Religion in Turkey (A)

Religion in Turkey (A) July 13, 2018


Aya Sufya in Istanbul
The magnificent and spectacularly important early-sixth-century church — the minarets were added a millennium later — of Hagia Sophia, or Holy Wisdom, in Istanbul, the great city formerly known as Constantinople   (Wikimedia Commons)


Some notes for The Book:


Christianity arrived in what is today known as Turkey very early.  The apostle Paul was born within the borders of modern Turkey, as was Timothy, his traveling companion and the recipient of some of his canonized epistles.  Later, Paul made the port city of Ephesus his missionary headquarters for a number of years.  St. Polycarp of Smyrna (modern Izmir), one of the so-called “apostolic fathers,” lived out his long life in Turkey, serving as bishop of the Christians in his city until his tenure was ended by his martyrdom on 23 February AD 155.  All of the seven ancient ecumenical councils of Christendom were convened in Turkey — including the vastly important Council of Nicea in AD 325, where St. Athanasius of Alexandria and his opponent Arius clashed over the nature of Christ and his status within the Trinity (and where St. Nicholas of Myra, the prototype of today’s Santa Claus or jolly old St. Nick, played a somewhat less kindly role than modern versions of him might lead one to expect).  Tradition says that the apostle John brought the Virgin Mary to Ephesus, where she lived out her last days, proselyting for Christianity among the locals.  Eventually, the powerful and powerfully Christian Byzantine Empire (or Eastern Roman Empire) ruled from the still-fascinating city of Constantinople (known today as Istanbul).

The Byzantines ruled from Constantinople with only brief interruptions until the fall of the city to the Ottoman Turks in AD 1453, although their territory was severely reduced by the Arab conquests of the seventh century and then, during the long period of their decline, by continual attrition.

Neglected and ignored by many Western historians, the Byzantines can still be recognized in the medievalist J. R. R. Tolkien’s creation of Minas Tirith, the heavily-walled capital city of Gondor.  Both Gondor and the Byzantines were late survivals of earlier, “classical’ empires (respectively the fictional Númenor and the very historical Rome), and both served as the principal and sadly unappreciated first lines of defense against hostile forces from “the East.”  (In Tolkien, those eastern warriors arrive in ships equipped with lateen sails, much like the sails still used on the feluccas of the Nile, wearing turbans and with “swarthy” complexions.)


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