ONE Magazine

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Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

Catalyst of Faith: Paul’s Anatolian Journeys

This is the second of a two-part series exploring the Bible history of Anatolia, modern day Turkey.

St. Paul was the quintessential missionary. Adversity strengthened him; when imprisoned his zeal increased and when left for dead his eloquence flared.

A Jew by birth, a Christian by virtue of Christ’s personal persuasion, and a Greek by intellect he was a man for all people. His vision was totally Christian.

The vast pulpit from which he preached the word of Christ was the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts of Anatolia, the first century equivalent of modern New York’s commerce and California’s agriculture.

The pace and distance of Paul’s journeys in Anatolia is astonishing even in our age of rapid transportation. Paul went out among the Greek isles, climbed up through the Taurus Mountains and startled the proud cities of Iconium and Antioch, with the soul-awakening logic of his message.

One can follow the footsteps of St. Paul along the olive-green coasts and across the wheat-colored steppes of heartland Anatolia. From the distance of 2,000 years the modern pilgrim looks back on St. Paul’s long march from city to city with awe.

Much has changed but time has spared enough to let imagination and faith fill in the blank spaces. There are wells that Paul may have drank from where water is eagerly drawn to quench the thirst of a traveller.

Symra is an active and even prospering community where high up on the flanks of overshadowing Mount Pion, angry Romans burned St. Polycarp in their stadium.

Standing in the gigantic Greco-Roman theater of Ephesus it is possible to recall the excitement of the silversmith Demetrius and the mob he gathered to rail against the preaching of St. Paul.

Unlike so many of Anatolia’s old cities, Iconium has never been abandoned by man. It was a Christian city where Paul and Barnabus knew victory and temporary defeat. It later became the center for the Mevlevi Dervishes, an Islamic mystical fraternity, who preach universal love and man’s ultimate oneness with God; a doctrine understandable to Christian and Moslem alike.

Another of Paul’s cities, Derbe, is now nothing but a carved stone left to identify a near-wilderness site that once was a pulpit for the Apostle to the Gentiles.

Until he took his long and fateful journey to Rome, Antioch-on-Orontes was the greatest city in Anatolia to which Paul preached. It is where the followers of Christ were first called Christians.

Beyond and overlooking the city, is St. Peter’s Grotto and within the cave a primitive church where persecuted followers of Christ gathered by feeble lamp light.

In Lystra, where Paul and Barnabus were worshipped as Jupiter and Mercury (when they healed the cripple with the command, “Stand upright on thy feet!”), hardly a stone has been found and modern maps do not even mark the place where a city thrived and then vanished.

The port of legendary Troy, where Paul sailed for Macedonia, is inhabited now only by the winds.

In Tarsus, where Paul was a squalling infant and played on the sands as a boy, little is left of Bible times but a well and a single surviving city gate. A generation ago it was called Paul’s Gate, but for tourism’s sake today it is called the Gate of Cleopatra.

While empires came and vanished, the Anatolians survived, their faces displaying that curious harmonious sameness one sees all along the shores of the East. A child with enormous black eyes and tousled hair the color of dark honey plays in the streets of Silifke.

One thinks this is a child with blood running through her veins whose ancestors inhabited the land that Paul journeyed across, and one can’t help but reflect on the continuity of the human race in this ancient country between the seas.

More than the marble cities sprawled in the perfect light of the East, something else has triumphed over time in this ancient land. From St. Paul’s lips came those words first said to the poor cripple of now vanished Lystra. “Stand upright on they feet!” In the echo of that great command, endures the whole power glory and joy of the coming of age of Christianity in the Second Holy Land that is Anatolia.

Charles E. Adelsen, an American journalist, lives in Istanbul and writes frequently about the Middle East.

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