A Letter to the Ephesians from: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. To the Saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 1:1,2)
So begins Paul’s letter of encouragement and instruction to the church he established in Ephesus after his arrival there in the summer of 52 A.D. In Paul’s time, the city of Ephesus was the commercial and religious center of the Roman province of Asia – a prosperous and prominent hub of trade, culture, politics, diversity, and religion. It makes sense that Paul would choose Ephesus as “home base” to spread the Christian gospel because it was a thriving multicultural and cosmopolitan meeting place for people and philosophies from all over the Mediterranean.
When Paul first arrived via ship he would have walked from the port of Ephesus up the marble street (the Arkadiane) that led into the city. In the early Roman period many kings, emperors, merchants and dignitaries (including Cleopatra and Anthony) had their footsteps on this impressive marble street spanning the distance between the port and the Grand Theatre. This wide street had had a columned promenade on either side adorned with statues and later, in the 5th century, the street lights were added. In the middle of the street a large structure was constructed and it was supported by four massive columns adorned with symbols of Christianity. It is believed that the columns once supported the statues of the four Apostles demonstrating that Paul’s short ministry here (under 3 years) had a profound and lasting effect on this city.
The sign of the fish, the Maltese Cross and the ΙΧΘΥΣ (Ichthys) are symbols of Christianity that are found scattered among symbols of pagan gods throughout the city.
ΙΧΘΥΣ (Ichthys) is acronym for “Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ”, (Iēsous Christos, Theou Yios, Sōtēr), which translates into English as “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior”.
- Iota (i) is the first letter of Iēsous (Ἰησοῦς), Greek for “Jesus“.
- Chi (ch) is the first letter of Christos (Χριστός), Greek for “anointed”.
- Theta (th) is the first letter of Theou (Θεοῦ), Greek for “God’s”, the genitive case of Θεóς, Theos, Greek for “God”.
- Ypsilon (y) is the first letter of (h)yios (Υἱός), Greek for “Son”.
- Sigma (s) is the first letter of sōtēr (Σωτήρ), Greek for “Savior”. (Wikipedia)
“Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. (Acts 19:8-10)
But Paul’s message of God’s love and peace among people wasn’t welcomed by all, especially those Ephesians who worshipped Artemis, the patron goddess of Ephesus so revered that her temple was the world center for Artemis worship. This grand building, constructed out of the finest marble and four times the size of the Parthenon, was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. One particular silversmith who had a lucrative business of crafting silver souvenirs of the Temple of Artemis got his “toga in a knot” over Paul’s slander of man-made gods. He incited a riot in the Grand Theatre that grew to over 20,000 filling the theatre to its capacity. For nearly two hours they shouted in unison, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
“Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and rushed as one man into the theater. Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there.” (Acts 19:29-33)
Thankfully, the city clerk (a prominent politician), finally silenced the crowd with a persuasive speech and dispersed them with a strict warning. And where is the grandiose Temple of Artemis today? This Wonder of the Ancient World has been reduced to one lone column standing amidst a pile of rubble. The gods are silent before the Almighty.
In the modern relocated city of Ephesus named Selchuk stands the Basilica of St. John. The Apostle John was entrusted by Jesus to take care of his mother, Mary. John, a beloved disciple of Jesus and the author of five books in the New Testament, brought Mary to Ephesus where she lived out her life in a small remote settlement in the hills above Ephesus. This fortified basilica stands on the top of a hill overlooking the entire region of Ephesus. A beautiful and peaceful location, it was once a humble wooden church erected over John’s burial site. In 6 A.D. Emperor Justinian built a magnificent church on the site and dedicated it to St. John.
We explored the expansive site late in the afternoon just before closing time and with the exception of a handful of other pilgrims, had the place to ourselves. It was so peaceful and quiet that we struggled to leave before the massive doors closed behind us.
Back at the hotel, I realized I’d left my purse (with passports!) on the ground as I was setting up for a photo shot. Never did I think that one of my travel stories would involve scaling a fortress wall to break into the basilica with three local Turkish men in order to retrieve my belongings! But I have my purse to prove it!