Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Seven Sleepers & Ephesus

It was getting quite warm by the time I left the temple of Artemis and headed to Ephesus.  Someone offered to give me a ride to the other entrance, but I declined.  It was a beautiful day and I wanted to take advantage of the glorious weather.  There was a young man walking ahead of me on the road and he crossed the highway to enter the site the same time I did.  We walked sort of in tandem for quite a while in silence, he on one side of the road and me on the other, both of us stopping on occasion to allow the huge fat white tour buses to scream by.  After about a quarter of a mile I came to the main entrance of the site, but there was a narrow road leading to the left marked with a sign saying "Cave of The Seven Sleepers".  I had no idea what that was, however at this point the young man who had been sort of walking with me said  "You should start with the seven sleepers."  and then when I glanced his way...."Don't be afraid of me, I'm just taking my daily walk."  I laughed at his assurance, and told him he needn't be afraid of me either.  I turned left taking his advice, and he also headed that direction.  We started conversing from across the road, quieting our conversation when cars or taxis would drive by.

The landscape was absolutely lovely.  It's springtime in Ephesus
Olive groves, tangerines, oranges, peaches all at or nearing blossom stage.  Oh, and the occasional donkey feasting near a fruit tree.  I asked the young man if this grotto was worth visiting and he assured me it was.  He said he would walk with me until I was ready to be alone, so we asked each other the usual questions.... he was a resident of Selcuk and worked in hotels.  He explained the Seven Sleepers a bit to me as we neared it after a long hot walk down a slightly winding road.

According to legend, and the young man... (before I had read the sign... so there is some slight disparity)  there were six boys and a dog that ran away from some soldiers who were trying to kill them because they were Christians.  They blocked themselves into the cave and dug graves then fell asleep in the graves only to awake two hundred years later.  Upon their resurrection, many came to believe in Jesus Christ and eternal life.  When the boys aged, and died again, they were re-buried at the same site.  It has become a place of pilgrimage for many.  The sign tells a slightly different story, seven young boys and a dog, but I can accept it either way.  It was indeed special.  and like many places here... had an aura of holiness about it.

At this point, I wanted to be alone, to sit and think and have a glass of wine.  The young man was heading into the hills on a path that was not tourist, so we parted company.  I sat for a while and had a my wine and some gozleme and pondered life and death and how oral traditions can keep history alive for thousands of years.  I also thought about my faith and the history of the place where I was sitting.
I left the Seven Sleepers and moved up the hill towards the Ephesus gate.

As I was walking along the road.... buses still whizzing by...
I heard the tinkling of bells and the sound of sheep
 moving and calling.  Stepping off the main road I followed
 the sound, and sure enough there was a shepherd moving
 his flock.  I just sat there for a while listening and watching
and thinking about how we are like such sheep as well.  We follow the bells of the world blindly, munching on whatever comes our way, rarely looking up to see where we are going and what we are doing.  Without a caring shepherd, the sheep would blindly meander to unsafe places or places where sustenance is sparse or deadly.  I too have need of such a shepherd, and I am coming up on the gate to an ancient Roman city where a few of His apostles actually walked and talked.

I wandered through this city....silently gazing, wondering, imagining,   I really have few words for this place that was once a thriving Roman metropolis.  It did strike me that the theater where Paul made his argument, was in it's day such an important place.  I am sure the people thought the grandeur of their society would never disappear into oblivion, but here I am, and that once grand place in now a photo op for tourists.  Long forgotten are the names of the wealthy, beautiful, entertainers, politicians (most of them anyway) and business men of the day.  Instead, it's main claim to fame.... a Jew who preached the gospel in it's courtyard.

Streets worn smooth by centuries of travelers and residents - Who walked here?

View of the Theater 

 The grand ampitheater - where countless gladiators fought, politicians pontificated 
and where Paul defended himself,

My day was overwhelming to say the least.  I was quite overcome with my visit to Ephesus, and tired, and sunburned and thirsty.  I headed back into town where I met Ferhad, the shoe maker.  Like all Turkish merchants, he asked me to take a look at his wares, but that conversation eventually turned into an invitation to tea and a deep political discussion.  I find, in spite of all the warnings not to discuss politics with Turks, they they frequently bring the subject up.  Their country (as most around the world) is currently embroiled in a dichotomous struggle between those who would rule with the strong arm of religion and those who would remain free to live and worship as they please, free from the dictates of power and money.  We shall see... the opinions are varied and depend on of course an individual's background and experience.

It is fascinating to me that in spite of the very strong influence and influx of Christianity in this amazing land.... there are few vestiges left, though some remain steadfast.  More on this in another blog.  Islam is of course the predominant faith here in Turkey, though much like Christianity is the predominant reported faith in the western world, I would hazard a guess that as many people here take their faith seriously as do in "Christian" countries.  It is not an easy puzzle to understand, religion.  It is difficult to live in this land of Turkey where daily we are reminded several times over that God is Great.  Say what you will, but there is no such public acknowledgement of a living God in Christian countries.  I know that Jesus walked the face of this earth.  Muslims agree.  I know he taught us to love one another.  Muslims agree.  I know he was holy.  Muslims agree.  Our problem comes with the claim that Christ was the son of God, a King most high, and a part of a triumvent power that is regenerative and all encompassing.  It was by plan that I visited this part of Turkey during holy week.  I wanted to be able to walk in these places and feel the spirit that became the bulwark of spreading the gospel into Europe and further.  Had it not been for the work and faith completed in Turkey, many theologians and historians agree... the western world would also most likely have become Muslim as well.  Again... a puzzle, and food for deep thought.  In the meantime... Easter approaches.  My next trip will be to a place that has been recommended to me... Palmukkale.  It will become for me a watershed of emotion, but not for the reasons one might think.  Until we meet on the streets of Hieropolis.....

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