On the journeys of St. John

I have had a brilliant summer. One great highlight has been to visit Ephesus in Turkey, although – and I have to write this in case she reads this paper – this only closely rivals my youngest daughter’s university graduation in Leeds (it goes without saying the architectural comparisons between Leeds and Ephesus are of course evident for anyone to see, should they wish to visit this magnificent northern city). Ephesus, even though a ruin, is simply an amazing place full of ancient monuments and incredible architecture, so much so it really is difficult to take it all in.

Another simply amazing thing to know is that the first Christian community in Ephesus was founded by St John – yes I know, the very same St John who wrote the mind boggling brilliant Gospel delving the deepest mysteries of God Himself – that St John. He wrote his Gospel here in Ephesus, and he, St John, is buried in a tomb not too distant from the ancient city. St Paul also spent some considerable time in Ephesus, about three years, on his way back from visiting the city of Corinth in Greece. I walked along the same streets as St John and St Paul. I stood where they more than probably stood. I gazed upon the Christian markers set into the marble and stone that identified people and households as Christian; people and households who may have come to faith because they knew, saw, heard these two great Christian saints.

It doesn’t stop there either. Just outside Ephesus on one of the high mountains, is the house attributed to be the home of St Mary, the Mother of Jesus – Mary the Theotokos, Mary the God Bearer! Now I have to say, by the time we visited Mother Mary’s house my wife’s patience was beginning, in an ecclesial sense, to fade – but I persevered and I have to say it was worth every moment of disapproval. St Mary’s house as a place was breathtaking. I was not allowed to linger as I was robustly moved along by a large paramilitary-looking fellow who seemed too important to argue with. But the space was what I can only describe in Celtic spirituality terms as a ‘Thin Place’, a place where the boundaries between heaven and earth collide. In such spaces people can seek God and feel God’s power in spine-tingling other-worldliness – like being punched in the chest by God’s very presence, literally breath-taking. This is what it felt like in this little room.

As you come out of the house where Mary the Mother of God once lived, all are invited to light a candle and to write a prayer to be put on a prayer wall, a wall 60ft long and 6ft tall and covered head to foot in prayer cards. I do not know how many prayers there were that day for Peace, but my suspicion is that this was the predominant prayer, along with the one that went around my head for the rest of the day, ‘Hail Mary full of Grace, Our Lord is with Thee, Blessed art thou among women……pray for us sinners’