A 10K for the Ages

September 21st, 2012 · by Tom Stuart · Church History, News & Reflections

My heart overflows with a pleasing theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe. Psalm 45:1

Having just returned from a month of travel and sightseeing in Europe it is a challenge for me to sit down and write a blog on just one focused subject.  My habit and commitment on this website have been to bring a scriptural perspective to the everyday challenges of life.  But to be honest there are a number of things about which I would like to write which are beyond that self imposed parameter.  There are so many things stirring in my heart right now, both secular and sacred, puny and ponderous, even ridiculous to the sublime that I don’t know where to begin nor what would be truly helpful or of interest to my reader.  It might be best to start with a brief recap of our trip.

We spent a week and a half in Western Turkey visiting our daughter Anne who teaches at a large private school in Izmir (Smyrna of the Bible) located on the Adriatic Sea, just a ferry ride from the Islands of Greece.  While there we spent a number of days seeing the sights in ancient Istanbul, formerly Byzantium and Constantinople, which straddles the Straits of the Bosphorus, linking East to West, both geographically, historically and religiously.  We also visited the stunning and unparalleled ruins of Ephesus, the Apostle Paul’s stomping grounds for nearly three years and cradle of first century gentile Christianity. (Acts 19)  Not many people realize that a major part of Paul’s and the Apostle John’s ministries were focused upon this part of Turkey where all seven churches of the Book of Revelation, are located within a 50 mile radius of one another.  Of course, nothing remains of any of those churches and ironically Turkey is now 99% Islamic.

Taking advantage of Izmir’s proximity to Greece we stole away for a couple of days to the Island of Chios, where Paul, bound for Jerusalem by ship, spent a night (Acts 20:15) and we visited the ancient medieval walled city of Mesta.

From Turkey we flew to Rome where we viewed many of the famous vestiges of the ancient Roman Empire including the Catacombs.  Again we could not help but imagine ourselves walking in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul who was there for more than two years or living as the early Christians who were so heavily persecuted in the first three centuries after Christ’s death.  When we walked along the famed, cobble stone Appian Way or crossed the Tiber River on the Ponte Fabricio, the oldest bridge in Rome dating to 62 AD, it was amazing to think that Paul himself, bound in his Spirit to be a witness for Christ traversed upon the self same path. 

No visit to Rome of course is complete without also exploring the Vatican, seat of Roman Catholicism, claimant to the home of the early church fathers.  It was an educational time there exploring St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel all the while marveling at the incredible artwork including Michelangelo’s Pieta and ceiling frescoes.

After five days in the Eternal City, or should I say the “Infernal” City where I got pick pocketed, we took a train north to Florence, the heart and seedbed of the Renaissance in the 14th to 16th centuries.  It was hard for me to get my mind around the fact that from this one city, so small and compact in comparison to Rome, could emanate such a burst of brilliance that would revolutionize the world of science, art, sculpture, architecture, politics, literature, poetry and even religion.  Just think this one city spawned, Galileo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Donatello, Machiavelli, the Medici’s and Dante. 

Florence was even home to the religious reformer, preacher and prophet, Savanarola, who defied the Pope and was excommunicated in 1495.  Leading a religious youth movement in Florence he sought to establish the city under godly rule, but ended up being martyred in 1498.  His heroic life and writings influenced the likes of Martin Luther and provided kindling for the reformation.

After Florence we spent several days in the remote, picturesque Cinque Terra region, also known as the Italian Rivera.  Cinque Terra, translated five lands, are five small medieval towns built precipitously on the steep mountainous Mediterranean coast, linked by rail and footpaths.  From there we took a train to Milan and then an overnight sleeper train to Paris.

Our time in Paris was a fitting capstone to our journey through the history of Christianity and the ancient, medieval and renaissance Mediterranean world.  The beauty of Paris with it many landmarks, gracious streets and open spaces, spanning the medieval world to the 18th and 19th centuries gave us a unique perspective on both Christianity’s impact and eventual decline in Europe.  I could say so much about this but let me leave you with a simple picture which I think sums up the state of the church in that part of the world.

The last day of our trip we were wandering the Montmartre hill area of Paris and stumbled upon a very unusual statue in a small park.  It is the sculpture of a man holding his head in his hands. We discovered that it is a memorial to Saint Denis, a third century martyr and former Bishop of Paris.  Denis, obviously an evangelist at heart, was beheaded by sword because so many were being converted to Christianity through his ministry.  But even a beheading could not stop him.  Legend has it that Denis then picked up his head and walked ten kilometers preaching a sermon the entire way.  There he finally expired and was buried, in the place of his choosing.

To me that is a graphic picture that sums up state of the historic church visited in all of our travels.  Basically it is a headless church, a cadaver.  No one or nothing has ever been able silence Jesus, who is the head of His church, nor the proclamation of His gospel.  But the church needs to once again be raised up and become connected to the Him, under His headship, in order to fulfill its mission on earth.

More observations and lessons learned to follow. . .

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