Pergamum, Bursa and Nicea

Pergamum was an ancient city of power and worship. 4th century bc fortress walls remain upon which was built subsequent victors, including Trajan. A temple to Zeus where sacrifices were made and incense burned from the altar. This is the altar John wrote about in Revelation 2 "where Satan lives."  Chapter eight tells of the golden altar where the prayers of believers rise, like incense--a superior picture of worship.
Trajan built the temple to Athena, goddess of war to credit her for his victories. He built himself a super-sized temple where the emperor was worshiped as Lord and Savior.

Here's the choice for the early church: worship Caesar who is all powerful, provides roads and services, defends against great armies and is here in this awesome temple. Or worship Jesus who is no longer here on earth, is represented by Christians who fear persecution and alienation from the marketplace, who seems powerless against the power of Rome.
This temple was perched on the hill and shining with bright white marble. It was built on an artificial platform with three stories of arched vaults which held the massive treasury used to pay for military, slaves and the second largest library (Trajan's private collection). Parchment (variation on "Pergamum") was in invented here, which allows for the first books.

Trajan is the beast of Revelation 13 who is forced to be worshipped by the second beast, the civic leader who was also the high priest of the imperial cult.

As much as Zeus' altar is Satan's throne, the real and present danger to the faithfulness of the church was the emperor, who persecuted and killed Christians off and on for the next two centuries until Constantine. This powerful acropolis could be seen from the valley below and the healing center which worshipped Aschepius. Their symbol was two snakes drinking from a bowl of milk (the symbol of medicine). As people entered the center they were assessed for illnesses. 

Priests dressed in white escorted the patient through a tunnel with incense and music "piped in" from outside rooms connected with clay pipes. The smoke, incense, music, priests and the sound of flowing water created an ethereal experience before entering surgery. Herbal medicines and hallucinogens were used, along with leaches and blood letting. One famous second century physician made great breakthroughs by treating gladiators in nearby Pergamum and soldiers returning from war. John affirms the church: "Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me." And he critiques the church because of sexual immorality and eating meat, both connected to temple worship.


We visited the 15th century Green Mosque in Bursa. The mosque is a house of prayer, not a sanctuary for services. As our guide described the practice of five times a day prayer, I was struck by the rituals.

Before praying the men must wash themselves three times: feet and legs, arms, face, nose, ears and neck. The washing preparation takes five minutes, about as long as the prayer itself. How do I prepare myself for prayer?

The physical posture of prayer matters. Acknowledging God with a wave, sitting on the ground, kneeling forward with forehead on the ground, and lining up together.  This is a posture of submission of humility. How do I express myself physically?

There are 99 prayer beads in order to meditate on the 99 names of God, each one 99 times. Prayer in this respect is not asking for, but pure praise and adoration. How do I meditate on the biblical names of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

Five times a day is "without ceasing," or a rhythm that keeps God on our minds throughout the day. A caution might be this could become rote prayer, but better to try than not pray at all. What are my daily meaningful practices that keeps Jesus at the center?

Although there are many differences between Islam and Christianity, my understanding of prayer is stretched.


The first and last ecumenical councils (325 and 787) met in Nicea. Constantine hosted the first of seven at his summer palace on Iznik Lake. These councils brought bishops together to determine orthodox doctrine, like the nature of Jesus (same substance as the Father), the Holy Spirit (divine), Mary (Theotokos--God bearer, but not divine), original sin and the proper use if icons in worship. We visited the Hagia Sophia church where the last council was held and read the Creed along the lake at the sight of the first.

It's important to have the scriptures and the faithfulness of the early church, but without these theologians grappling over these issues, we don't have theology or a model to discern among Christians with rigorous debate and conviction. And we wouldn't have a theology of the uniqueness of Jesus:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
the only Son of God, 
eternally begotten of the Father, 
God from God, light from light, 
true God from true God, 
begotten, not made, 
of one Being with the Father; 
through him all things were made.


  1. Mike - I like your prayer questions. Very thoughtful and challenging. I especially like the one about the 99 names of God. I'm going to use that in my own daily devotions. I was particularly touched by your post about the Christians living in the caves. I had never known whole families lived there. Can't wait to hear more in your sermons about your experiences. I do have a question - were there two Johns? I think in one blog post you said John died at 98 and in another he lived into his 100s after his return from exile on Patmos. Safe journey.


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