ritual, feast, and ceremony, of some sort nearly every day of the year. Today and tomorrow were good examples.
Tomorrow the goddess Artimus was to be honored with a silent play of the hunt followed by a dedication of a votary virgin to her. Then in stark contrast to the silence and scripted ritual of the play, this evening would begin the Roman celebration of the Dionysus cult, she shivered as she had to force herself to say the Roman name, 'Liber', for the Grecian god, 'Bacchus'. She enjoyed her role as the Maenad, during the revelry in tribute to the god of wine and nature's fertility. The devoted brought in wine and food, and they would spend an orgiastic night in celebration with music, dancing, and feasting. During which she would engage in ritualized love acts with various patrons of the temple. Occasionally she would copulate with a statue of Bacchus, now named for tonight Liber, in an attempt to stimulate the growth and fertility of the local crops and animals.
The silversmiths had gone to great lengths creating a series of platters and vessels for the food and drink for the festivities. Corellia was surprised at the quality of the work. Then the smith explained that he and his apprentices hadn't had the work they used to. He blamed some Jewish religious fanatics that came through town preaching about the life, death, and resurrection of a man named Jesus.
"In Ephesus," the smith said, "They threw the ringleaders in jail."
Corellia nodded and looked around, "This isn't Ephesus."
"And so we sit around. To keep in practice we work on things like this." He gestured to the platters. "I have only had enough work to keep from getting rid of an apprentice. The medallions and other tokens of the gods we did has fallen off to nearly nothing."
"I heard them speaking at the temple gate. I listened for awhile, then got the guards to run them off." She smiled at the silversmith.
"But you don't have the votaries you used to either." He gestured to where people would line up before an image of Apollo to implore healing from the god.
For the first time she thought about it. The temple had always had its peaks and valleys with the people. But this downturn had been going on longer than was usual.
"It'll turn around. It always does."
"Maybe for you, but if the Roman Governor doesn't order a new table setting, I may starve to death."
She touched his forehead gently, drawing her initial in his sweat. "Will you join the Bacchanalia tonight?"
He shook his head. "No. My wife has taken up with these followers of the Way. I need to stay home to make sure she doesn't give everything I own away to some widow or the homeless."
Corellia watched him walk out into the market. She heard some singing and went to see. In the market, a group of the people of the new religion was singing old Jewish Psalms. A couple of faces in the crowd caught her attention.
One of them was an odalisque from the temple. The young girl had been by her side in the ritual devotions to the various gods for the last several years. She had even talked about becoming a priestess to Aphrodite. Now she was with this outfit.
She went out into the market, accepting the bows and tributes from passersby as she made her way to the singers.
"Alletta, you are not serving tonight?" Corellia said to her.
"No priestess." The girl said. "I don't believe in the false gods made with hands any longer. I follow the true Living God now."
"The god of these people?" She jerked her head toward the rest of the group. One of the men was now talking in a loud voice.
"Not just of these people. He is the Creator God. Who sent His own Son to become sin itself for me. To redeem me."
"YOU!" She laughed. "You who gave her virginity up willingly to the Dionysus, and half the men in town? You are like me, beyond hope of redemption."
"No." Alletta said looking at her with love in her eyes, not the drunken lust she was used to. "All I have ever done is forgiven. Washed away by His blood. He has enough blood for you too. There is hope of life eternal for you."
Corellia laughed, "All I have hope for is to die in my sleep and maybe one of the gods will pull me out of the underworld to serve them."
"You can know your fate priestess. You can know real love."
"You are deluded. You'll be back. This is all new and fun now. You'll be back in a couple of months. They all will."
"I don't think so. This is real. He is Real."
Corellia listened to the speaker for a minute. Then she shook her head and walked back into her temple complex.
Later, in the private garden of the priestess she knelt in front of a gilt statue of Artimus, her own private goddess. She implored the goddess to drive these thoughts from her mind. She kept hearing the song they had sung, and some of the words of the preacher.
She blinked her eyes.
"Priestess, it's beginning. They need you." An odalisque said to her. The young girl was in her enticingly scant costume for the event. "You must change, you are the Maenad tonight."
"Tonight it is Libera. The corruption the Romans brought to us."
"But it is the same god isn't it?" The girl asked her.
Corellia was going to answer with the same easy answer she had been using since she was in the girl's position years ago. But the words wouldn't come. "I don't know any more. I just don't know."
Her handmaidens bathed her quickly, soaking her hair and skin with scented oils to ready her for her official duties at the feast. He uniform for the evening was nothing more than a long linen wrap ornamented with real and costume grapes and other symbols of the god of wine and fertility. But as she walked toward the great courtyard where the music and dancing were already in progress, Corellia wondered if anybody in the crowd were thinking of the god they were supposed to be honoring the way those singing in the market had been completely enthralled with theirs. Then she noticed that some of the regulars were missing. One of them was the man she had spotted in the crowd with Alletta.
Even as the men were using her, she becoming the vessel for their act for the god, her mind wasn't there. She managed to say her scripted words of ecstasy only once, but the men didn't seem to notice this fault in the ritual. The words of the preacher came back to her.
Finally, as light crested the eastern horizon, she couldn't stand it any more. Even in a near drunken stupor, she found no comfort in the orgiastic behavior she was engaged in with those in the courtyard.
She cursed Alletta and all associated with her for robbing her of her peace and finally fell into an uneasy sleep while submitting yet again to someone's act for the carved god that stood above the table.
The next morning, she woke feeling ill. Which wasn't unusual given the depravity of the entire night before. She went to perform a ritual for cleansing a goblet for a marriage and found her thoughts going back yet again to the words the preacher had said about forgiveness of sins and the gift of a life of inner peace in the Lord.
She found herself wandering through the market looking for Alletta. She heard a preacher on the far side of the crowd.
"What's going on?" She asked a man who was excitedly walking toward the crowd.
"It's Paul!" He said. "He's come back!"
"Who's Paul?" She asked. Then she found herself following the man.
She had no idea what he was saying. The words bounced off of her. But his conviction, his drive, captured her. He believed the things he was saying, and felt joy in being able to tell them about it.
Corellia wondered if she had ever really and truly believed in the gods that she had spent a lifetime serving. The people came in and performed their sacrifices, or did their service, or even turned a child over to her to live in the temple and went on their way. There was never an impassioned and convincing testimony about how they felt convicted to do it, or felt the call to do it. In fact, she was the priestess because her mother had been, no other reason. She had a choice here. She could decide for herself to accept this God, and he would take her, as she was.
When this Paul was done preaching people wanting to know more thronged him. Demanding to be baptized, wanting him to come preach at their home, to heal their sick, and more. Corellia stood still and wondered if she could ever go back to her temple and do the things that she did for those gods now. Her stomach and organs even lower in her belly rebelled at the thought of the second night of the Bacchanalia.
"Do you want to go talk to Timothy?" Alletta asked her.
She might have nodded.
In a few minutes she was face to face with a young man who was telling her all manner of things about this Jesus, whom he called Christ, the Son of God.
Corellia protested. "I have a temple full of gods, and they are all hollow. There is nothing to them."
"This God, is the true living God. The Ancient of Days that doesn't live in a temple built by man, but in the hearts of those that believe in Him." Timothy told her.
Again, the words were unimportant. His voice, his eyes, his love, spoke more than his mouth ever could. "Will he take even someone like me?"
"Is there anything in the temple you want to take out?" Timothy asked her later.
She shook her head. "I don't even want the memories to come with me."
"Give them to Jesus." He answered.
Corellia turned her back on the temple and the town, and followed Paul and Timothy to Antioch.
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