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Map of Antakya


Antioch - where Christians were first named Ė is a city on both banks of the Orontes River (Asi Nehri in Turkish), the surrounding hills and the generally mild climate make the site an attractive one. The Orontes River begins in the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon and flows north through Syria until it reaches the southern side of the Amanus Mountains (Nur Daūlarż) where it turns sharply west. The old houses of Antakya are well preserved.

antakya1.jpg (21051 bytes)The control which the location of Antioch affords over the approaches to it from all directions, the abundant supply of water, the fertile plain, and the protecting mountains have contributed to its strategic importance for the many armies that have fought for its possession ever since Alexander the Greatís general, Seleucis Nicator, founded it in 300 BC. An earlier city had been started by another of Alexanderís generals, Antigonus, who placed his city on the Karasu River northeast of the present site. That city was shortly abandoned when Seleucis trounced Antigonus, and then was used merely as a supply center of building materials for the new one. Antiochís name, however, did not come from that general, but from Seleucis Nicatorís father, Antiochus (one of many in the Seleucid family to bear that name). From this period there exists a rock relief.

The Hatay (Antakya) Mosaic Museum, located on the right bank of the Orontes River, holds the richest, most varied collection of Greek and Roman mosaics in Turkey. Almost all were floor mosaics, bits of marble, glazed ceramic, colored stone, or glass, set into a lime mortar; almost all illustrate some mythological story. Animals, sometimes comically misshapen, sometimes drawn with the eye of a scientist, cavort around the gods and goddesses. One almost intact panel shows a dramatic Boat of the Psyches with the god Eros urging the group on. In another, a collection of a lion, a boar, a panther, an eagle and other animals - all smiling - listens entranced to the music of Orpheus. In a third, a sad-looking goddess of the sea is accompanied by fish, octopuses and shrimp while young boys ride on dolphins across the border.

Cave-Church of St Peter
On the north-eastern outskirts of town, three km from the center, is the Senpiyer Kilisesi or grotto Church of St Peter, open from 9 am to noon and 1.30 to 6 pm (closed Monday). Tradition has it that this cave was the property of St Luke the Evangelist, who was from Antioch, and that he donated it to the burgeoning Christian congregation as a place of worship. Saints Peter and Paul lived in Antioch for a few years, and are thought to have preached here. When the Crusaders marched through, they constructed the wall at the front, and a narthex. Traces of fresco and mosaic can still be seen, the floor mosaics inside may be from the 4 or 5 century AD; the facade dates from 1863 and mass is still celebrated here each Sunday from 3 to 4.30 pm.

Tradition has it that Peter was the first to establish a church in Antioch; this belief is based on the references in Acts 9:32 and in Galatians 2:11. When Barnabas was sent shortly thereafter by the Jerusalem church to Antioch he encountered an enthusiastic community. Needing a helper, he went up to Tarsus to get Paul to join him. Together they worked in Antioch for some time before they started off on their first missionary journey. It was to identify this large group as distinct from the rest of the Jewish congregation that they were given the name Christian. Antioch served as the home base for Peter, Paul and Barnabas; shortly it became the third most important bishopric (after Jerusalem and Rome) in the developing church.

Antioch apparently was not a typical 1st century Jewish community, even prior to Peterís arrival. In some of their synagogues the Jewish community had been using Greek in the service rather than Hebrew or Aramaic, and reading from the Septuagint the earliest Greek translation of the Old Testament (translated perhaps about 288 BC). Before the refugees from Jerusalem arrived in Antioch there were a number of Antiochene Gentiles who had already been attracted to the high moral qualities of Judaism and to the Judaic concept of God. They were not converts to Judaism, nor were the men circumcised, but they were encouraged in their leanings by the Antiochene Jews, and they also presented fertile ground for planting the seed of Christianity.

One of the earliest differences among the Jewish Christians of Antioch was over the question of circumcision. The conservative group held that according to Mosaic practice only those who had been circumcised could be saved. Faithful to a vision which he had received, Peter already had baptized the Gentile Roman centurion Cornelius, his family, and his relatives, and had eaten a meal with them, both acts in contravention of Mosaic practice which prevented such association. Barnabas and Paul also believed that the gift of the Holy Spirit as evidence of Godís acceptance of a person was stronger than circumcision. Thus they were chosen to present the views of the Antioch church to the elders and apostles in Jerusalem, an act which they accomplished successfully.

These details suggest that this diasporic group was less conservative than the Jews of Jerusalem who stuck rigidly to their customs and beliefs. The details are among the evidences used to explain in part why the Christian community moved from Antioch rather than from Jerusalem into the Gentile Greek- (and then Latin-) speaking Western world.

Antakya in Sky life article

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