Two weeks ago I began our Ephesian study. Once again our base text for the class is Fr. Lawrence Farley's Prison Epistles.
The introduction is history rich. We spent most of the day in the book of Acts going through chapters 18-20. This passage gives the origin of the church.
Here are some highlights about Ephesus itself.
It was one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire. In the first century there were approximately 400-500K people. It was a coastal city that provide a lot of trade for all of Asia Minor. It became a hub for the whole province and then a hub of Christian evangelism in the early centuries. Even though it was on the coast, its harbor had to be dredged regularly, and today is filed in with sediment. The town of Melitus often provided an easier access to the city. The big claim to fame was the Temple of Diana (Artemis) that was part of the city. The temple itself is considered one of the seven ancient wonders. It could hold up to 25,000 people in the city. As you read the story of the church in Acts, it was an uproar around the temple that eventually got Paul kicked out of town.
The church was comprised of a healthy combination of Jews and Gentiles, and former disciples of John the Baptist. The next time we see the church is in the Apocrypha. After the death of the Virgin Mary, John left Jerusalem and settled in Ephesus. It was from Ephesus that he wrote his epistles and gospel. During his state-imposed exile to the isle of Patmos, he wrote the book of Revelation which is a letter to Ephesus and six other churches in Asia Minor. The city of Ephesus is where John ended his life and was buried. The emperor Justinian later built a church over his resting place. The ruins can be seen to this day.
Ephesus remained a center for Christianity until the Muslim Turks conquered the area. Christians continued to reside around the area until the early 20th century when most Christians were driven out of Turkey. The modern Turkish city is Seljuk, however, one can still visit many of the ruins today.
Other facts about the city: St. Ignatius address one of his epistles to the city. The 3rd Ecumenical Council which upheld the title of Theotokos and condemned Nestorian's version of Christology took place there. Also my patron, St. Mark of Ephesus, hailed from the city. St. Mark prevented a renuion with Rome in 15th century, but that's another story.
The book of Ephesians is a book about the Church. The Church is the body of Christ, and this is consistently address. The issues of the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles in the Church is constant back-theme.