Cappadocia: Christian Ant Farm

Cappadocia is the name of a region in central Turkey very important for early Christian history. Seminarians out there will probably remember Basel and the two Greg’s (Nyssa & Nazianzus), aka the “Cappodocian Fathers,” who helped the church think through the doctrine of the Trinity. These Cappadocians along with Athanasius focused on one iota in their teaching: Christ is not a similar substance/essence as God the Father (homoiousios in Greek) but rather the same substance/essence (homoousios). Anyhow, Cappadocia was the place where these three theologians as well as a huge swell of the other Christians congregated back in the day. Monastics, ascetics, thinkers and all manner of other believers holed up here, quite literally in fact. The landscape of Cappadocia is made up of cliffs, caves and towers of rock. Over the centuries these spaces have been burrowed out and inhabited–a kind of Christian ant farm, with a huge variety of facilities and amenities. Our mission centered on discovering the churches of the region and what we found made a big impression on us.

Working the Audio Guide at the outdoor museum where there is a large concentration of churches. Behind me you can see rooms carved out of the stone pillars. If I remember correctly the area behind me was a convent.

Here inside one of the churches with fascinating design and artwork in red

You can see the entrances to some of the churches built into the cliff walls

Seeing this place changed my ideas of what a church should or could look like

This is the refectory or dining area of a monastery which was a center of learning.

Steps leading up to another church

You have got to be careful not to fall into some of the rooms. Anna took the 30 foot drop remarkably well and stuck the dismount.

The Cappadocian Fathers may have formulated Trinitarian doctrine. They did not motor between cave churches on this rig. Good thing I packed my Jofa hockey helmet from my pee wee days.

The village of Goreme in Cappadocia.

So how did this trip relate to the theme of the my fellowship? In Cappadocia we saw a very unique way in which the church has related to the land. ‘Why build a worship space when you can chisel it out of the ground?’ you can hear the Cappadocians Christians asking. There are beautiful cathedrals the world over, but somehow Cappadocia makes me think that worship, at least for these early Christians, was a matter of necessity in their lives. So inspired were they by the story handed down to them that they scoured the created earth in their neighborhood for spaces to give praise. And so you can imagine that they buzzed around this ant farm of sanctuaries, discovering God in contemplation and in liturgy. The caves and cliffs of Cappadocia reveal that the earth does not necessarily need to be quarried and stacked into a basilica to be a holy space. Holy spaces were already provided here in the rock and simply awaited those who might show up for church.

One response to “Cappadocia: Christian Ant Farm”

  1. DeNee hansen says :

    Each time you send something I marvel at the experiences that you and Anna are having. What a background for your coming years in ministry.

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