The Importance of Christianity in Laodikeia The Seven Churches

Saint Paul

          The entry of Christianity, which had spread very rapidly especially in the Eastern Regions after its emergence, into Anatolian lands was possible with the trips of Saint Paul to the region who was not even an apostle of Jesus Christ. Saint Paul was born in Tarsus in around 10 AD. His Jewish name was Paul. He is also mentioned as Saul in the first chapters of the book ‘’Acts of Apostles’’. Just like many other Jews in the region, as he was from a family having inherited Roman citizenship, he also bore the Latin name of ‘’Paul’’. According to the ‘’Acts of the Apostle’’ part of the Bible;

As he was approaching Damascus on this mission with letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, ‘’Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’’ and ‘’Who are you, lord?’’ Saul asked. The voice replied: ‘’I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting!’’ Acts 9:5

This encounter is a milestone in Paul’s life. He becomes the strongest advocate of this new religion of which he was priorly opposed and travels and writes letters to communities to spread it. One of these letters was sent to Laodikeia. We know that this letter sent to Laodikeia by Saint Paul from Ephesus through the agency of his close friend Epaphras from Colossae, is a shared letter for people of Colossae, Laodikeia and Hierapolis. This is mentioned in the bible as follows: ‘’Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.’’ In one part of the letter it is stated: ‘’Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.’’ The new religion spread rapidly among people under Roman pressure for its equality principle, its sense of humanitarianism and toleration.

At the final part of letter, Saint Paul conveys the greetings of his prisoner fellows (Tychicus, Aristarchus, Mark, and others) to people of Laodikeia and Hierapolis and Colossae. And the final part continues as follows: ‘’I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodikeia and Hierapolis. Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodikeia, and to Nympha and the church in her house. After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodikeians and that you in turn read the letter from Laodikeia… I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.’’

When the socio-economic structure of Anatolia in 1st century AD is observed, Laodikeia stands out as one of the big capitals of West Anatolia. For Saint Paul to send a letter to be read at the Laodikeian Church during his third journey to Ephesus also proves that the population of Laodikeia was high enough to accommodate a Christian community within at the time.

ews of Laodikeia and Trade

     At the first years of Christianity, even though the social internal Dynamics were a determining role in conversion tpo this new religion, the Jewish population of cities also was a trigger fort he spread of it. It is revealed both through ancient resources and though archeological data discovered in the recent excavations carried out in the region that Laodikeia was home to a very densely populated Jewish community. The Seleucid King Antiochus III the Great (223-187 BC) is known to have resettled 2000 Jewish families from Mesopotamia into the Anatolian regions of Lydia and Phrygia.

It was inevitable for Laodikeia which was also a foundation of the Seleucid to go through a similar integration. Also among the gold of Jerusalem plundered by Proconsul Lucius Valerius Flaccus on 62 BC, were around 10 kilograms of gold that belonged to Jewish Laodikeians (Cic. pro. Flacco 28. 68). This number shows the quantity of gold Laodikeian Jews paid to the Jerusalem temple as tax alongside the number of adult Jewish population in the city to round up to 7500 when calculated taking the taxing system of the period as a baseline.

Laodikeia had been the main center of the region for being at the junction point of ancient routes and for its military, governmental and economic location suitable to the Seleucid policy dependent on topographic structure. The city expanded further at the Roman Empire Period also due to its strategic significance and earned a reputation in trades especially in the fields of wool stapling and textiles.

The Laodikeian wool woven fabric which made its mark at the Ancient Period, also entered the Emperor Diocletian’s (284-305 AD) edict on prices dating 301 AD. This commercial identity gained and the commercial movement achieved at the Roman Empire Period, helped new currents regarding both art and religion enter and be recognized in the city.

aint John

     After St. Paul being martyred, St. John (Johannes) writes his epistles at one of the churches that are associated with the Church of Ephesus. Actually, it is widely accepted that St. John was not in Ephesus for a very long time. In some  sources, It is asserted that John was exiled to the Island of Patmos and that he completed the last part of the Bible, ‘‘Revelation’’ here. St. John, not breaking the tradition of the period, tells about himself in the introduction of the book. While he was on exile, he was probably being forced to work in a quarry in the Island of Patmos, a stony and infertile land almost 90 kilometers away on the southwest of Ephesus. Convicts and exiles were dying of fatigue and appalling conditions. There, God appeared to St. John and asked him;

‘’…write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.’’ (Revelation 1: 19-20). God also ordered him to send all his writings to the Seven Churches of which he gave the names as follows: ‘’What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodikeia.’’  Revelation 1: 11

In this part which includes the God’s declarations regarding Seven Churches in Anatolia, the letter sent to Laodikeia is as follows:

‘’…And to the angel of the church in Laodikeia write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God. I know your Works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth. Because you say, ‘ı am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with me on my throne, as I also overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’’  Revelation 03:14-22

This letter which includes words of both reproach and sermon is important in that it puts forth some characteristics that are unique to Laodikeia. The reproach in the letter ‘’you are neither cold nor hot’’ must have been used in relation to the warm waters brought to Laodikeia from the crests of Denizli through modern water pipes, canals and aqueduct systems by contrast with the cities of Lycus Valley; Colossae with cold waters and Hierapolis with hot springs. Even today, the word ‘’Laodikeian’’ is still used to mean a carefree and indifferent person who does not hold a view. In the letter, the wealth that the city established with trade was emphasized and refined gold was mentioned as the city was a finance and a brokerage center. Textiles, which was the most important field of production in the city gained a symbolic meaning with the phrase ‘’and white garments, that you may be clothed’’. It is also known from the writings of the ancient writers, from numerous medical instruments and city coins that were brought to daylight in excavation that there had been a medical school in Laodikeia. The statement that the Laodikeian physicians were specialized in the field of eye and that they developed a pomade known as ‘’Phrygian Powder’’ which acquired fame in the ancient world, survived until today though various ancient resources. The words ‘’anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see’’ in the letter must be in relation to this school of medicine specialized in eye.

After his death, St. John gets buried in a spot he willed for in the Church that is named after him. In 4th century AD when Christianity gained strength in Ephesus, a church with a wooden roofing gets constructed on top of his grave. At the period of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (527-565 AD), the church the ruins of which can be seen today in Selçuk, Ayasuluk Hill got constructed.

ouncil of Laodikeia (343-381 AD)

      The ancient city of Laodikeia managed to sustain the importance it gained in the early years of Christianity in the advancing centuries. The positive developments of 4th century AD in regards to Christianity can be observed in Laodikeia. This new period commences with Constantine I coming to the throne (306-337 AD). The Roman Emperor Constantine I (also known as Constantine the Great) first acknowledged Christianity, which was a new religion gaining strength in the East, as one of the equal religions of the empire with the Edict of Milan in 313 AD. This, in a way, was a result of the distressed Roman management looking for a new, strong and dynamic foundation, and a social support. This is because the new religion had already established a very strong social ground especially in Eastern lands in 3rd century AD and this lively power could have provided the social dynamic that could have revitalized the Roman Empire which was collapsing. Constantine I, who saw the reality of this, being promised victory in a dream, delineate daubed the sing of the Chi-Rho, the first two letters of Christ’s name in Greek on shields of his soldiers and he linked his victory of defeating Maxentius in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 to this very act. This symbol was frequently used in Laodikeia.

Even though a new period was marked with political concerns, Christianity which was on an unstoppable rise among Anatolian people, constituted the majör axis of this new period. At this point, together with the liberation of Christianity, the socio-economic and the spiritual equilibriums started changing. And as a result of this, the Council meetings started to be held where interpretation of the Bible, worship and the regulation of the church were determined.

Within this period which started with the meeting of the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, there had been an important regional council meeting where determinative decisions were made in regards to Christianity in Laodikeia between the dates 343 and 381 AD, the exact date of which is not known. According to the ancient Byzantine writers Zonaras and Balsamon (12th century AD) blessed priests of churches from many region of Asia would assemble in this meeting. In the meeting held, 60 cannons were decreed in regards to Christendom and that played a determining role in ecumenical councils. Among these, there are canons such as for Christians not to judaize by resting on the Sabbath like Jews do and should accept Sundays as sacred, and such us no one to ascend the ambon unless he is tonsured,  which is the first time the word ‘’ambon’’ was used in Christianity literatüre (in canon XV).

All Right Reserved.