Friday, April 22, 2011

Antioch Part 1

 One of the great advantages of this time at Incirlik is that we live right in the heart of Christian history.  In fact, I would venture to say that outside of Israel, Turkey would be the most significant place to visit in terms of Biblical importance.  We have seen the underground cities and cave chapels of Cappadocia.  We have seen Tarsus, Paul's birthplace.  Today, we checked another incredible place off of this list: Antioch.

Founded by Alexander the Great, Antioch was once the 3rd largest city in the Roman world-behind Rome and Alexandria, Egypt.  After the resurrection of Christ, Peter traveled here to evangelize.  He founded one of the first churches here and became it's first bishop.  It was in Antioch where followers of Jesus first became known as "Christians".  Peter soon requested that Paul and Barnabas also come to Antioch to help with the fledgling church there.  All three men spent significant time there.  Many years later, Antioch suffered a series of devastating earthquakes that it could not recover from.  Even though it's political and commercial importance waned, it's religious importance did not.  It was a destination during the Crusades and was of particular importance to Napolean Bonaparte. So it is not hard to see why we could not miss the opportunity to visit this place.

Because of it's proximity to Syria, we are not allowed to travel there alone-we must be part of a tour group.  Our chapel organized a trip to coincide with Good Friday.  It was about a 3 hour bus ride-with stops at a mosaic museum and also for lunch.  We arrived at St. Peter's Grotto around 2:00 and gathered in the small cave chapel for a Good Friday service.  We all took turns reading the story of Christ's Passion.  We sang "The Old Rugged Cross" with our friend quietly strumming the guitar.  Then, we took communion using olive wood chalices brought back for us from Israel.

As I took in the sights and sounds of this moment, I could not help but think that I was standing on holy ground.  Not just because that giants of the faith had tread where I was walking, but that this place represents the beginning of a movement that literally changed the course of human history.  The citizens of Antioch could have ignored Peter's message and gone on with their lives-but they chose Jesus.  And they chose to stick together and form a community of faith that would be an example to churches all over the world.  I wonder if they had any idea that they were doing something that significant?

I also thought about the thousands of people who had prayed and worshiped where I was now praying and worshiping.   For 2,000 years, people have been coming to this place for the same reasons we came.  I felt a connection to my family of faith that I have never felt before.  I guess you could call it a kindredness of spirit with all believers, living and dead.  Catholic and Protestant.  Baptist and Methodist and Episcopal.  We are all one.  We all share places like Antioch, and Jerusalem, and Bethlehem.  And years from now, others will still be visiting and worshiping and praying, and the Body of Christ will continue to grow and move and change the world.  I am so glad to be a small part of it-and today I was made keenly aware of it.

Pictures to follow!

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