Byzantine Travel Journal: Day 3 (Cappadocia)

2010 © Gregory Scott

This day began early. We were out of our hotel by 6:00 a.m. on our way to the airport to catch a flight to Kayseri (in English “Caesar”), our ultimate destination a Central Turkey region called Cappadocia.

Cappadocia was once inhabited by the Hittites (as in “Uriah the Hittite,” 2 Samuel 11), then the Greeks, and for the last several hundred years, the Turks.  Cappadocia is known for its otherworldly rock formations, which were created by the two hands of desert heat and mountain snow placed on volcanic rock and spun by a persistent wind. The result appears as purposeful as anything that has ever left the potter’s wheel, as you can see from the photograph.

In the late morning, we visited Goreme, another cave-community, this one used as a seminary where St. Basil taught Christianity to the locals and to aspiring priests.  The churches carved out of the rock at Goreme contain frescos more than 1,000 years old that have survived Iconoclast and Muslim defacement.

After a long relaxing lunch finished off with a Turkish coffee, we stopped in a small village for some shopping. The Turks have been very friendly to us everywhere we’ve been, and in this village a local proprietor offer us tea and was so friendly we were looking for things to buy from him. Did I mention the Turks are also very good businessmen?

We ended our tour of Cappadocia at an underground cave-city. Like the cave city at Zelve, the Hittites used this underground city to escape from their enemies. The Greeks used the underground city after the Hittites, followed by the Christians, who used the underground city to escape persecution from the pagans.

2010 © Gregory Scott

Christians in caves was the theme of the day.  What’s interesting is that even after the persecution ended and Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire, the Christians at Zelve and in other cave communities in Cappadocia, continued to live and worship in the caves.  Moreover, other Christians joined them, apparently desiring the community of other believers to the challenge of discipling the nations.

In it’s nascent stages in a hostile intolerant culture, it’s sometimes necessary for the Church to remain underground.  This is certainly the case now in China and Iran. But the destiny of the kingdom of God is not the seed planted in the ground but the tree in whose branches the birds of the air nest.

Leaven only changes the dough when it is in contact with it; salt requires a similar interaction. What was true in Cappadocia in the days of the early church is true today.  Christians will not change the world escaping from it, but from engaging it. One doesn’t change the world from a cave.

Until tomorrow…  GS

Byzantine Travel Journal: Day 2 (Istanbul)

2010 © Gregory Scott

Our day began at the Hippodrome, or what used to be the Hippodrome.  After Constantine the Great’s renovation in the 4th century, the Hippodrome could hold as many as 100,000 horse race enthusiasts. It was Churchill Downs on steroids.

Today, as you can see from my picture, there is little left of the Hippodrome, except for two monuments, one a 10th century column dedicated to Emperor Constantine (VII) Porphyrogenitus and the other an Egyptian obelisk on a marble base honoring Emperor Theodosius, which was erected in 390 A.D. (Theodosius, you may or man not know, put an end to what was left of paganism in the empire).

The Turks did to the Hippodrome what Theodosius did to paganism.  The Hippodrome began disappearing stone-by-stone after Constantinople fell to the Turks.

2010 © Gregory Scott

Later in the morning, we arrived at Hagia Sophia.  Hagia Sophia was completed by Justinian in 537 A.D. and for 800 years was the most beautiful and famous church in the world. When Hagia Sophia was completed, Justinian proclaimed, “Solomon, I have surpassed thee!”

After sacking Constantinople, the Turks converted Hagia Sophia into a mosque, which explains the round billboards in my picture extolling, in Arabic, the virtues of Allah and Muhammad.  I’m guessing Justinian never imagined his church would become a mosque.  In fact, I’m confident he didn’t since, in 537 A.D., Islam didn’t exist.

Hagia Sophia was not the only church converted to a mosque in Constantinople by the Turks. Hagia Eirene and the church of SS Sergius and Bacchus met the same fate.  In fact, nearly every church in Constantinople was converted to a mosque.  The once great city, God’s earthly crown jewel, became a Muslim city.

As a Christian, it’s natural to contemplate these events and ask God, “Why?”  As a kingdom-believing Christian, convinced the kingdom of God is destined to grow and transform the earth, the loss of Constantinople cannot help but appear to be a major setback.

However, when considering the fleeting nature of buildings, cities and civilizations, even those dedicated to God, it’s important to remember that while the kingdom of God is destined the transform the earth, it also transcends it.  God did not choose to place His Holy Spirit in churches–not even the most beautiful one in the world–but in believers. While King Jesus purposes to transform cities and cultures, neither He nor his Kingdom is defined by them.  Civilizations come and go, but the kingdom of God endures (Daniel 2:42) and continues to expand. GS

Byzantine Travel Journal: Day 1 (Istanbul)

Thanks to the genius of modern of travel, we boarded a plane in the USA and after 18 hours of travel, including two stops to change planes we were arriving halfway around the world in Istanbul, Turkey f/k/a Constantinople f/k/a Byzantium. And as amazing at it would have been to Constantine, Theodosius or Justinian to know the future would provide such speedy travel, I suspect 1,000 years from now our descendants will look back and consider primitive the notion of cramming 300 people into a tin can with wings and adding thrust to move it through the air from place to another.

On the drive from the Istanbul airport to our hotel we got our first up-close look at Istanbul. I’d seen pictures on the Internet before arriving and had a pretty good idea of what to expect, but I was still surprised it wasn’t more advanced like modern cities in the West. Granted, we drove through the old city and haven’t spent much time in the modern part, but still I thought I’d find a more prosperous-looking 21st century city than the one we saw.

Perhaps my surprise is a result of the contrast between modern Istanbul and the awe-inspiring picture of Constantinople various authors have helped paint in my mind, a city that caused visitors a thousand years ago to say things like,“We knew not whether we were on heaven or earth” and “…on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty,” and “we only know that God dwells there among men.” When it was the heart of Christendom, a city devoted to King Jesus, a city whose rulers were sometimes criticized for loving theology more than governing, it was a city of unimaginable prosperity, learning and cultural leadership. But we are just on our first day, and we will see more tomorrow.

Today was a day to get acclimated, get some rest and get ready for our first day of touring tomorrow. We did have a nice dinner while enjoying a view of the Bosphorus (see picture shot with my iPhone 4), probably not too far from where Darius I had a pontoon bridge constructed and crossed 2,500 years and crossed in pursuit of the Scythians.  Darius’s son, Xerxes (see Esther), would later repeat the feat in 480 B.C. much further south at Hellespont, beyond the Sea of Marmara, where he crossed on his way to fight Leonidas and the 300 at Thermopylae.  These waters, separating the East from the West,  have been a pivotal venue in history.

Until tomorrow…  GS

Byzantine Travel Journal: Preparation

Copyright © 2010 Gregory Scott

Tomorrow we leave on our trip to Istanbul, Ephesus and Athens, where we will explore the former heart of the Byzantine Empire (Istanbul f/k/a Constantinople), the former site of a famous New Testament church (Ephesus) and Athens, where the Apostle Paul preached his famous sermon and an Athenian Supreme Court Justice (Dionysius) became a Christian (Acts 17). I’ve been looking forward to this trip for years.

My plan is to post daily, uploading pics from some of the places we visit and providing commentary from a Kingdom worldview. You can discover these ancient sites along with me and submit questions or comments.  It is also my intention to tweet photos during the day at @kingdomtweets.  If you are not following me on Twitter, you can click “Follow Me” icon in the right margin and it will take you to my Twitter home page where you can choose to follow.

You are probably wondering what’s with the pic of the cat in the suitcase. Well, that’s our Lilac Point Himalayan, who always packs herself when when we get ready to leave on a trip. It’s her not-so-subtle way of insisting we take her along.  Unfortunately, we will have to leave her behind with our house-sitter, who always takes good care of her.

So, stay tuned, and if you don’t want to check back to the blog everyday, remember you can subscribe to the RSS feed.  GS