June 8, 2011 // Uncategorized

St. John instructed Polycarp to pass on faith in Smyrna

Where is the church of Smyrna to whom St. John wrote a letter?

St. John the Apostle wrote letters to the seven churches of ancient Asia Minor (modern western Turkey) that were situated on the Royal Road. These letters are found in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament. One of these letters was written to the church at Smyrna.

Smyrna is modern Izmir, the third largest city in Turkey today, that lies north of Ephesus, which was the capital of the Roman province of Asia. St. John the Apostle was the bishop of Ephesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom St. John was caring for, also lived there.

Smyrna is a seaport city on the Gulf of Izmir, a large inlet of the Aegean Sea. I loved the spectacular view of the sea here. Everything looks so beautiful and unspoiled. St. John tells the church of Smyrna that it is materially poor, but spiritually rich. Some accusations made by the Jews occasioned the persecution of Christians. St. John tells those imprisoned to remain faithful until death and they will receive the crown of life.

One of the important residents of ancient Smyrna was St. Polycarp who was the bishop there from A.D. 115-156. St. Polycarp was taught the Catholic faith by St. John the Apostle who died c. A.D. 100. Polycarp, in turn, taught the Catholic faith to St. Irenaeus, who lived in Smyrna, and then became the bishop of Lyons in France and died c. A.D. 200. So here we see the Catholic faith being passed on through the early generations of about 50 years each. St. Polycarp was noted for preserving the purity of the faith and was eventually burned at the stake in Smyrna in A.D. 156.

Sadly there are not that many remains of ancient Smyrna. Many are buried under the modern town. D. Darke says there is the Roman theater. The hollow of the theater is still discernible, but is now full of recently built houses. On the western side, one of the vaulted passages to the auditorium is well-preserved and runs under one of the new houses. The stage building is also lost among the houses.

The Roman agora or marketplace has been excavated with many of the columns of the portico re-erected. The Velvet Fortress was the acropolis of ancient Smyrna. On its north side is a large market building beneath which are some handsome vaults. Nearby are statues of Poseidon and Demeter. From Ottoman times, there is a colorful bazaar and a c lock tower on the sea front. The Archaeological Museum at Smyrna houses a lovely 4th century B.C. bronze bust of Demeter.  Finally Kultur Park, with its artificial lake, displays exhibits from the whole Aegean coast.

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