Tears in Antioch

by Steve Ray on May 8, 2006

Finally we get a few minutes AND an internet connection! Yeah! Janet and I spent 2 days in Antakya Turkey (biblical Antioch) and we are now in Izmir Turkey (biblical Smyna, and nearby Ephesus).

We had a wonderful time researching Antioch and celebrating Mass on Sunday with the small Catholic community under the priesthood of Fr. Bertoglia who has written a marvelous book on the area. The church is a home church, much like those of the 1st centuries. We gathered together with 30 believers for a very moving Mass.

As I listened to Mass in Turkish (not a word of English) I was moved to tears. Here in the middle of a country now 99% Muslim, I was celebrating Mass with the followers of the original Gentile Christians here in the place we were first called Christians (Acts 11:26).

Who was intimately involved here in Antioch? Peter was a bishop here; Luke was probably born here; Mark, Barnabas, Silas and Paul were all here for extended periods of time. Paul was called to be an apostle from the Church we visited on the mountainside — right here in Antioch.

I looked around as the Mass progressed and I was transported back 2,000 years — I saw Timothy, Paul, Silas and others from the first suffering Gentile church. Tears welled up in my eyes. Later we talked with those who could speak English — many from Turkey and others from Syria, right across the border.

We also went to the museum, visited the Greek Orthodox liturgy, found the last remains of Trajan’s aquaduct, discovered the ruins of the Monastery of St. Simeon the Stylite and much more.

Up at 4 AM to catch a series of flights through Istanbul to finally arrive in Izmir. St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote his first 4 letters from here on his way to martyrdom in Rome. St. Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John while he was here and later became bishop of Smyrna himself. The pagans accused Polycarp of “being the teacher of Asia, the destroyer of their gods, and the father of the Christians!”

A letter in the book of Revelation was written to Smyrna and Paul most certainly passed through and visited this Queen City of Asia. We are visiting the Church of St. Polycarp to meet the new bishop. We were friends with his predecessor who sat on the Chair of St. John and St. Polycarp. We will need to film here next spring.

We investigated the ancient Agora which Polycarp and Paul certainly knew. Much more but I have little time for all the details.

Tomorrow we again visit Selcuk and and Ephesus. St. Justin Martyre converted to Christianity at Ephesus and began to teach there. Ignatius wrote a letter to this church as well as St. John in his book of Revelation. We will use the theatre in Ephesus to explain the burning of Polycarp at the stake since the stadium in Smyrna is completely lost.

Much still to do here but on Wednesday we fly to Lyon France to research the life, ministry and death of St. Irenaeus — arguably the greatest theologian of the 2nd century. He played a huge part in my conversion to the Catholic Church. Then on to Rome.

Keep us in your prayers as we are already exhausted. We are learning much and working on the script and plans for filming our ”Apostolic Fathers: Handing on the Faith.” This DVD will emphasize the baby Church as she was weaned from the Apostles and as it carried their teachings to the world. It will emphasize tradition, martyrdom, relics and the power of suffering to advance the kingdom of God.

I am sure more tears are ahead as Janet and I step back in history to understand and love our forebears, those who shed their blood and lost their worldly possessions and families in order to hand the faith on to us.

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