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Tag Archives: Antioch

Christianity Spread in a Divided Empire

The year is 400 A.D. Andropolos paces impatiently up and down the deck of the merchant ship. He is eager to get back home; and to Andropolos, home is the city of Constantinople, a new capital of the Roman Empire. He can already see the walls and buildings of the great city shimmering in the distance. Now the ship is nearing the narrow Bosporus, the waterway where Europe and Asia are hardly a mile apart. The voyage from Ostia, the port of the old city of Rome, had been long and tiresome. Andropolos had been only too glad to leave Italy. The city that was once a hub of the Roman Empire, though still large, had a down at the heel look. Simultaneously the cities of northern Italy were becoming crowded with rough barbarians. Tall Germans also were filling the ranks of Roman legions. In times past, men such as these had been defeated again and again by Roman armies made up of men from Italy, but those victories had been won long ago and Rome had no such fighters left. Yes, Andropolos is thankful to leave Italy. Here in Constantinople the authority of the Roman emperor still counts. Andropolos shakes his head sadly as he recalls what has happened — the Roman Empire is not what it used to be. For Andropolos, though he is Greek born and Greek speaking, proudly calls himself a Roman citizen. The walls of Constantinople on the left grow closer as the ship enters the Bosporus. Soon it will dock in the harbour of the Golden Horn and Andropolos’ long voyage will be over. When he steps ashore, the first thing he will do, good Christian that he is, will be to go to the nearest of the many churches in Constantinople. There Andropolos …

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The Greeks Lead the Way


If you had been a citizen of the ancient Greek city of Athens on a fine spring morning in 409 B.C., you would have gathered with thousands of your fellow citizens on a hillside inside the city. You would then have listened carefully to the discussion of various matters of business, conducted by the chairman and secretary of the meeting from a platform below and facing you. You would have seen an Athenian citizen thread his way from the hillside to this platform. This was a sure sign that he had a proposal to make to the voters. The citizen turned toward the assembled throng and spoke in a strong, clear voice. A man named Thrasybulus, he said, should be rewarded with a golden crown for his services to Athens. When the speaker paused, another citizen came to the platform. Yes, by all means thank Thrasybulus and give him a golden crown, urged the second speaker. He went on, these acts were not enough, because Thrasybulus was a foreigner, the best reward for serving Athens so faithfully and so well would be to make him an Athenian citizen. Would the voters of Athens do this? he asked. The chairman called for a vote by a show of hands and tellers counted the votes. A majority was in favour of the proposal and it was declared officially to have been approved by the voters of Athens. The secretary had a copy of the proposal carved on a marble slab to make the record permanent and there the record is to this day, over 2800 years later, but still readable! This old record tells us that Athenian citizens held meetings, discussed their own problems, and decided for themselves What they would do. The voters, instead of a pharaoh or a king, made …

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The Crusades 1096-1260


ON A COLD NOVEMBER DAY IN 1096, a great crowd of people gathered in a field at the town of Clermont in France. They had come from miles around and near them were pitched the tents they had put up for shelter. For some days, Pope Urban II had been holding a great council of cardinals, bishops and princes. Today he was to speak to the people and so many wanted to hear that no building was large enough to hold them all. A platform had been built in the center of the field and as Pope Urban stepped up on it a hush fell over the crowd. Pope Urban was a Frenchman and he spoke to the people around him as fellow Frenchmen. “Oh, race of Franks,” he said, “race beloved and chosen by God . . . set apart from all other nations by the situation of your country as well as by your Catholic faith and the honour which you render to the holy Church: to you our discourse is addressed. . . .” “From the confines of Jerusalem and from Constantinople a grievous report has gone forth that an accursed race, wholly alienated from God, has violently invaded the lands of these Christians and has depopulated them by pillage and fire. They have led away a part of the captives into their own country and a part they have killed by cruel tortures. . .” The people knew what he meant. He was speaking of the Holy Land, that lay on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Here were the cities of Jerusalem, Nazareth, Gaza and Damascus. Here Jesus Christ had lived and preached and had been crucified; here Christianity had begun. Here were many sacred shrines and during the Middle Ages thousands of Europeans …

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The Fall of Byzantium A. D. 992-1453


THE LONG struggle between the churches of the East and the West was only one of the many serious problems that weakened the empire and led to its downfall. Trade was another of its problems. Much of goods imported from the eastern world was sold to the west through Byzantine markets. A ten percent tax was collected on an imports and exports as well as on all goods passing through the Bosporus. This was one of the empire’s most important ways of collecting taxes. However, this rich flow of tax money began to get smaller and smaller in the tenth century after Basil II gave Venice, the chief port of the west, a reduced tax rate. He did it with the understanding that the large fleet of Venetian merchant ships would police the Adriatic Sea and carry troops for the empire whenever necessary. Then, in the eleventh century, the empire lost Asia Minor to Turks of the Seljuk tribe. Asia Minor was the backbone of the empire. It had served as a buffer state against invaders from the east and had provided food and materials for the empire, as well as manpower for the army. It was a serious loss from which the empire never recovered. In the twelfth century, Thebes and Corinth fell to Norman invaders. They carried off the silkworms and weavers to Italy, thus breaking the empire’s monopoly on Silk. Byzantium also suffered at the hands of the crusaders, who conquered a part of Asia Minor from the Turks as they passed through on their way to Palestine. Instead of returning this territory to the empire, they divided it and made independent kingdoms out of Antioch and Edessa. From then on, much of the eastern trade passed through these cities and was carried to the West on …

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The New Capital: Constantinople A. D. 306-532


EMPEROR Constantine’s decision to build a new capital for the Roman Empire in the East did not come as a surprise to the people of the empire. Rome had lost much of its influence as the seat of government and emperors avoided the city. They preferred to build castles for themselves in distant provincial cities. Emperor Maximian, for example, had ruled from Milan. Emperor Diocletian had moved to Nicomedia, far to the east in Asia Minor and ruled from there. Constantine had many good reasons for turning eastward in searching for a site for his new capital. Most of the important activities and interests of the empire lay far to the east of Rome. The great trade centers at Ephesus, Antioch and Alexandria were all in the East. For centuries, the kingdoms beyond the eastern frontiers had been weak and peaceful. Now the Sassanids, a new royal family of Persia, had risen to power and become a serious threat. The East German tribes, particularly the Goths, had also become a threat, building up their strength on the Danube. As a man of the sword, Constantine knew well that the empire was in danger of being invaded. A capital city in the East, within striking distance of the Danube and the eastern front, would help the empire standoff attacks from either direction. There was also an advantage in having the capital city close to the Balkans, for there the empire recruited its finest soldiers. Constantine himself had come from there. His personal pride may have been still another reason. Many Roman emperors were great builders. They were proud men and they liked to build roads and great buildings which would stand for centuries as memorials to their greatness. A new capital city would bring him fame and glorify his memory for …

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Great Church Fathers A.D. 340-430


IT WAS about the middle of Lent in Antioch, reported Jerome, when “a deep-seated fever fell upon my weakened body, and . . . it so wasted my unhappy frame that scarcely anything was left of me but skin and bone. Meanwhile, preparations for my funeral went on; my body grew gradually colder and the warmth of life lingered only in my throbbing breast. Suddenly I was caught up in the spirit and dragged before the judgment-seat . . .” Then follows a long account of his dream in which Christ scolded him for his devotion to the works of the Roman writer Cicero. In his dream Jerome took an oath that he would never again read a worldly book. “Thenceforth I read the books of God with a zeal greater than I had previously given to the books of men . . .” That was the turning point in the life of Jerome, who went on to become the most outstanding scholar of the ancient western church. JEROME THE SCHOLAR Jerome was born of well-to-do Christian parents about 340. He studied in Rome, where he was baptized at the age of twenty. His brilliant mind and restless energy drove him to explore religion and the classics. From 366 to 370 he traveled about in Gaul from city to city. Later he traveled through the eastern part of the empire. In Antioch he became seriously ill and had the famous dream in which Christ lectured to him. The dream must have been very real to him. As soon as he was well enough, he went into the Syrian desert and lived there as a hermit for six years. Then he returned to Antioch to become a priest. He continued his studies in Constantinople. In 382 he went to Rome and …

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The Growing Church A. D. 100-500


AT THE beginning of the second century, the Christian Church was a loosely organized group of independent local churches. There had been no strong leadership since the days of the apostles, no recognized authority to whom they could turn to settle their differences concerning the faith. Paul’s epistles had cleared up many points for them, but new questions were constantly arising. The Roman church had been taking a leading role for some time. There were a number of reasons for this. According to tradition, both Paul and Peter had died in Rome. It was the only church in the western half of the empire associated with any of the apostles. The fact that it was located in the capital city of Rome naturally added to its standing. The churches of Asia Minor had lost strength as a result of false teachings and disagreements within the churches themselves. Jerusalem, having been destroyed in the Second Jewish War in the year 133, had practically ceased to exist. Furthermore, it was in Rome that the Apostles’ Creed was written and the New Testament authorized. Antioch was still an important centre, but no outstanding leaders came from it during the second century. By the end of that century, therefore, Rome was recognized as the church with the greatest influence in the Christian world. The church continued to grow in spite of the great general persecutions that began in the middle of the third century. These persecutions came in waves for a period of over fifty years. During the worst of them, Christians of Rome held their meetings in the catacombs, or underground cemeteries, where hundreds of tunnel and chambers offered them safety. DISPUTES IN THE CHURCH New questions of interpretation were constantly coming up to threaten the traditional faith. These questions usually had to …

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Rome and the Christian Church A.D. 64 -180


TRUMPETS sounded the fire alarm in Rome on the night of July 18, in the year 64. It seemed that the flames first broke out in the crowded section near the Great Circus and spread rapidly, driven by a strong wind to row after row of wooden houses. Sparks carried by the wind started other fires. People fled in panic. The fire roared on unchecked, continuing for six days and six nights. When it was finally brought under control, most of the city lay in ruins. People could not believe that one small accidental fire somewhere could have caused all that damage. Some thought several fires had started at the same time. They looked about for someone to blame. Soon they began saying that Nero, the emperor, had set the fire himself. Others said that he had murdered members of his own family and the angry gods were striking back with thunderbolts from the sky. Frightened by such talk, Nero turned suspicion away from himself by blaming the Christians. Not much was known about them, but since they were members of the poorer classes they were looked upon with suspicion. The bread and wine of their suppers, which represented the body and blood of Jesus, led many Romans to believe that the Christians were actually cannibals. There were rumors that Christians killed and ate small children at their secret meetings. Nero’s persecution of the Christians, therefore, proved to be highly popular. The prisons were soon filled with a “great multitude” of Christians and executions and brutal tortures went on day after day in Nero’s Circus, which was located where St. Peter’s Cathedral stands today. Peter and Paul may have been executed during or shortly after this wave of persecution. The “great multitude” that filled the prisons suggests that the Christian …

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Paul of Tarsus A. D. 35 – 64


THERE was one man who had more to do with the future of the Christian church than even the apostles themselves, and his name was Paul, or Saul in Hebrew. He was the greatest of all Christian missionaries. Much more is known about Paul than about other leaders of the early church, for he wrote or dictated long letters of instruction and encouragement to various missions he had established. These letters were called epistles. A number of them were preserved and published. In addition, most of the Acts of the Apostles, the fifth book of the New Testament, deals with Paul and his teachings. Taken together, his epistles and the chapters of the Acts devoted to him make up almost one half of the New Testament. One of the most amazing things about Paul was that he first came to the attention of the brethren in Jerusalem as a dangerous enemy of the church. He was first mentioned in the Acts as one of those present during the stoning of Stephen: “And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.” He was one of the angry mob crying for the blood of Stephen, and he guarded the cloaks of the executioners while they were casting their stones. Paul was the kind of man who had to live by his faith. He was a Pharisee, well-educated in the Law, proud of his rich Jewish heritage and deeply loved the God of Israel. Anyone who mocked or offended God was guilty of blasphemy and deserved to be punished. There was no doubt in Paul’s mind that Stephen was guilty. Paul hated him for it and eagerly joined with those whom he believed to be carrying out the Lord’s punishment. According to tradition, Paul was short, …

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The Resurrection and the Faithful Few A. D. 29 – 35


JESUS lived and died a Jew. Like the ancient Hebrew teachers, he urged people to love God and to love their neighbours. He left no writings of his own. His public ministry was short, possibly not as long as two years. It seems probable, therefore, that his influence on world history might not have been nearly as great had his story ended on the cross. The gospel story does not end with his crucifixion. He died on Friday. To speed the death of those crucified on Fridays, so that they could be buried before the Sabbath, the legs of the victims were usually broken. The soldiers broke the legs of the thieves hanging on either side of Jesus. But since Jesus seemed to be dead already they did not break his legs. To make certain he was dead one of the soldiers thrust his spear into the side of Jesus. One Joseph of Arimathea received permission from Pilate to take away the body of Jesus. This he did with the help of friends and placed the body, in a new sepulcher in a nearby garden. The grave was really a cave hollowed out of rock in the side of a hill. Over the entrance they rolled a huge stone. The following day being the Sabbath, nothing more could be done. Early Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene and other followers of Jesus brought sweet spices to anoint his body. But they found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. Puzzled and frightened, the others left the place, but Mary did not leave. While she was weeping by the side of the tomb Jesus suddenly appeared before her. That same evening in Jerusalem, Jesus appeared before a number of disciples gathered together in a locked room. The disciples were terrified, for they …

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