Tuesday, February 24, 2009

On Tuesday, February 17, after visiting Marys House and celebrating the Eucharist with Fathers Tom Holahan and Phil DeRea, we drove down the hill to the ruined city of Ephesus Efes in Turkish and there began one of the truly great adventures of our trip. The next three hours were filled with the history and wonder of this ancient city and its endless marvels the myriad pillars, the great roads, the amphitheatres, the stunning Celsus Library, the fountains and statues and sculpted capitals, the endless beauty of a city consigned to the past, yet very much alive today with the presence of visitors and pilgrims such as ourselves.

Fortunately the weather was splendid, as you shall see in the accompanying photos, for we walked and walked and climbed and climbed with a few moments every now and then to rest on the odeon (also spelled odeion) and in the grand and truly breathtaking amphitheatre. In both places Gaby, an Australian who teaches at Marymount International School and was on our trip with her husband Marco, gifted us by reading some of the New Testament writings that Father Tom had so carefully prepared for each day of our entire pilgrimage. Today's readings were from the Acts of the Apostles. Here is the odeon, a small theatre for performances and entertainment, seating perhaps several thousand people.

Ephesus, said to be the best-preserved classical city in the eastern Mediterranean, is so startling in its grandeur that we will tour this city in two days.

In centuries of vicissitudes Ephesus, originally an ancient Greek city on the west coast of Anatolia, in the region known as Ionia in the period of Classical Greece, was ruled variously by Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans. It was most famous for a long period of time for its Temple of Artemis (also known as Diana), completed about 550 B.C. and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World which was destroyed by St. John Chrysostom, archbishop of Constantinople, in the early fifth century A.D. Only one column of that temple reamins standing today. (The other six wonders were: Great Pyramid of Giza [still standing], Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Mausoleum of Maussollos, Colossus of Rhodes and the Lighthouse of Alexandria).

Ephesus, the third largest city in the Roman Empire after Rome and Alexandria, was one of the seven congregations or churches of Asia mentioned in the Book of Revelation. It is believed the Gospel of John was written here. Emperor Augustus in 27 B.C. replaced Pergamum with Ephesus as the capital of proconsular Asia, and Ephesus grew in size and wealth and influence, especially as a major commercial center, located as it was on a great harbor. Ephesus was believed to have between 400,000 and 500,000 inhabitants by the year 100 A.D.

This marvelous ancient city was an important center for early Christianity from about the year 50 A.D. St. Luke writes about Pauls visits to Ephesus on his second (49-52 A.D.) and third journeys (53-57 A.D.) but he is careful not to say that St. Paul founded Christian communities there but rather that there were communities and St. Paul felt he had to embolden the faith of these early believers. Paul wrote several of his Letters while he was imprisoned in Ephesus for a short time, very possibly from the Paul Tower near the then harbor. The harbor in Pauls time was much closer to the city of Ephesus than it is today. St. Paul wrote to the Christian community in Ephesus when he was imprisoned in Rome, perhaps around 62 A.D.

Other landmarks in Ephesus include the astonishing Library of Celsus, the main open-air amphitheatre which could hold upwards of 25,000 spectators (and has incredible acoustics as our group would discover during Gabys readings) which was used for gladiator contests during Roman times, as evidenced by a recently discovered gladiators grave site. There were bath complexes, public open-air bathrooms featuring staged areas for muscians who would play during the day, an extraordinarily advanced aqueduct system, and very avant-garde pipes that carried water to and from buildings in a well-engineered system. In this photo you can see some of the pipes laying side by side.

As we began our walk down a well-preserved road, Alp our guide, pointed out various monuments and statues and bas-reliefs and buildings. His narratives were so alive and so extensive in their descriptions that it seemed as if he might have actually lived here at another time!

Alp explains and I listen while posing for a photo.

Every so often I would see a stone or a pillar or a wall depicting a cross.

Here is another cross you can see the capital on the left, atop the stone cross piece with writing in Greek beneath it.

These two bas reliefs are part of what is known as the Pollio Fountain.

And this is Trajans Fountain as we walk along Curetes street on our way to the truly exceptional Celsus Library which we will visit tomorrow. Curetes referred to semi-deities and later to the priests of Artemis. This was a large fountain or pool built in honor of Roman Emperor Trajan (98-117). Archaeologists have also found statues of Trajan's family on this site.

I was not the only one to lose my head over Ephesus.

As I write these words, it is the vigil of Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. To conclude the first part of our visit to Ephesus, and to start our Lenten journey as well, here are two of the three readings that Gaby did in Ephesus at the odeon, before the Celsus Library and in conclusion at the grand amphitheatre.

February 17 Ephesus: Acts 18:23-19:12 - at the Odeon mini theatre:

23 After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples. 24 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. 27 When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the believers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. 28 For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah. 1 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." 3 So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?" "John's baptism," they replied. 4 Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." 5 On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all. 8 Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. 9 But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. 11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.

February 17 Ephesus: Acts 19:23-20:1 at the main amphitheatre

23 About that time there occurred no small disturbance concerning the Way. 24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, was bringing no little business to the craftsmen; 25 These he gathered together with the workmen of similar trades, and said, "Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business. 26 "You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all. 27 "Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship will even be dethroned from her magnificence." 28 When they heard this and were filled with rage, they began crying out, saying, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" 29 The city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed with one accord into the theater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul's traveling companions from Macedonia. 30 And when Paul wanted to go into the assembly, the disciples would not let him. 31 Also some of the Roman officials who were friends of his sent to him and repeatedly urged him not to venture into the theater. 32 So then, some were shouting one thing and some another, for the assembly was in confusion and the majority did not know for what reason they had come together. 33 Some of the crowd concluded it was Alexander, since the Jews had put him forward; and having motioned with his hand, Alexander was intending to make a defense to the assembly. 34 But when they recognized that he was a Jew, a single outcry arose from them all as they shouted for about two hours, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" 35 After quieting the crowd, the town clerk said, "Men of Ephesus, what man is there after all who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of the image which fell down from heaven? 36 "So, since these are undeniable facts, you ought to keep calm and to do nothing rash. 37 "For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of our goddess. 38 "So then, if Demetrius and the craftsmen who are with him have a complaint against any man, the courts are in session and proconsuls are available; let them bring charges against one another. 39 "But if you want anything beyond this, it shall be settled in the lawful assembly. 40 "For indeed we are in danger of being accused of a riot in connection with today's events, since there is no real cause for it, and in this connection we will be unable to account for this disorderly gathering." 41 After saying this he dismissed the assembly. 1 After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and when he had exhorted them and taken his leave of them, he left to go to Macedonia.

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