IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF St PAUL - SEVEN CHURCHES IN SEVEN DAYS


Following the highly succesful and enjoyable trip to the Holy Land two years ago, a new pilgrimage, this time to Turkey, took place from 21st-31st October 2015. It was led by Revd. Alison Newman. 

Including photos by Andrew Bailey, Roger Allard and David Chapman. Click to enlarge.
 

Day 1 - Departure

It all began on a rainy morning at 6am at St Nicholas Church. A merry (if sleepy) band of pilgrims met to board the coach for Gatwick Airport. I had been looking forward to this trip for months as having enjoyed our previous pilgrimage to the Holy Land with Alison in 2013, I was sure this was going to be just as good. We arrived at the airport and after an easy check in proceeded quite quickly through security. After a coffee to wake us up we had plenty of time to wander around the duty free shops!

After a flight of about four hours we landed in Istanbul at about 4pm local time. A short delay ensued while we located our guide then it was transfer to our first hotel overlooking what used to be the terminus of the Orient Express! (3 nights stay), dinner and bed!

Day 2 - Istanbul

We set the pattern for the whole pilgrimage as we started the day with a short act of worship, then we set off for a walking tour of the city. First stop, Hagia Sophia or the Church of Holy Wisdom, which was completed in 537AD under the Emperor Justinian, and was the largest and most important church in the Christian world. Nine centuries later the Ottoman sultans appropriated it as a mosque and four minarets were added.

         
Hagia Sophia is a former Christian patriarchal basilica, later an imperial mosque, and now a museum

Then in 1936 it was converted to a museum by Ataturk although Christians and Muslims alike still lay claim to it. It’s most popular attraction is said to be the Weeping column – according to legend, Justinian cured a hangover by resting his forehead on it! Since then, the moisture that gathers in its brass and marble-clad surface is said to cure many ailments. It boasts a massive dome, not eclipsed in size until St Peter’s in Rome 1000 years later. Byzantine architects achieved this seemingly impossible feat by using hollow bricks made of light porous clay. It also has some magnificent mosaics, many in gold, portraying saints and angels. Two of the most important show the Madonna and Child, and Christ flanked by the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist. In the 16th Century to comply with Islamic law these were covered with plaster, which inadvertently saved the mosaics for posterity.

                    
  Topkapi Palace The Cistern The Blue Mosque  

Next we visited Topkapi Palace – a magnificent setting on the hilltop overlooking the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus. This vast residence and administrative centre of the sultans oozes with wealth as it consists of a maze of ornate, jewel-filled state rooms, fountain-cooled gardens and the famous harem. We had several hours there but only managed to see some of the exhibitions, including the treasury (containing the 84 carat Spoonmaker diamond), the armoury, clocks display and kitchen exhibitions. Then we continued our tour of the city by descending into the Cistern, a massive underground chamber built by the Romans as a water supply which was used in the filming of ‘From Russia with love’. Our final visit of the day was to the 16th Century Blue Mosque, commissioned by Sultan Ahmet 1 to rival Hagia Sophia and built with six minarets to equal the number on the Great Mosque in Mecca. To quell the resulting outrage, Sultan Ahmet was forced to donate a seventh minaret to Mecca! The interior boasts a canopy of airy domes, 260 stained-glass windows and 20,000 locally manufactured blue Iznik tiles.

           

Day 3- Istanbul

This began with a visit to the wonderfully fragrant spice market where amongst other shopping we bought Iranian saffron for a fraction of the cost back home. Then we embarked on a cruise on the Bosphorus which was a brilliant way to appreciate the full extent and grandeur of both Old and New Istanbul. The afternoon was spent visiting the Byzantine church of St Saviour in Chora  with its stunning mosaics and frescoes. A shower of rain did not deter us from visiting the local shops in the village.

                     
  Spice Market Cruising the Bosphorus St. Saviour in Chora  

Day 4 - Istanbul to Izmir

and we were off to the Grand Bazaar (the oldest covered market in the world) for yet another fantastic shopping opportunity, before heading for the airport for an internal flight south, to Izmir.

        
  Grand Bazaar Interior  A Choice of Jewellery  Grand Bazaar Exterior   

Izmir is the modern name for ancient Smyrna and although there are no remains or site of the original church we visited a massive Agora from the Hellenistic era which was partly destroyed in an earthquake in 178AD and is currently being excavated by archaeologists. It was an extensive site, some of which was below ground level but open to the elements which at the time we visited consisted of thunder, lightning and torrential rain! Afterwards we checked into our second hotel, (2 night stay) on the outskirts of Izmir city.

 
Agora at Izmir (Smyrna)
             

Day 5 - Pergamon and Akhisar

While most of Europe put their clocks back an hour overnight, Turkey had decided to postpone it for two weeks due to upcoming elections. However most of our mobile phones automatically put clocks back an hour so some of us overslept! Also the alarm calls booked with reception didn’t happen so it was a rushed start to the day. We all managed to get ready for the coach at 8am but our guide overslept too and was 10 minutes late! Apparently this affected many businesses across the whole country! In fact the computer screens on the planes on the way home were still showing the wrong time!  At various locations in our trip we read the appropriate Bible passages and were given some reflections and questions or challenges from Alison. (Shown in Italic)

     We drove first to the ancient ruins of Pergamum, one of the greatest and most beautiful of all the ancient Greek cities. Its ruins are scattered over a large area and include the Acropolis on a rocky hill, reached by cable car which was buffeted by the wind and had been closed for this reason the previous day. Also here is the partially restored Temple of Trajan, the north stoa which once housed Pergamum’s famous library containing 200,000 volumes on papyrus and bound parchment, the Temple of Athena and the Altar of Zeus.

A narrow staircase leads down to the theatre that could hold 10,000 on the side of the hill overlooking the valley below. Nearby is the temple of Dionysos. The Asklepion, a centre of ancient medicine in the time of Galen is situated well below the Acropolis. Besides a stoa and a theatre, the most impressive remains here are circular temples of Asklepios and Telephorus.  

           
  The Theatre  Temple of Dionysos The Asklepion
       
Here we had our first reading from Revelation 2:12-17  

A word from Alison: John is saying that when Jesus gives us a white stone it will have his name on it – a name we can trust; one which is above all other name.

A question or challenge: Do we trust Jesus, do we listen to false teaching? Do we water down the truth? Who are we grateful to for sharing Jesus with us?
 
  
Ruins at Akhisar, the site of the ancient town of Thyatira

In the afternoon we visited the modern town of Akhisar which is the site of the ancient town of Thyatira. There is a very small site of excavated ruins in the centre of this busy town but there is almost certainly much more hidden beneath the streets and buildings of the town.  

Here we had our second reading from Revelation 2:18-29

As far as Jesus is concerned the church has no business compromising at any point with pagan worship and its practices  

It sometimes only takes one person to spoil a church community - don’t we have to be careful that when the boat is rocked it’s not us who are doing the rocking?


In the evening we celebrated Holy Communion in the hotel as it had not been possible to visit the local church of St Polycarp (the martyred Bishop of Smyrna), the oldest church in Izmir still in service.

               

At this service we had our third reading from Revelation 2:8-11

In this church the Lord finds nothing to criticise. His main task is to warn them that fierce persecution is on its way, and he does it as the one who is First and last, who was dead and came to life. There may be a local allusion here because Smyrna as a city had once been destroyed and then rebuilt.   

Do we need words of assurance about our faith? Is our faith a bit low? Are we feeling persecuted in any way because of our faith. I think UK Christians and what we hold dear are belittled and sidelined a lot – but it’s not persecution like that of the 1st century. You can’t wear a cross, you can’t offer to pray for people, etc. Not persecution, but faith is being eroded and we should, perhaps, expect some opposition.

And we acted out the martyrdom of St Polycarp as part of the service.

Day 6 - Sart and Philadelphia

We begin today by driving to Sart, the site of ancient Sardis, where one of the most impressive features is the Roman gymnasium and baths complex which has undergone major reconstruction. Adjacent to this complex is the reconstructed remains of a huge synagogue with colourful floor mosaics and a row of shops with their various trades identified by archaeological finds. Also here is the vast (329ft by 165ft) Temple of Artemis, it consist of a huge foundation with 15 massive Ionic columns.  

            
  Synagogue  Temple of Artemis Roman Gymnasium 

Here we had our fourth reading from Revelation 3:1-6  

The theme of the letter is wakefulness. “Wake up!” Jesus calls to the churches. If it continues then the church in Sardis will suffer the same fate as the city suffered centuries earlier. Jesus will come like a thief in the night, How many of our churches (and the Christian church in England) need to hear that same call today?   

Where is our enthusiasm? Has it waned? Was it ever there? Are we (or our churches) living in the past, like Sardis?

    
Then on to Philadelphia, now known as Alasehir. We discovered today just how skilled our coach driver was as he reversed about 100m down a side road in to a space only just big enough for the coach avoiding parked vehicles on both sides and he was rewarded with a round of spontaneous applause!

The only ruins to be seen in the town are in a small immaculately maintained walled garden and comprise the remaining massive pillars of the church of St John and some massive stone tombs, but this was a quiet and moving place for our worship.
 
Here we had our fifth reading from Revelation 3:7-13  

These are the ruins of a magnificent basilica – look at the size of the pillars! I do wonder if the church spent too much time and energy on building a magnificent edifice to God so that it took its eye off the ball and lost its missionary zeal.  

How light do we sit with our ‘church’ (do we think it will be there forever? C of E is still in decline and needs to address change). Are we too interested in buildings and nor building the kingdom?

Next we visited Laodicea. What remains there today do not really do justice to it in the past, but there are ruins of theatres, a gymnasium, a stadium, and also a nymphaeum and aqueduct dotted around the surrounding countryside. It was renowned for its great medical school and particularly for an eye ointment made from local powders.

 
Here we had our sixth reading from Revelation 3:14-22

The church in Laodicea reflected its water supply. It was complacent – neither hot with passion or completely cold to the Gospel … lukewarm, insipid, useless. Despite the banking trade – the church was poor. Despite the ophthalmology – the church was blind. Despite the famous textiles – the church was naked.

* Are we outwardly spiritual (do the right things) but lack inner zeal?
* Is our worship, our works and our witness lukewarm?  


Our last stop of the day was to glimpse the view from the bottom of Pammulkale’s hard white (travertine) terraces. A hot spring has burbled up from the top of the plateau for the past 14,000 years and as the calcium rich water it cools over the rocks on its way down hill it precipitates into the hard white chalk terraces. After checking into our next hotel (1 night stay) we had the opportunity to swim in its hot thermal pool before dinner. After dinner our guide had arranged an extra trip to see a local performance by the Whirling Dervishes in a nearby hotel.

           

        


Day 7 - Hierapolis

 
We spent the morning walking around the site of Hierapolis at the top of the travertines.  Here there is an extensive cemetery, said to contain more than a 1000 tombs, a Basilical Church, a ceremonial triple-arched gate and the Temple of Apollo. There was also the opportunity to stand in the thermal spring waters as they gush out of the hill.
           

After lunch we took a tractor and trailer ride to visit the huge site of the Roman city of Aphrodisias. The ruins were hidden by the village of Geyre until an earthquake struck in 1956, when the villagers were relocated a short distance to the west and excavations could begin. What was revealed was an entire ancient city on a par with Ephesus. It includes a 1st century theatre, and the Sebasteion, a complex of twin porticos and central paved area, probably built originally as a shrine to the goddess, Aphrodite. Also the Temple of Aphrodite, the fully restored Tetrapylon and probably the finest structure of the site, a 30,000 seat stadium, which is claimed to be the best preserved in the Anatolia region. We finished the day by checking into the last hotel (4 night stay) in Pamucak.

Day 8 - Miletus and Didyma

A short drive to Miletus which Paul visited towards the end of his third missionary journey. It was from here that he took his emotional farewell of the Ephesian leaders before travelling to Jerusalem. Of all the ruins here, the 15,000 seater stadium is the grandest and also best preserved.

             
  Stadium at Miletus The Temple of Apollo  

Here we read from Acts 20:13-38

Isn’t it difficult to say goodbye to people you love and who have shared ministry with you. 

You will know this from your own experience of church; people come and people go, leaders come and leaders go … but the Lord Jesus and his mission to us to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’ remains constant. Paul was always careful to point people to Jesus rather than himself and we shouldn’t pin everything to do with our faith in any priest or vicar – but in Jesus.  


After lunch we visit the ancient city of Didyma and the Temple of Apollo. We finish the day with a trip to the pretty mountainside village of Sirince. It is well known for its local fruits and wine and provided a wonderful shopping opportunity for local arts and crafts.

Day 9 - Ephesus

I would not wish to undermine the rest of our trip but for me our visit to Ephesus this day was probably the highlight of our pilgrimage. The sheer size of the site and the variety of different structures we saw was breathtaking and at the same time, exhausting! It ranks as one of the most impressive archaeological sites in the world as much of it has been reconstructed. Indeed work is still going on at the site and will continue.


It is impossible to list everything we saw, but it included the Gymnasium, the State Agora, the Temple of Domitian and the library of Celsus which housed 12,000 scrolls in niches separated from the outer walls, to protect them from heat and humidity. The huge semi-circular theatre, probably the best-known site for the Christian pilgrim, could seat 24,000 and was the scene of a riot by the local silversmiths during Paul’s two year stay there.

     
The Gymnasium  The State Agora  The Library of Celsus 


Here we acted out this confrontation which is found in Acts 19:23-20:3    

Here we also had our 7th and final reading from Revelation 2:1-7

The Ephesians had set out to contend for the truth only to discover that in the course of the battle they had lost the one quality without which all others ore worthless. Where love for other people is lost, love for God turns into religious formalism or fanaticism.  (Quote from Stephen Travis)  

Have we lost our first love of God? Are we really ‘loving’ people? Can our church be described as a ‘community of love’?


After several hours here we were ready for lunch and a visit to two much smaller sites of the church and burial chamber of St John and finally the traditional house of the Virgin Mary. Here we celebrated the second communion of our pilgrimage in a beautiful church overlooking a wooded mountainside. We ended the day with a trip to a traditional Turkish carpet shop where we saw how they were made and enjoyed wonderful hospitality as we were shown many of the completed items. My favourite was made of silk on silk, about 3ft by 2ft, in shades of purple but at £8000 it was out of my budget!

Day 10 - At leisure in Pamucak


This was billed as ‘A day at leisure’ but our kind guide arranged with the cooperation of our coach driver, a shopping trip to a nearby town for those of us who still wanted to shop! And that was most of us! With designer copy handbags at 10 Euros each who could resist! We had a brilliant day of ‘rest’ shopping till we dropped! And we managed to fit in some sightseeing in the town as well.

The beach at Pamucak

Day 11 - Farewell

       

  Time to say farewell to Turkey, thank you to our guide and driver who were excellent and give credit to tour company McCabe for organising such an interesting and varied itinerary.  Thanks also to the two pilgrims who were always there with a helping hand or four to assist us up steps, slopes or just whenever help was needed – your thoughtfulness and kindness was much appreciated. We visited a lot of ancient sites, and as one pilgrim commented, ‘not another theatre!’- And not a little shopping, but the trip was more than that. It truly was a pilgrimage in the footsteps of St Paul and a journey for all of us in faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. We owe a huge thank you to Alison and Mark for leading us on the most memorable and enjoyable pilgrimage to this wonderful country, and I for one can’t wait for the next one, to Greece in 2017.

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the spirit says to the churches.  

God of our pilgrimage, you have led us to walk in the footsteps of the apostles: refresh and sustain us as we begin each day’s journey in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen 

A Pilgrim.

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