Monday, September 27, 2010

Antioch (Antakya)

On Saturday, we were blessed to have the opportunity to travel to Antioch (modern day Antakya, Turkey).  We traveled with a busload of beautiful souls from our parish led by a charming Turkish tour guide with a British accent (he was a tour guide in England for over a decade). 

Before this trip, our only experience of Turkey was the nearby city of Adana.  I love Adana because it's adventurous and big-city-lots-of-people-cra-zy and always an interesting experience.  But traveling away from Adana on a 2 1/2 hour bus ride to Antioch allowed me to experience a completely different side of Turkey.  The scenery was beautiful.  We admired the massive mountains, golden fields speckled with green plants and trees, and saw the sparkling Mediterranean Sea in the distance.  It was a breath of fresh air. 

As we approached Antioch, I excitedly reminded myself of the holy footprints left on these streets.  Antioch is the birthplace of St. Luke the Evangelist, St. Ignatius, and St. John Chrysostom.  St. Peter himself lived here from 47-54 AD as Bishop before he moved to Rome.  Sts. Paul and Barnabas often joined him.  The book of Acts of the Apostles mentions that the community of believers were first called Christians in this city.  And Antioch is home to St. Peter's Cave which is regarded as the 1st Christian Church.
Our first stop...St. Peter's Cave!  It was absolutely incredible.  It is a small, humble church carved out of the side of a mountain.  Inside the cave is an altar and a stone statue of St. Peter.  It is easy to imagine early Christians celebrating Mass with St. Peter here because it looks as if it has not changed since the days of the early Christians.  To the left of the altar is the entryway of a tunnel system; an escape route for the early Christians during times of persecution. 

To the right of the altar is a little hole dug into the stone which served as a Baptismal font.  There was a bowl sitting inside with holy water.  We made the sign of the cross on our foreheads (and Peter's too) with this holy water.  This Baptismal font was the most powerful and memorable experience of the entire day.  It was amazing to picture St. Peter or St. Paul rolling up their sleeves and dipping their hands into this Baptismal font to Baptize some of the very first Christians! 

After visting St. Peter's Cave, we hopped on the bus and drove to a mosaic museum.  Inside were beautiful mosaics from the 2nd and 3rd centuries.  We also saw a coin collection including coins from the time of Nero and Julius Ceasar. 

Next, we had a delicious lunch at a nearby restaurant.  Fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, yogurt, bread with honey and hummus, rice and chicken....Mmmmmm....what a feast!  We finished it off with an interesting and rich Turkish dessert.  It was warm, gooey cheese covered with a shredded wheat sort of topping and drenched in honey.  It was very unique and addicting! 

Our last stop of the day was the Antioch Bazaar.  Dan and I enjoy the bazaars for people watching rather than shopping.  It is a true cultural dive!  By the time the bus arrived to pick us up, we were eager to plop down into our seat and relax.  Peter insisted on me reading/singing his "Wheels on the Bus" book to him about 15 times on the way home.  I'm sure the other passengers appreciated my vocal talents (or lack of) as well.  We admired a beautiful sunset on the way home to wrap up our day.  Thank You, God!

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