Turkey is an amazing country – full of interesting features of geography, of history and of religion. It reminded me often of the Western Cape, particularly on the west coast, and in Bergama (Pergamum) we saw a bank of vygies and sour figs, which made us feel at home.
Turkey has been inhabited for thousands of years, with culture succeeding culture. This was the land of the Hittites; it was later conquered by the Persians, then by the Macedonian Alexander the Great. Then came the Romans, who made Constantinople (previously known as Byzantium, now Istanbul) the capital of the eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire. Eventually the Ottoman Empire conquered the land, and while Turkey is today officially a secular state, the Muslim religion is predominant, with very few remains of Christianity other than at archaeological sites.
And there are plenty of archaeological sites! We saw some amazing ruins, where the archaeologists have painstakingly pieced together fragments of stone and have rebuilt large portions of the old cities. Through the years many cities have been destroyed several times by earthquakes. If anyone likes jigsaw puzzles, study archaeology and go to Turkey!
|Laodicean archaeological jigsaw puzzle|
One thing was hard to miss: There was always at least one temple in the major cities. We saw temples to Artemis, Zeus, Athena, Dionysius, Trajan, Aphrodite, Domitian and Apollo. Amazing among this list of names are Trajan and Domitian – Roman emperors! The Imperial Cult was the issue that made Christians the enemies of Rome. Saint Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, was martyred because he refused to say ‘Caesar is Lord’.
|Temple of Trajan, Pergamum|
Polycarp was born in 65 AD, and is thought to have been a disciple of John, who ordained him as bishop. When required by the Romans to revile Christ, he is reported to have said, ‘Eighty-six years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who has saved me?’
One of the strongest impressions that I took away is the courage and endurance of those early Christians. Jesus was absolutely clear when he told the 72 of his followers that he was sending them out as ‘lambs among wolves’ (Luke 10:3). The early missionaries were heading into the teeth of opposition and darkness, trusting their lives to God. The incident in Lystra described in Acts 14:8-20 is an example. There, after Paul had spoken God’s healing to a man born crippled, the priest of the temple of Zeus wanted to sacrifice oxen to them, calling Barnabas ‘Zeus’, and Paul ‘Hermes’. They managed to stop him, but very soon the opposition from their last town (Iconium) followed them to Lystra and turned the crowds against them. Paul was stoned, dragged out of the city and left for dead. However with the help (and doubtless prayer) of the believers, he recovered and went back into the city. The following day, undeterred, he set off for Derbe – his next mission station.
It struck me recently that on the night before he was crucified, Jesus told his disciples that he had conquered the world (John 16:33) – which must have rung very hollow as they watched him die the following day. But he had – through his death and resurrection. The early missionaries were clearly prepared to follow in his footsteps.