It is wonderful to be in Greece. Turkey had its moments of fun, but overall, thus far, I much prefer Greece. Granted my perspective is probably highly biased because, for most of my time in Turkey, I was utterly exhausted.
We arrived in Turkey around 12am after having left JUC (Jerusalem University College) at 5pm for the airport. Security out of Tel Aviv was a breeze for me, they didn’t ask me a single question about my travels, my bags, they didn’t even ask if I had gone to the West Bank. Maybe it was my winning personality, maybe my charming smile, or maybe it was the soothing presence of my tropical themed ukulele case I had in my hand. Whatever the reason, I evidently seemed to pose no threat to the Israeli security force in the airport. Our plane out of Tel Aviv was delayed, so, after buying an iced coffee, perusing the duty free store where a friend, Lauren Anderson, and I smelled the various colognes and perfumes (putting on our favorite scents of perfume, mine was a delicious citrusy scent), scanned the alcohol section for the funniest named brands (I think the two finalists were “Famous Grouse” and “Beef Eater”), buying a small variety of chocolate walnuts/almonds/and peanuts to share with everyone, we went off to our gate. There I was asked by a few people to play and sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on my ukulele at the gate. While I could remember the chord progression, I was having trouble remembering the words. So I tried to convince some others to sing with me…unfortunately, even with our combined memories we only got about half the song before our words degenerated into mumbles and laughter. I continued to play some songs that people requested as well as I could and also lend out Yuki (my ukulele’s name) to others that could play with much greater skill than I. All in all we passed the time our delayed flight handed us with lots of laughter and out of tune singing.
We landed in Turkey, bought our visas, and met up with Mama Vullah (our Guide and surrogate mother for Turkey, Greece, and Rome) and Oz (our tour guide for the three days we were in Turkey). From the airport we drove about 45min to our hotel, divvied out hotel keys, and entered into one of the tiniest elevators I have ever seen (only two people with their bags could fit in the box). We got to our room, inserted the tiny metal rectangle connected to our keycard into the wall to make the electricity work, and after brushing teeth and washing faces collapsed on our beds at around 2 maybe 2:30 in the morning.
We awoke around 8, grabbed breakfast (lots of vegetables, lots of eggs, lots of coffee) and began our long day which included visiting the Hagia Sophia, the underground water cistern system of Istanbul (a place also known for a famous James Bond scene from the film “from Russia with Love” where he navigates the cistern’s pillars in a speed boat), the Blue Mosque, the Archaeology Museum of Istanbul, and finally attending a vespers service with the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church.
The next day had us awaking at 5:45 am to catch a flight to Ephesus. This flight too was delayed for about a half hour. At this time I was reading a book called “Light from the Christian East” by, I think, James Payton. We had to read the book and turn in a paper about it this past week. An Evangelical who was attempting to explain Greek orthodoxy to other evangelicals wrote it. I found it fascinating; I would love to talk with any of you about the insights and questions I have come to gather about Eastern Orthodoxy. We arrived in Ephesus and immediately went to the ancient archaeological site of the biblical city of Ephesus.
I forgot to mention, ever since we had arrived in Turkey we had been given these tiny white boxes that we plugged a pair of headphones into and, in a second, transforming us into the largest group of tourists ever. Granted, I’m sure we always appeared to others as tourists, but we considered ourselves on pilgrimage. But these little boxes with their matching headphones made us feel for the first time the pallor of tourism. They wouldn’t have been too bad had the responders worked effectively. Unfortunately, these little boxes have a tendency to afflict your ears with harsh, grating static either when you get too separated from the speaker or merely, it seems, on vindictive whims; afflicting your auditory faculties with the horrific scrapings of an industrial cheese-grater trying to splice granite. These things are horrible. Most times, I just try to make sure to stand within earshot of the speaker and find myself feeling much better informed and less annoyed.
In Ephesus, I was exhausted. A friend, Meredith Hawkins, and I began to talk with one another and decided that since we knew the group was going to meet up at the theater that we would travel ahead and meet them there. We told a friend where we were going, and once we had left the group realized we should’ve told one of our professors as well. Everything turned out fine, but it would have been more prudent on our part to tell them before hand. Moving forward, Meredith and I left the group and began to meander towards the theatre. We checked out the ancient potties, looked at the massive library of Ephesus, and finally plopped ourselves down on some pillars. There we discussed a variety of things life, love, poetry, faith, etc. Meredith then asked if she could read aloud the first twelve verses of Ephesians. As she read, something changed in my perspective and I felt more open to the historicity of the experience rather than exhausted by the marathon of learning.
It was upon this land, and in this context that the apostle Paul came to Ephesus. Sure, the sea had receded 4 miles, and everything had fallen apart, but I began to see these ruins in a new light. To understand that these ruins were once majestic marble that stated the rhetoric of Rome, its majesty, supremacy, and brilliance. With the evolved nature of their building techniques, extensive library, and even forward thinking plumbing, I’m sure it was very hard for believers in the ancient world to conceive of worshipping something counter to expansionism and the glory of Rome; furthermore counter to the Emperor cult that was required and expected of every faithful Roman citizen. But nonetheless, the powerful images in the book of Hebrews came back to my mind, remembering again the power and beauty of the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before me. Mothers and fathers of my faith stood on this land, walked among these pillars fostering and nurturing the burning, peaceful, passionate fervor of the Messiah. Ephesus was a key city because it was an avenue to the rest of the world. Being a port city meant that it had access to global citizens whom, if they were touched by the gospel, would bring the good news back to those in their home countries. There I was, standing in the midst of the ruins of one of the pivotal launching pads of the gospel, Ephesus. I was being shaken from my stupor, and coming to understand its significance.
The next day we were scheduled to meet up with the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church. I was VERY excited about this. He is basically the equivalent of the Catholic Pope, I couldn’t believe that we were receiving such an honor. Unfortunately, we arrived on the eve of his naming day (the day before the annual celebration occurs for the saint after which the patriarch was named) and he was not able to meet with us. I was SO bummed! Instead a young guy from Chicago who was working in the language department of the Orthodox Church showed us around. He was very informative and capable but, he was no Patriarch.
There are so many things I have learned about the Orthodox Church. They do not necessarily believe in evangelism outright, so much as setting an example through the way in which they live their lives. Rather than moving to a community in order to tell others about God, they would rather move into a community and live out their lives and through their example of righteousness attract others to God. In some ways this concept I find to be very compelling, but in other ways I find it troubling. Troubling in so far as whenever we visit an Orthodox Church, rather than feeling immediately welcomed by people wanting to make me feel at home, I feel as though I am on the outside looking in. They have a very set liturgy, and method of worship that is not conducive to those unfamiliar with their rites. Hence, while the service itself was lovely, the community time afterwards was gravely lacking. Maybe it is being very American, maybe it was my upbringing that focused on hospitality, but something didn’t sit right with me about the way in which we felt almost alien to the worship within the body of Christ. Also, they do not believe in salvation outside of the Orthodox Church, so I guess in that sense, they did not even consider me apart of the Body of Christ. I have learned much about the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and found my perspectives beginning to shift. Both sides seem to desire that we all be brought together into unity with one another. Also, realizing that non-denoms are by far the global minority in the face of these ancient and established churches.
We sure packed a lot of things into our four-day stint in Turkey. I am sad that I was so exhausted for a majority of our time there. I think that I lost a lot of my perspective on why I was doing this trip. I am on this trip not to be a tourist that merely waits for the next exciting occurrence to wake me from my stupor, but I am here in order to be a pilgrim that seeks to find and experience the words of God in a fresh context and to gain a better understanding of the biblical text through understanding the context in which it was written.
Already I am feeling the pressure of my experiences in Greece building to an extent that I may be overwhelmed by all the stories I have to share. Phew, so much to say. Yet again friends, go forth and be blessed!