The last week of May proved to be the perfect week for a pilgrimage to ‘The Seven Churches of Asia’.  We had wonderful warm weather, after what has been a very chilly spring. 

Izmir (Smyrna) is the perfect launch-pad for the Seven Churches as all are within a few hours’ drive. During the week, we clambered over the remains of the ancient cities in which our Christian forbears witnessed, in the province of Asia (geographically this was the Roman province that covered the Aegean coast of Turkey and a sizable part of western Anatolia).  We rose early and travelled through wonderful Aegean region landscapes to Pergamum, Thyatira, Ephesus, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Astonishing ancient ruins can be explored at Ephesus, Pergamum Sardis, and Laodicea.  Less famous but also impressive are the remains of the Roman Agora at Izmir, in the shadow of Mount Pagos (the citadel). Meaningful visits were also made to Thyatira and Philadelphia, although modern cities now cover the ancient ruins in those places. 

On our coach journeys we reflected on the situation of Christians in the Province of Asia in the late first century. We saved the reading of the pithy passages addressed to the church communities, until we were at the sites themselves.    

Pictures left to right: Collosae, Agora at Smyrna- Izmir, Philadelphia

It is a very moving experience to hear these texts in the places to which they were addressed. For example, under an olive tree on the citadel at Pergamum, in the Agora at Ephesus (a place St Paul must have known well), or in the rocks at the summit of the citadel at Smyrna, close to the spot where Alexander the Great had a famous dream. St John clearly knew the communities individually and often includes references to the situation on the ground at the time. The Seven Letters (or perhaps we should say ‘Sermons’) testify to the fact that our Christian forbears in these great cities faced persecution, internal divisions, conflict with the Jewish community, and many temptations to join in pagan rituals and emperor worship. This heady mix of text and place gives much challenge and food for thought for today’s pilgrim!

On the eve of Ascension, we worshipped at our beautiful little church of St Mary Magdalene in the suburb of Bornova, and then had supper together in the lovely gardens of an old Levantine mansion nearby. On the final day, it was a delight to have my group at the Church of St John the Evangelist (our main place of worship), together with our regular congregation. Later that day before our final dinner, we spent some moments of silence and prayer in the spectacular Roman Catholic church of St Polycarp. It was a chance to give thanks for the great patron-martyr of Smyrna, and to bring together our thanksgivings for a truly memorable time of fellowship, travel, learning and prayer amidst the Seven Churches of Revelation. 

The Revd James Buxton, Chaplain at Izmir