December 9, 2009 // Uncategorized

Who was Cornelius, the first Gentile convert?

The story of Cornelius is found in the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament. Cornelius was a Roman centurion in command of the Italian cohort stationed in the city of Caesarea in Israel. Caesarea was the Roman military headquarters in Israel. Thus the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate, who crucified Jesus, was stationed at Caesarea.

Caesarea, on the Mediterranean Sea, was also in important seaport from which ships sailed to Rome. Cornelius, as well as his household, was religious and generous. Father J. McKenzie says Cornelius was a proselyte who accepted the Jewish law but did not become a full member of the Jewish community by circumcision.

An angel appeared to Cornelius and told him to send men to Joppa in Israel to bring St. Peter to Caesarea. The next day St. Peter at Joppa had a vision of a large canvas filled with animals, reptiles and birds. A voice said “slaughter and eat.” St. Peter replied he could not eat anything unclean. The voice responded: “What God has purified, you are not to call unclean.”

Peter eventually realizes he is to admit Gentiles into the Christian community. So Peter went to Caesarea to meet Cornelius who dropped to his knees and bowed low before Peter. Peter then baptized Cornelius, the first Gentile convert.

K. Prag says that at Caesarea are the ruins of the 12th century cathedral Church of St. Peter. The apses and part of the west wall survive. The cathedral had three apses with sanctuaries, three aisles of five bays, a floor, and was by tradition located on the site of the house of Cornelius who was baptized by St. Peter.

Besides St. Peter, other famous people had connections with Caesarea. St. Philip, in the Acts of the Apostles, preached the Gospel in Caesarea. St. Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea for two years. Here Paul had his dramatic trial before the governor Festus, King Herod Agrippa and his wife Bernice. From Caesarea, St. Paul embarked for trial in Rome.

G. Freeman says a church council was held at Caesarea in 195 A.D. that ordered Easter to be kept on a Sunday. The famous theologian Origen of Alexandria in Egypt (d. 254 A.D.) taught in Caesarea and founded his library. Origen was succeeded by his pupil Pamphilus who was succeeded by the famous Eusebius, the father of church history. As an archbishop, Eusebius consecrated the Roman emperor Constantine’s Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

The historian Procopius was born in Caesarea c. 500 A.D. We should note that Caesarea in Israel is a different city than Caesarea in Turkey where we find the famous St. Basil, an early father of the church. This Caesarea is modern Kayseri, a large Moslem city.

R. Ullian mentions a number of sites in Caesarea in Israel. The beautiful Roman theater, capable of seating 5,000 spectators, was constructed in the time of Jesus and Pontius Pilate, with the Mediterranean Sea as a backdrop. There is also a ruined hippodrome seating 20,000 people. The magnificent aqueduct is almost six miles in length. The Ralli Museum at Caesarea includes sculptures of Dali and Rodin. You can enter Crusader City on a bridge across a deep moat, then through a gatehouse with Gothic vaulting. The city is a large fortified town.

Then there is the Port of Sebastos extending from Crusader City into the sea. King Herod the Great’s harbor at Caesarea was one of the largest harbors of the ancient Roman world.

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