We are now in Izmir which was called Smyrna in biblical times. It was here that St. Polycarp was appointed bishop by the Apostle John and where he was later martyred in the stadium. I have been searching and searching for the ancient Roman theatre and stadium — but alas, they are gone and the ashes of Polycarp have been lost — but not in the eyes of God.
I went up to the 32nd floor of the Hilton — the tallest building in Smyrna. I surveyed the mountainside where the theatre and stadium once stood. Theatres always faced the water since they didn’t have electricity and fancy sound equipment. The breeze from the sea blew the voices up into the seats. Even talking at a normal volume enables listeners in the top rows to hear very clearly. I wouldn’t have believed it, but I have done it many times.
I took pictures of where the stadium and theatre USED to be and I will superimpose images over my picture to show where St. Polycarp gave his life for Jesus Christ. It is always sad to see such a special place obliterated with apartments and cheap houses. Stand there with a shovel and about 8 feet below we would reach the stone seats on which sat people cheering as St. Polycarp was engulfed in flames.
Today we also went to Ephesus. Again we were moved as we entered Mary’s House up the mountain. We prayed for many people and thanked God for our Blessed Mother. I sat looking at the house nestled in the trees and imagined what Mary looked like and how she conducted herself around the small stone house — and how she would have reacted and handled herself as people approached. It was mesmerizing.
We visited the tomb of St. John above Ephesus, and again visited the Efes Museum to see what would be useful for our Apostolic Fathers DVD. This is the most amazing site — especially if you use your imagination and place yourself there 2,000 years ago. If squint a bit you can envision Paul, Timothy, Luke, and others walking along the streets.
We also visited the Agora from Ancient Smyrna. Agora is the Greek word for marketplace. Polycarp most certainly walked through these arched walkways and down the marble streets. It was filled with idols and pagan gods and must have irritated him as much as it did Paul in Athens (Acts 17). The agora is magnificent and will play prominently in our DVD.
We visited the Church of St. Polycarp which is full of gorgeous paintings of the saint’s life and death. He sat in the chair of St. John and the bishop there today sits on the chair too. The history and continuity of the Catholic Church is stunning. Cardinal Newman was right, “To be deep in history is to cease being a Protestant.”
Tomorrow morning (Wednesday) we will visit the museum here in Izmir and then head to the airport to fly to Munich Germany for a short layover before ending the day in Lyon France. We have a rental car ready for us and a motel room. There we will begin discovering the life and times of St. Irenaeus, arguably the greatest theologian of the 2nd century.
Before I sign off for the day, imagine this: God sent Jesus into the world; Jesus taught St. John; St. John taught St. Polycarp and Polycarp taught St. Irenaeus. That is VERY close in time. The Word of God was passed on through word of mouth — apostolic tradition — and St. Irenaeus is an authentic witness to that rich gift of God — the teaching and tradition of the apostles. And on Thursday we will see where he was bishop and where he is buring in Lyon France.