Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Turkey: The Seven Churches and Istanbul

"Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches." (Rev. 1:19-20)

The ministers and spouses of the Association of International Churches in Europe and the Middle East, standing at the gate of the ancient city of Hierapolis.

Those of you who have been following on Facebook will know that Julie and I spent the last week at a conference of pastors and spouses serving international churches in Europe and the Middle East. (See the report from one of the group's leaders at http://jodimullenfondell.blogspot.com/.) The conference was in Turkey, where we toured the sites of the seven churches of John's Revelation and parts of Istanbul.

This was an extraordinary journey through the early history of the Christian church, and also to a place where the Christian faith is now represented by .1% of the 70 million people now living in Turkey. Whatever we may have learned about the church's past, we were more inspired and challenged by the prospects for its future.

Here are some pictures from our trip.

This is the modern city of Izmir, on the site of the ancient Smyrna, near the place where Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, was martyred in the 2nd century. When given the chance to recant his Christian faith and save his life, Polycarp said: 'Eighty-six years I have served [Christ], and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my king who saved me?' Polycarp was killed immediately.

This is the Temple of Artemis, in what was the city of Sardis.

A floor mosaic in Sardis.

The remains of a building in Sardis.

A pillar where the city of Philadelphia once stood. The site is adjacent to a mosque.

A theatre in the city of Hierapolis.


This is a cliff in Hierapolis formed by deposits of travertine. The area has been quarried since Roman times, and is the source of building materials for much of the surrounding area.

We're standing in a pool where the travertine collects.

Remains of the city of Laodicea.

The main street in Laodicea.

At the American Church we just finished our Lent Bible study on Paul's letter to the Colossians. The city has not been excavated yet, but it was powerful to walk on its site with the words of the letter still in my head. I found a piece of decorative pottery there.

Standing on the site of Colossae...note the In-N-Out t-shirt.

St John's Basilica in Selcuk.

The place where St John, author of the Gospel, the letters and Revelation, is said to have been buried.

With Julie in Ephesus.

The public library in Ephesus.

The main street in Ephesus.

A public toilet in Ephesus.

One of the large remaining theatres in Ephesus. We paused for a reading from Revelation, and one of our group sang 'The Lord's Prayer' from the main stage. It was unbelievably moving.

After Ephesus we flew to Istanbul, a city of almost 16 million people. Situated on the Bosphorus, the strait that connects the Black Sea with the Mediterranean, the city has always been strategically important. But it has also been, whether you call it Byzantium, Constantinople, or Istanbul, the boundary between Eastern and Western civilization.

It's difficult to describe just how captivating Istanbul can be. From the crowds of people in open markets, to the minarets that sprout up on every block, to the mix of traditional dress and modern fashion...all of this is crammed together in a city where every few hours a call to Islamic prayer can be heard, well, everywhere.

We loved being in this city. It was a strange and hypnotic blend of the foreign and familiar, and we were drawn to it from the start.

The Hagia Sophia. When it was built in the 6th century it was the largest Christian church in the world (which it remained until St Peter's in Rome was built). In 1453 it was converted to a mosque, and the Christian art was painted or plastered over. Crosses were defaced and all other traces of the building's Christian origins were erased. It is now a museum to both the Christian and Islamic influences on Turkish culture.

Inside the Hagia Sophia.

Below are two of the Christian mosaics that have been restored.

The Blue Mosque, one of the most sacred Islamic worship spaces in Istanbul.

The ceiling of the Blue Mosque.

With Julie in the Blue Mosque. Women had to keep their heads covered, and all of us had to remove our shoes to enter.

A view of Istanbul from across the Golden Horn.

We visited the Spice Market, and found, well, lots of spices.

There were other shops as well.

I'll write more about this trip as I process all that I learned and saw. Istanbul is a place I want to keep in my prayers...for its people, for the Christians I met there, and for the message of the Gospel to be heard and believed there again.


  1. Thank you, John! For the photos and the explanations. You are a teacher, an inspiring one!

  2. Anonymous11:06 PM

    Thank you.I enjoy thıs. Quıte ınformatıve. I am ın Istanbul 4 a few days and would have loved to have fellowshıp wıth Chrıstıans today sunday. Thought I could also get some ınformatıon on that. No one here seems to know of the locatıon of any place lıke that.

  3. Beautiful photos, John. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Hello!
    You wrote: “for its people, for the Christians I met there, and for the message of the Gospel to be heard and believed there again.”

    (le-havdil) The “message of the Gospel” is much about foregiveness and I want to comment about that.
    How to live in order to enable the Creator in His loving kindness to provide His foregivness is outlined in the Jewish Bible ; and was also taught by the first century Ribi Yehoshua from Nazareth (the Mashiakh; the Messiah).

    The Jewish Bible – for example Yekhëzqeil (Hezekiel) 18 – promises foregivness to those who do their sincerest to keep Torah. The Creator cannot lie and He does not change (Malakhi 3:6)! According to Tehilim (“Psalms”) 103 the Creator gives his foregivness to those who do their sincerest to keep His berit (“covenant”; the pre-conditions to be included in the berit is according to the Jewish Bible to do ones sincerest to keep Torah).

    You will find Ribi Yehoshuas teachings here: Netzarim
    Anders Branderud

  5. Anonymous10:07 AM

    AWSOME PHOTOS! I loved seeing them. Most of these sites have only been in my imagination and to see the ruins was fantastic!

    Thanks for posting them and have a great day in the LORD!!!

  6. Anonymous7:33 AM

    We would all be better off if we abandoned superstition of all kinds.


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