February 10, 2010 // Uncategorized

The many faces of Antioch

What are the Christian sites at Antioch in Syria?
Ancient Antioch in northern Syria is now called Antakya in southeastern Turkey. It was at this Antioch that St. Peter was the first bishop, before going to Rome. Eventually St. Ignatius was bishop of Antioch (d. A.D. 107) who wrote many letters to the churches of Asia. Nicholas, one of the first seven deacons, was from Antioch. St. Paul and St. Barnabas also visited Antioch, which became the home base for St. Paul’s missionary work. The doctor of the Church, St. John Chrysostom (d. A.D. 407) was born at Antioch. 

There is a second Antioch in Pisidia in Turkey where St. Paul visited and preached on one of his missionary journeys. Then there is a third Antioch in Mygdonia in what was once northeastern Mesopotamia (Iraq), but now lies in southeastern Turkey. This Antioch is also called Nisibis. St. Ephrem the poet lived here, before moving to Edessa or modern Urfa in Turkey.

M. Grant says that Antioch in Syria was situated at the edge of a large and fertile plain between Mount Silpius and the left bank of the Orontes river where it cut through to the Mediterranean sea. This city stood at a focal point of communications with both south and east. Daphne, a suburb of Antioch, was famous for its shrine of Apollo. In Daphne Mark Antony married Queen Cleopatra in 40 B.C. The Olympic Games of Antioch were also held here. There are beautiful gardens with cypress and laurel trees and little waterfalls. Antioch became the third largest city in the Roman empire, after Rome in Italy and Alexandria in Egypt.

At Antioch today you can see St. Peter’s Grotto. A. Edmonds says this grotto is at the foot of the hills east of the city. The Crusaders in the Middle Ages discovered this grotto and said it is the cave church where early Christians met in secret. A narrow tunnel winds from the church through the side of the hill and away from the town, as an escape route. The white façade of the church stands out against the reddish rock from which it was hollowed. Fodor says the feast of Ss. Peter and Paul is celebrated here in the simple bare grotto on June 29 and Mass is said the first Sunday of every month.

D. Darke says in Roman times Antioch was a great center for cultural, artistic and commercial activities, and the people loved the pleasures of life. Today you can still see the ancient city wall, the old Roman bridge and a picturesque bazaar. H. Vos mentions that, at the time of St. Paul, Antioch was a magnificent city. It had a circus, palace, marketplace, citadel, Christian cemetery, theater, forum, a statue of Romulus, Remus and the she-wolf, colonnades, squares for children, a statue of the Roman emperor Tiberius, Roman royal residences, a hippodrome, and temples of Jupiter, Dionysus and Pan.

T. Goltz mentions that Antioch became a center for ascetic monks and spiritual acrobats who expressed their devotion to God by a complete abnegation of the world. The most famous was St. Simeon the Elder (d. A.D. 459) who devoted his life to sitting atop an increasingly higher pillar, now located right across the Syrian border. Here Simeon would rant and rave against such human frailties as the desire for a good meal and a clean pair of sheets.

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