The two saints of the last couple of days have me reading about the city of Antioch in south Turkey and nearby Syria. That is the city of Saint Ignatius, and also a city associated with Saint Luke. As I think about it, I think of the current battles that are being waged in that area today. I think of the diverse cultures that have inhabited that region for centuries. I think of it as being known as the first place the term Christians was used. I also think of Ignatius being marched from there to Rome for his execution. In thinking of that city, and looking at its history you cannot miss the fact that Christianity is a valid part of the mid-east. History does tell that they have been rooted in the region since Christianity’s beginning. Christians are not modern invaders to the region. History also tells of those Christians facing persecution as Ignatius did, and as modern Christians in the region do today. What is interesting is how when Ignatius was marched from that region to Rome, he wrote a series of letters to the Churches along his route (his death march). In l reading what that resident of Antioch said to the Churches of the east as he faced execution in the west, it reminds me to pause and listen to what those citizens are saying today. Their persecution today is an ancient story.
The battles between religions, and the societies that those religions are the basis of is nothing new. Many times the battles are for the gaining of territory, for agricultural expansion, security, homelands and every other material need of man. Such were the battles of the Romans, the Greek, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, and all the great military empires of the ancient world. They are battles of empires and emperors. Many times those battles of emperors get labeled as religious wars. Ignatius suffered the fate of such a battle, and many in that region still face the same type of persecution today.
Mingled within those battles of warfare though are those spiritual battles of religion. Antioch was not a region of a single faith and in that region that message of a Jewish messiah was delivered to a Gentile audience. It is the region that Jew and Gentile became Christian, and it is that Christian message that Ignatius wished to deliver to his churches as he travelled to Rome. That message that he delivered was of a Christ that Peter and Paul fought to understand, the message and its history that was recorded by Luke. Ignatius’s messages delivered to those early Churches were of loyalty to Christ, loyalty to his Church through an obedience to its Bishops and a warning to avoid false teachings and false teachers. That new Christian religion was something they fought to understand and died to remain faithful to. Ignatius is a martyr who literally walked to his death preaching the Gospel of Christ.
In thinking of that time, I think of today. My thoughts today are not only of the military battles, but those spiritual battles of religion too. My thoughts do turn on occasion towards the spiritual battles between religions, those battles of the Muslim, and the Christian, and the Jew, and the Buddhist, and the Hindu. They are the battles either each trying to prove they are right, or the complacency of relativism, or the rejection of all in favor of secularism. Then of course there are the New Age religions. Let’s not forget the Atheists. Religious, philosophical, intellectual: pick a term. Sometimes peaceful, often lively, sadly often fatal.
My thoughts also turn to the battle within Christianity. Roman or Orthodoxy, or Protestantism. Then though my thoughts shift simply to the battles within my Church, they are the battles of tradition versus the progressive. They are battles between both sides trying to discern Christianity as the early Apostles did, and they are the battles between the faithful teachers and those false teachers Ignatius warned us of. All these battles though are that familiar battle to discern who Christ is, that is the spiritual battle. Sure within that battle there are truths and lies: old truths and old lies, new truths and new lies. Or perhaps better stated old and new understandings. In these battles of Christianity I wonder where it is that I stand, which side is it that I am on. I hear of that battle raging in Rome, and I read all of the reports, but where is it that I should stand? Which side should I take? I don’t think I should take sides quickly though, it is not a simple flip of a coin. It is a battle to discern, to understand, to discover the truth, and to discover Christ’s truth. It is the battle Ignatius fought, and when he decided his decision was something he was willing to die for. For that reason then I am grateful the current battle within the Church is ugly, and angry, and passionate, and confusing, and polarized. Its outcome is important, and everything important is worth fighting for. That is the story of Christianity. [The battles with bullets and bombs I dislike, they cause pain and suffering. The spiritual battles though are another story, they are difficult and often unsettling, but if fought properly they can bring about the greatest of rewards.]