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Smyrna

 

Smyrna, like Ephesus is a sea port and an important commercial centre. It was alleged to be the birthplace of Homer. It was a significant centre of Christianity in that it received a personal letter from Jesus Christ.

Text: Revelations 2:8-11

8 “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:

These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.

11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.




Context of the church in Smyrna [smur nuh]

According to scholars of Christian history in Asia Minor, the Christians initially lived in peace as it was regarded as a sect of Judaism until the second half of the first century. Judaism enjoyed a special place in Roman Rule especially after the Maccabees revolts. Jews are allowed to worship their One True God and are exempted from Emperor worship. They are to offer sacrifices to the Caesar, not as to gods but as to rulers. This changed during the rule of Emperor Nero who threw suspicions on Christians as the one who started the Great Fire in Rome.

The Jews themselves were increasingly unhappy to be grouped together with Christian whom they regarded to be following a false messiah. There began to have religious conflicts between the Jews and Christians. In Smyrna, the Jews were said to have ‘slandered’ the Christians (v.9) and exposed them to the Roman authorities who would imprison them or execute them (v.10). By distancing Christianity from Judaism, these Jews showed the Roman authorities that Christians are not under the exemption that Judaism enjoyed. The word ‘satan’ means ‘adversary’. One important point is Emperor worship.

There were many temples to the Roman Emperors in Smyrna. Smyrna was granted the right to have a temple warden by Emperor Tiberius. Indeed, the imperial cult permeated virtually every aspect of city and often even village life in Asia Minor, so that individuals could aspire to economic prosperity and greater social standing only by participating to some degree in the Roman cult. Citizens of both upper and lower classes were required by local law to sacrifice to the emperor on various special occasions, and sometimes even visitors and foreigners were invited to do so. City officials were so dedicated to the cult that they even distributed money to citizens from public funds to pay for sacrifices to the emperor (in, for example, Ephesus). It was almost impossible to have a share in a city’s public life without also having a part in some aspect of the imperial cult. Pressure on Christians to conform to such participation would have increased during Domitian’s reign (81–96 AD). Those refusing to participate were seen as politically disloyal and unpatriotic and would be arrested and punished according to Roman law (e.g., exile, capital punishment). This would explain why the Christians in Smyrna as being physically poor. The letters to the other churches did not suggest the other churches to be poor.

 

Archaeological site

Not much remains of Roman period in Izmir (ancient Smyrna).The remains of the ancient agora of Smyrna constitute today the space of İzmir Agora Museum in İzmir's Namazgah quarter, although its area is commonly referred to as "Agora" by the city's inhabitants. Situated on the northern slopes of the Pagos hills, it was the commercial, judicial and political nucleus of the ancient city, its center for artistic activities and for teaching. İzmir Agora Open Air Museum consists of five parts, including the agora area, the base of the northern basilica gate, the stoa and the ancient shopping centre.
The agora of Smyrna was built during the Hellenistic era. After a destructive earthquake in 178 AD, Smyrna was rebuilt in the Roman period (2nd century AD) under the emperor Marcus Aurelius, according to an urban plan drawn by Hippodamus of Miletus. The bust of the emperor's wife Faustina on the second arch of the western stoa confirms this fact. It was constructed on a sloping terrain in three floors, close to the city center. The terrain is 165 m wide and 200 m long. It is bordered on all sides by porticos. Because a Byzantine and later an Ottoman cemetery were located over the ruins of the agora, it was preserved from modern constructions. This agora is now the largest and the best preserved among Ionian agoras. The agora is now surrounded by modern buildings that still cover its eastern and southern parts. The agora was used until the Byzantine period. (Wiki)

 

Polycarp

Bishop Polycarp (c. A.D. 69/70—c. 155–160) was an important Christian leader in Asia Minor in the first half of the second century. Already bishop of Smyrna when his friend and mentor Ignatius of Antioch addressed a letter of encouragement and advice to him (c. 110 or later), Polycarp died a martyr’s death several decades later at age 86 (c. 155–160), having served as bishop for at least forty and possibly sixty or more years. His one surviving letter reveals a direct and unpretentious style and a sensitive pastoral manner, while in the Martyrdom he is described as the “teacher of all Asia” (Mart. Pol. 12.2). His life and ministry spanned the time between the end of the apostolic era and the emergence of catholic Christianity, and he was deeply involved in the central issues and challenges of this critical era: the growing threat of persecution by the state; the emerging gnostic movement (he is particularly known for his opposition to one of the movement’s most charismatic and theologically innovative teachers, Marcion);  and the formation of the canon of the NT.

Only a single document by Polycarp survives, his letter to the Philippians. Written in response to a letter from the church in Philippi, it seeks to define and reinforce community boundaries while responding to their request for a discussion of “righteousness”. There is another document which is a letter from the church at Smyrna to the church at Philomelium known as the Martyrdom of Polycarp is the oldest written account of a Christian martyrdom outside the NT. The information in Martyrdom of Polycarp mentions the month and day (February 22, or perhaps 23), but not the year of Polycarp’s death. According to Eusebius he died in 167, but the reliability of his information is questionable. Evidence regarding the proconsulship of Statius Quadratus suggests a date around 156; this squares well with the report that not long before his arrest Polycarp visited Bishop Anicetus of Rome, who became bishop there not earlier than 154.

(modified from Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H. (Eds.). (1997). In Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.)

source: Google Images

 

 9. But as Polycarp entered the stadium, there came a voice from heaven: “Be strong, Polycarp, and act like a man.” And no one saw the speaker, but those of our people who were present heard the voice. And then, as he was brought forward, there was a great tumult when they heard that Polycarp had been arrested. Therefore, when he was brought before him, the proconsul asked if he were Polycarp.And when he confessed that he was, the proconsul tried to persuade him to recant, saying, “Have respect for your age,” and other such things as they are accustomed to say: “Swear by the Genius of Caesar; repent; say, ‘Away with the atheists!’ ” So Polycarp solemnly looked at the who faithful who were with him, “It is necessary that I be burned alive.”

So Polycarp solemnly looked at the whole crowd of lawless heathen who were in the stadium, motioned toward them with his hand, and then (groaning as he looked up to heaven) said, "Away with the atheists!" But when the magistrate persisted and said, "Swear the oath, and I will release you; revile Christ," Polycarp replied, "For eighty-six years I have been his servant, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?"


13. These things then happened with such swiftness, quicker than words could tell, the crowd swiftly collecting wood and kindling from the workshops and baths, the Jews being especially eager to assist in this, as is their custom. When the pyre was prepared, he took off all his clothes and removed his belt; he also tried to take off his shoes, though not previously in the habit of doing this, because all the faithful were always eager to be the first to touch his flesh. For he had been treated with all honor on account of his holy life even before his gray hair appeared. Then the materials prepared for the pyre were placed around him; and as they were also about to nail him, he said: “Leave me as I am; for he who enables me to endure the fire will also enable me to remain on the pyre without moving, even without the sense of security which you get from the nails.”


14. So they did not nail him, but tied him instead. Then he, having placed his hands behind him and having been bound, like a splendid ram chosen from a great flock for a sacrifice, a burnt offering prepared and acceptable to God, looked up to heaven and said: “O Lord God Almighty, Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of you, the God of angels and powers and of all creation, and of the whole race of the righteous who live in your presence, I bless you because you have considered me worthy of this day and hour, that I might receive a place among the number of the martyrs in the cup of your Christ, to the resurrection to eternal life, both of soul and of body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. May I be received among them in your presence today, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as you have prepared and revealed beforehand, and have now accomplished, you who are the undeceiving and true God. For this reason, indeed for all things, I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal and heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom to you with him and the Holy Spirit be glory both now and for the ages to come. Amen.”


15. When he had offered up the “Amen” and finished his prayer, the men in charge of the fire lit the fire. And as a mighty flame blazed up, we saw a miracle (we, that is, to whom it was given to see), and we have been preserved in order that we might tell the rest what happened. For the fire, taking the shape of an arch, like the sail of a ship filled by the wind, completely surrounded the body of the martyr; and it was there in the middle, not like flesh burning but like bread baking or like gold and silver being refined in a furnace. For we also perceived a very fragrant odor, as if it were the scent of incense or some other precious spice.

Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed., pp. 237–241). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

 

Saint Polycarpos Church

This is a catholic church that was built in 1625 and given to the administration of Capuchin priests. It is also the oldest church of Izmir that continues its function. It was made on behalf of Saint Polycarpos among the students of John the Apostle who was killed in 155 at Kadifakale by the Romans due to his Christian belief. It was damaged in the earthquake in 1688 and then burned in the coming years. It was restored in 1690 and 1691 with its surroundings. The church that is constructed in basilica plan from cut stone and bricks has three naves. The apse part is flooding towards outside in three sections. The church is covered with ruffle roof and belfry from cut stone is added to its front.

Churches in Turkey (2007) Istanbul: AS & 64 Limited (183)

It was an incredible experience to visit this wonderful church in downtown Izmir.

photogallery (click on photos to enlarge and for the correct proportion)

 

 

 

| 24 May 2013 |

 

Sermon on Lessons from Smyrna

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