We arrived on the Turkish mainland this morning to bright blue, cloudless skies and a morning temperature in the mid-50s. During the day it warmed up to about 60 degrees but a strong wind began to blow off the sea. Tonight we may experience for the first time what Peter and Paul felt and experienced during a very windy night in the Adriatic and Mediterranean.
The two room house some believe to be where Mary lived until her death,. Photo kindness of John P. Christian
First, a few words about a destination of many tours today which is the house which legend has it that Mary lived with John the Apostle after the resurrection of Jesus, and as the locals would say until her Assumption into heaven following upon her death. The scriptures say little about Mary after the Ascension of her son so they are of little to no help in determining what happened to her. However, there is some support that John the Apostle who had been given the task of caring for Mary by Jesus on the cross came to Ephesus and lived here, and therefore if one follows the logic also with Mary. The Muslims respect Mary because they respect Jesus as a great prophet, not the greatest mind you (that honor belongs to Mohammed) and the mothers of all prophets are held in great esteem and reverence. Thus they are willing to stake their claim that Mary lived and died in Ephesus. In Jerusalem there is a church called the Church of the Dormition of Mary which also claims to be the place where she died and from which she was assumed into heaven. In the last century, a German nun and visionary had a vision that Mary spent most of her life on top of a tall mountain with a view of the sea and in a two room house. They found such a house here above Ephesus and I am including a picture. Where Mary died, in Ephesus or Jerusalem is not an article of faith. That she died and was assumed into heaven is.
We are fairly certain that Paul arrived in Ephesus around the year 52AD, from Corinth. Second in size to his hometown of Antioch in that part of the world, he arrives here with a greater knowledge of what works and what does not work in his preaching and evangelizing. We are also fairly certain that he traveled over 500 miles by land to reach Ephesus taking weeks as one might expect. There were few Christians to be found in Ephesus in a general population of 200,000 and it was a perfect place for him. He would end up spending three years in Ephesus, the longest time he would stay in any one place and when he left, he left everything to Timothy, his friend and early bishop.
Artemis was the Greek God of choice at Ephesus, which was a bustling port city. Today, the ancient ruins, which we visited, have seen the sea withdraw about six miles but in the time of Paul, one took a ship right up to the main street in the city. It was a place of great commerce and while not the capital city of the area it was classy, classical and clever.
It is said that there were some 10,000 Jews living in Ephesus at the time of Paul’s arrival. Initially as elsewhere, he enjoyed a brief period of honeymoon but then animosity and rejection. Paul cleverly found another site for his preaching, something that today we might call a “lecture hall.” Since the known world came to him in Ephesus, he did not need to leave and go elsewhere in the world in search of converts. Ephesus was an important place of congregation, gathering, debating and disputing, exactly his kind of town.
It is important for today’s Catholic to remember that Paul did not have access to what today we call the Gospels. He worked from stories about Jesus he was told after his conversion by people who either knew the Lord personally or had information from someone reliable and close to Christ. No where in his writings or in Acts do we have Paul quoting any Gospel but we do have one quotation in Acts by Paul from Jesus, words of Jesus, that appear in no Gospel: It is better to give than to receive. [Acts 20:35]. So his theology of Christianity developed apart from the Gospels themselves that to me is even more amazing. One of the best summaries of his time and teaching in Ephesus, I think, is to be found in his farewell speech to the community he had spent three years with which he delivered at Miletus (25 miles from ancient Ephesus) and which comes from Acts:
I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you, but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. . . I must complete the task. . .of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. . .[and] preaching the kingdom. I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. Acts 20:20-21,24-25,27,31.
One small section of the enormous Roman "theatre" where Paul preached at Ephesus. Photo kindness of Marc Barhonovich
Pretty simple it would seem but a lot for a hostile audience. How successful was he? Peter Walker in his excellent book IN THE STEPS OF PAUL which I used for preparing for this trip and also for writing these Pauline entry blogs suggests that a community of perhaps 500 or 600 converts were won to the faith over his three years here. That is probably more than any one priest or bishop converts, instructs and baptizes in our lifetime today so do not let the numbers betray his real success.
When we visited the ancient city with its incredible excavations today, we saw the ancient theatre where Paul had a bad day or days. Something of a riot took place following his preaching and it centered on whose God was really God, Paul’s or the God Artemus of the Greeks/Romans. There was a huge brouhaha, which the Apostle desperately wished to engage in, but instead Paul was restrained from entering the theatre at that moment in time though he probably would have given his right arm to get into the debate. As the Jewish people began to become more vehement in their condemnation of Paul, he determined it was time to move on and set off for Jerusalem. As I mentioned earlier in this series, his letter to the Ephesians was written during his brief second visit to Corinth.
One final note about Ephesus. In 431, the third ecumenical council was held here to combat the heresy of Nestorianism which made two erroneous claims: first, that Jesus was not divine and second that Mary was not the mother of the Son of God since Jesus was merely human. Bishops from all around the ancient world gathered here to pray and discuss how to combat these theological errors. Of course, they reaffirmed that Jesus was both human and divine and they accorded to Mary the title of “theotokus” or “bearer [mother] of God.” No matter how one slices it, for Mary, for Paul, for John the Apostle, John the Evangelist, John of Patmos, St. Luke and for the Church, Ephesus played a major role in our first century church history. Most tourists visit it for its important ruins of the Greek and Roman eras but pilgrims visit it because they wish to walk in the footsteps of the apostles. As for Peter, Sunday through next Thursday is his day as we arrive in our final port, Civitavecchia, the port city for Rome.