The Seven Churches of Asia Minor
The Seven Churches of Asia Minor
Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodikeia.
These seven cities housed the recipient churches of the seven letters that later took part in the Book of Revelation. Thus they go by the name “The Seven Churches of Asia (Minor)” but also “The Seven Churches of the Apocalypse.”
The author of the letters is St. John who was exiled to the island of Patmos at the time (around 95-96 AD.) Christians believe that Jesus appeared to him in a dream, standing in the middle of seven candlesticks that are supposed to
symbolize the seven churches. He was asked to write down and send the messages Jesus had for the congregations residing in these seven locations, messages that are accepted as universal and timeless lessons by Christians.
The reason why these seven churches were picked is said to be the relative age of the congregations, along with the fact that they were all a part of a prominent trade route of the period. It was important for the Christians that the letters not only made it to the actual subject of the contents but were also circulated among others. Christianity was grappling to stay afloat among other older religions such as Judaism and various pagan faiths, besides Christian sects that were deemed heretical, which is why some supporting material was needed for added assurance and motivation for the followers of the time.
The first letter was addressed to Ephesus, Asia's supreme bishopric until the 11. century, although it had a long history as a religious hotspot long before its Christianization. Additionally, it was where St. John wrote his bible. He and St. Mary spent their last years in this city in peace and were also buried here.
Hardworking, perseverant, and hateful towards heresy is how the congregation was described by the Bible. However, they were warned about their lack of love in performing their Christian responsibilities. The way they practiced was correct and admired, but love was seen as an essential part that they had to replenish.
Smyrna had second place on our route, as well as on the list of important Christian centers in Asia Minor. Its name at the time meant myrrh the plant in Greek, though it’s known as Izmir now, the Pearl of the Aegean. Homer, the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, called it home.
There was a troubled relationship between the Christians and Jews of Smyrna. The congregation wasn’t given a reprimand, only a warning. They were reminded to stay faithful despite the challenges they may face, as Christianity promised them eternal life which would outlast the tribulations of their life here.
Pergamum, today’s Bergama, had two origin myths, both anchored to a great Greek hero. The Altar of Zeus, a landmark that used to belong here, illustrated Telephos the son of Hercules as an ancestor. The other myth followed Prince Pergamus, the grandson of Achilles, as he conquered the city and renamed it after himself.
Although a Christian population had started gathering in the city, they had to share their home with a significant pagan population. They had peace unlike the Smyrians and were unbothered by the pagan faiths. Unfortunately, according to the Bible, that foreboded corruption and heresy. “Where Satan lives” was already seen as fitting for the city.
Thyatira wasn’t major in religious affairs, but it was in trade, specifically of dye (notably the royal Tyrian purple from the dye murex) and wool. It was a border city, though its control changed hands several times. The literal meaning of its name is debated, while the most widely accepted one is “Castle of Thya,” similar to its modern name Akhisar, “white castle.”
Thyatira was also berated for not shunning paganism. A pagan teacher by the name of Jezebel is mentioned to be educating people in unaccepted ways for Christianity. We don’t know much about this Jezebel, but she seems to parallel Jezebel, the Queen of Israel. The punishment for tolerating these teachers is warned to be just as severe as actually doing it.
Our next stop is another city with Hercules as its ascendant, given it was founded by the Heracleidae, “the children of Hercules.” Sardis was the capital of Lydia and the particular spot where the first coin was minted. “The first to strike and use coins of gold and silver.” is how they were described by the historian Herodotus.
The letter they received described them as spiritually dead despite having a reputation of being alive. According to the rules of Christianity, their church was correct in name but deficient in deeds. This lack of good achievements was symbolized by “soiled clothes.”
Philadelphia may not be the last city on our journey, but it was the last one remaining under Christian Greek control. It was named after Attalus Philadelphos, literally Attalus “who loves his brother.” While Philadelphia took his nickname, his first name went to Attalia, today’s Antalya. Philadelphia on the other hand became Alaşehir.
Its church shared its home with a Jew community that didn’t make life easy for them. The Bible called them “the synagogue of Satan” and false believers.
Similar to the one made to the Smyrians, the church was made a promise that patience and endurance would be rewarded extensively.
Laodikea or Laodicea on the Lycus enjoyed a very fruitful career in both production and trade thanks to its prime setting. Sadly, the location came with one huge downside, a devastating earthquake problem that meant they had to constantly rebuild. It was so overwhelming the citizens abandoned the city. The area is now a part of Denizli.
The letter they received from St. John carried the most distressing message out of the seven. It was written that the people of Laodikeia had come to believe that their material earnings were all they needed. Their faith had become “lukewarm” and therefore they faced the threat of being spat out of Jesus’ mouth.