Constantinople / Istanbul - Ancient and Modern - Crossroads of the World

Constantinople / Istanbul - Ancient and Modern - Crossroads of the World
Istanbul/constantinople - Ancient/Modern - View of the Old City from across the Golden Horn, atop the Galata Tower.

Pilgrims Progress: second week and return to Istanbul

Our Pilgrimage continued on Wednesday, May 4, with an early morning Mass at the tiny Church of St. Paul in downtown konua, which is ancient Iconium. The church is stafffed by two very dear religious sisters from northern Italy, Sr. Isabella and Sr. Serena, and they depend on visiting priests or pilgrims like us for Mass. These are truly doing an important work in a difficult mission, to help and support the tiny community of Catholics in the region, to evangelize by being quiet witness to Jesus Christ in the larger Muslim community of Konya, and to care for Chaldean Catholic refugees fleeing their violent and dangerous homeland of Iraq. They have captured the hearts of many of our Pilgrims of the past, and I was privileged to bring them a sizeable donation from a group of them.

After the Mass we visited the Museum / Shrine / Tomb of Mevlana (Rumi), Sufi mystic who was the founder of the Whirling Dervishes. Islam is not associated with mysticism in most peoples' minds, and this introduction to the mystical aspect of Muslim piety continues to be an important moment in our Pilgrimage.

Another relatively unknown, seldom-visited but, in my opinion, extremely important place for our purposes is Catalhoyuk, the excavations of a 9,600 year-old neo-lithic settlement. At that time, our ancestors we making the transition from wandering hunter-gatherers to sedentary farmers cultivating crops and domestication animals. Here we come into contact with the human side of our heritage -- we touch the people from whom we came less than 500 genertions ago.

Our drive from there to Silifke was lengthened by a nearly two-hour detour through the Taurus Mountains on a narrow, winding, unpaved road. It was unexpectedly providential, however, because we watched the video "Journey of Man," by Spencer Wells, in which he geographically traces our human journey though the ages from our African origins to the present day using genetic variations in the Y-chromosome. While some see this sort of stuff as dangerous because it seems to disprove the need for God and his revelation, I, on the contrary find it provides a fascinating and very necessary insight into how God works. Watching this while slowly winding our way through a mountain wilderness that also saw the early migration of our human ancestors as well as the armies of ancient empires (including Alexander the Great) -- wow! A lot of food for reflection. Truly an important experience of Pilgrimage.

We found out later that this detour was occasioned by a landslide a day or so earlier that closed the freeway. We nonetheless got to the remains of the monastery of St. Thecla at Selifke, and arrived at our hotel on the Mediterranean coast in time for dinner and a good night's sleep to prepare for Tarsus and a lengthy drive the next day, Thursday, May 5.

Tarsus is, of course, the city where St. Paul came from, and we visited the ruins of what was traditionally held to be the site of his family house, including a well that still produces water. There are many other sites associated with history or legend, including the tomb of St. Daniel, the prophet of the Old Testament, which is also a place honored by Muslims.

After a nice lunch'by the river in Adana, we spent the afternoon journeying to Antakya, ancient Antioch-on-the-Orontes, for a good night's sleep to prepare for a full day Friday, May 6.

We began Friday with a visit to the Cave of St. Peter, on the side of Mt. Silpius, an ancient shrine, but one among many pagan shrines of those day in caves on the same mountain. This was followed by a tour of the wondeful Mosaic Museum of Antakya, displaying an abundance of carefully restored Mosaic from the nearby ancient Hellenistic resort city of Daphne. Then it was time for our Mass in the local Catholic Church which is in a renovated house, much like the "house churches" of the time of the Apostles. In fact, as Fr. Domenico, the pastor, explained, it is even in the old Jewish quarter, almost the exact location where the early Christians would have gathered for worship.

In the afternoon we drove to the seaside town of Samandag, ancient Seleucia Pieria, for a hike to the very impressive necroplis ("city of the dead" or cemetery) and the tunnel of Vespasian and Titus, an impressive, but ultimately unsuccessful, feat of engineering attempting to prevent the silting of the harbor by diverting the course of the Orontes river. Another interesting aspect of Muslim diversity was presented to us as we visited a shrine of the Alevi sect. It is a small building surrounding a white stone marking the grave of Hizar, who according to Alevi tradition was a companion of Moses.

The next day, Saturday, May 7, began with a long, six-hour drive through the snow covered Taurus Mountains through the pass known to ancient history as the "Cilician Gates." It didn't snow on the road, but we encountered some rain. As we neared Cappadocia, we stopped at the first of many churches and monasteries we would encounter that had been carved out of the volcanic rock in the area: Eski Gumus, which means "old silver," perhaps from the "tarnished" color of the stone.

A few miles down the road we toured the underground "city" of Kaymakli, one of many in the area. While portions of them may date from at least the Hellenistic and Roman times, the majority of what we see today was dug out in the Middle Yes by local farmers and villagers as shelter from the passing Byzantine, Arab, Seljuk, and Ottoman armies on their way to greater conquests. In the bus parking area of the underground city, I had the unique experience of being recognized by the bus driver of one of our previous Pilgrimages, whose name is Sadat. It was a delightful reunion.

On our way to the hotel,we stopped at a small mosque that, during the later years of the Ottoman Empire, served as both a mosque and an Orthodox church simultaneously -- sign of at least a degree of tolerance and cooperation in past ages.

After arrival and dinner at our hotel,this long day was lengthened evn more with a very nice folk-dance show at a local nightclub. (Yes, Pilgrimage involves play as well as pray.)

Our one full day in Cappadocia, Sunday, May 8, began with an informative tour of a local village carpet co-operative, where we learned the history and significance of Turkish double-knotted carpets and woven kilims. We then drove to a small village where we ate a wonderful lunch at a new hotel and restaurant carved out of the rock of the hillside. After lunch we celebrated Mass in a small 12th-century cave-church with some wonderful remains of frescoes of the Virgin Mary and saints. Later in the afternoon we had a demonstration of local pottery making, an art for which Cappadocia is famous, as well as a visit to a local crafts store with jewelry and other objects made with local turquoise and the semi-precious stones.needless to say, there was quite a bit of shopping at these locations.

Early Monday morning, many of us took a one-hour hot-air balloon ride over the fantastic Cappadocian landscape. The valleys, ridges, and unique "fairy chimney" formations are result from erosion of the various layers of hard and soft rock deposited by the two volcanoes, Mt. Erciyes and Mt. Hasan, at either end of this broad valley. The highlight of the Christian historical sites in Cappadocia is the cluster of 11th and 12th century churches and monasteries, many with impressive iconography, some very well preserved. This is the famous Goreme Valley, which in the late Middle Ages must have had a very large population of monks and nuns, dedicated to the Christian faith.

After lunch in a restaurant built as a replica of a Seljuk "Han" -- a caravan stop along the Silk Road, of which there are many well preserved examples in Turkey -- we started the long drive to Ankara, ancient Ancyra, which is the capital of Turkey. There are vast stretches of green hills and meadows along this route, but very few towns of any size. This is the territory of the Galatians, whom St. Paul visited at least twice, and to whom he wrote his Letter to the Galatians to counter the influence of Jewish Christan who were insisting that they had to become Jews in order to be Christians. Along the way we discussed the unique character of the Galatian community and the reasons for Paul's loving concern for them.

The next morning, Tuesday, May 10, we toured the impressive Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, which contains artifacts from many of the sites we visited, arranged chronologically according to the periods. After this we drove through mountainous territory toward the Black Sea to the mountain village of Safranbolu, where we stayed in a restored 17th-century house, converted into a hotel. This town has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site because it consists almost entirely of buildings from the Ottoman era, many of them carefully and beautifully restored. Both the accommodations and cuisine gave us a taste of life in an antique and, to our Western tastes, exotic setting.

On Wednesay morning, we began to feel the end of the Pilgrimage approaching as we made the five-hour drive to Iznik, ancient Nicaea. After lunch by the lake at a restaurant that specializes in local fish, we together recited the Nicene Creed, which was the result of the First Ecumenical Council. This council of the Church took place in 325 A.D. at Constantine's palace, right there at the shore but no trace of it remains other than possibly some foundation stones visible at water's edge. We then briefly toured the newly restored Church of Hagia Sophia, the site of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Second Council of Nicaea) which, in the eighth century, dealt with Iconoclasm, a movement which vehemently oposed the veneration of images of Christ, Mary, or the saints.

Along the south shore of the lake, we stopped at the small village of Gemic, to visit Aydin's octogenarian nanny, Abidik, lives with her brother and family. A wonderfully warm and emotionally moving slice of Turkish family lifethatAydin has shared with our Pilgrims every year.

After a ferry trip across the Sea of Marmara and a congested freeway drive, crossing the Fatih Bridge overthe Bosphorus,we arrived at the hotel for a late dinner and a good night's rest. Tomorrow (Thursday) we start late (10:00 am) to revisit Istanbul in greater depth.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.9

Our First Week on the Pilgrimage

Tuesday evening, April 26, we officially began with an orientation and introdution by Aydin Eroglu, our guide, and Ersan Atsur, the owner of OrionTour.

Wednesday, April 27, was our introduction to the Pilgrimage in general and Istanbul in particular, as well as the 43rd anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. First, we climbed the Galata Tower, with its unsurpassed panoramic view of the whole of Istanbul.  Then we are visited the Hipodrome and the "Blue Mosque" (properly the Sultanamet Mosque), the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, and the majestic old Church of Hagia Sophia.  After lunch, we'll went to the delightful but very informative Miniaturk Park, where we walked among replicas of many of the sites we will visit in the coming weeks. We finished the afternoon with a relaxed, private cruise up a portion of the Bosphorus, with magnificent sea views of Istanbul. The boat had an inside cabin with refreshments, which was especially welcome because it was chilly and rainy, sand we were quite tired after an active day of walking.

The day concluded with Mass at the Cathedral of Saint-Esprit, presided by Fr. John Beckley, a Marist priest from Wheeling, WV who is with us on the Pilgrimage. We celebrated the feast of St. Peter Chanel, great missionary priest of the Marist order. In his homily, Fr. John drew lessons from his life. This is the first time we have another priest on the Pilgrimage.

After a damp and chilly morning, and a five-hour drive we arrived at the memorial of the WWI battle of Galipoli, an important moment of shaping the world of the 20th century. We toured under partly sunny skies and mild temperatures. You can read the details on the internet, but it is an important reminder to us of the need for understanding on all sides. At the cemetery, we offered a prayer for all who have died in wars and battles, and continued our prayer for understanding among peoples. Promoting this kind of understanding is one of the goals of this Pilgrimage, that we may learn to give up narrow self interest and together seek the common good of all humankind.

Then on a ferry across the Dardenelles to Troy, site of the famous ancient battle. After exploring the various layers and periods of the excavations, we drove to the Tusan Hotel for the night.

Today, Friday morning we followed the "footsteps" of St. Paul, in the portion of his final journey towards Jerusalem, from Alexandria Troas to Assos. This story, in Acts 20:1-15, includes the story of the youth, Eutychus falling asleep during Paul's long homily, falling from a third story window, dying from the fall, and being raised back to life. While his companions traveled by ship to Assos, Paul went overland, as did we, though in a comfy bus rather than on foot.

At Alexandria Troas, were treated to a private tour of'excavations in progress that are not yet open to the public, and the vast extent of the yet-to-be-uncovered ruins of a city that may have had 250,000 inhabitants in Paul's time. We took narrow back roads to Assos, getting a view of Turkish rural life with many flocks of sheep, fields, olive groves and tiny villages. In Athos we hiked to the top of the Acropolis, crowned with the Doric columns of the Temple of Athena, and boast in a fantastic 360+-degree view of the Aegean Sea, the Greek Island of Mitilini (Lesbos), and the surrounding countryside.

From Assos, Paul and his companions sailed to Miletus, where he gathered the leaders of the churches of Ephesus and the whole surrounding region, where he gave them a moving farewell address (Acts 20:16-38). Since we are not going to visit Miletus, we also reflected on these words.

On the way to Pergamon (Bergama), this being Friday the day when observant Muslims go'to the mosque for noonday prayer, we stopped at a mosque along the way for Aydin to go to a local mosque for prayer. Meanwhile, we Pilgrims prayed on the bus: while Aydin was praying for us and our Pilgrimage, we were reflecting on St. Paul and praying for him and the people of Turkey as well. For me respecting Aydin's religious commitment, as well as his sincere respect for ours, is also an important aspect of our Pilgrimage experience.

In Pergamon, we took a delightful short ride on the brand new aerial tramway to the Acropolis. (It was being built when we were here last year.) This is the site of the Altar of Zeus, which is probably the "throne of Satan" of the Book of Revelation (Rev 2:13). Today it's a flat area with three pine trees; the altar itself was taken piece by piece to Berlin and reconstructed there. At this site we read and reflected on the Letter to the Angel of the Church of Pergamon (Rev 2:12-17), and prayed that the Lord would protect us and all those we carry in our hearts (that's you too!) from all the forces of evil, symbolically represented by the "throne of Satan."

We then got to the Asclepion five minutes before closing time, 4:55 pm. This shrine of the god of healing, Asclepius, is'a complex containing a temple, theater, and various rooms and areas for ancient therapy. The famous physician Galen began and developed his career here.

We finished the day driving to Izmir for dinner and the night at the Kaya Hotel.

Saturday morning began a little later -- we got to sleep until 7:00 am! After breakfast we walked the short distance from the downtown hotel for Mass at the Church of St. Polycarp, an elaborately decorated and frequently restored 18th-century Italian building. We then drove to Sardis, and reflect and saw in the Temple of Artemis as well as the gymnasium and synagogue complex many e hoes of our early Christian heritage, including the echo, in the Book of Revelation's warning to the Church of Sardis that Jesus will come like a "thief in the night," of the ancientconquest of Sardis by the Persians. After driving back to Izmir for a wonderful fish lunch and a brief tour of the agora of ancient Smyrna, we drove to Kusadasi fr a good night's sleep to get ready for our intense exploration of Ephesus tomorrow.

Sunday we got up a little extra early to get to the entrance to the ancient city right at the 8:00 am opening time. The usual tour of the ancient city of Ephesus is an hour-long downhill route that takes in the "Curetes" street, the Library of Celsus, and the theater, ending up at the long row of souvenir shops (some displaying the disarmingly honest sign,"Genuine Fake Watches"!) and the waiting bus. We spent four hours, beginning with a hike up the side of Mount Nightingale to visit the Grotto of St. Paul and Thekla, a recent discovery that is still being studied, and where tourizts are not allowed. This has been a very special part of our Pilgrimage for the past four years because Aydin has gone out of his way to secure permission from the University of Vienna, which is studying the site. Each year the key has been flown from Vienna to the Ephesus Museum, and a cur a tor personally escorts us to the site. This just one of the things that makes our Early Christian Work Pilgrimage unique. Nearby are the remains of the "Double Church" of the Theotokos (Mother of God), where the Council of Ephesus was held in 431. After lunch and fashion show (and, for some, a shopping-spree) in a leather factory showroom, we visited the burial place and Basilica of St. John the Evangelist and the famous EphesusMuseum, with life-size statues of the goddess Artemis and the delightful miniature of the boy Eros riding a dolphin. We concluded the day at the famous house of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a site revered by Catholics and Muslims alike. We were warmly welcomed by Fr. Paolo, a delightful Capuchin Fanciscan priest from Rome is a member of the community that care a for the site. We were privileged to celebrate Mass in their private chapel, which has been enlarged to accommodate moderate-sized Pilgrim groups.

Early Monday, we set out for the elegant restored site of Aphrodisias, where there are ruins of a wonderful ancient Byzantine church built over the Temple of Aphrodite. Following an outdoor lunch at the rustic Doga Restauant, we drove another hour or so to Hierapolis. It is also known as Pamukkale (cotton castle), named for the magnificent travertine formations deposited by the hot mineral water cascading down the hillside. We were too late to hike up to the Martyrion of Philip, but we could view it from the pools below, and I spoke of its significance. We had time for a relaxing soak in the hot mineral pool at the hotel followed a nice dinner.

On Tuesday, we started by driving by the nearby sites of Laodicea and Colossae, and I was able to speak at some length about their significance in both the life and writing of St. Paul and St. John. On the lengthy drive to Pisidian Antioch, I spoke at some length about Paul's birthplace (probably Gischala in Galilee rather than Tarsus where he grew up), and its significance for Paul's life and faith. I cannot go into depth about this here, but it will be the topic of some of my classes during the summer, which I will record and put on the parish or the Pilgrimage website. Stay tuned. Aydin also spoke at length about the final speech of Muhammad and its significance today, as well as the conflicts and rivalries among Muslim countries today, as well as the roles of France and America. Complex stuff, and so poorly understood by many who see things only in black and white.

After our tour of Pisidian Antioch, we drove to Konya (ancient Iconium) and, following dinner, experienced a private performance of the "sema" of the Whirling Dervishes, followed by an explanation by the Sufi master who is the leader of this particular group.

These have been long and full days, but all the Pilgrims are in good spirits and seem energized even if tired. Thank you for your prayers, and be assured of ours.

Fr. Tom Welbers
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.8