Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Importance of Syria for Christians

Formerly St Marys Church
From the Christian Gospels, beginning with chapter 8, the Acts of the Apostles tells how the message of Christ’s resurrection spread from Jerusalem to surrounding areas. We see the deacon Philip evangelizing and baptizing in Samaria, where he is joined by the apostles Peter and John. Philip then travels westward, as far as Caesarea, the Roman provincial capital.

In chapter 9 we learn that there are believers in Damascus whom Saul goes to capture. Peter also travels, healing Aeneas in Lydda (Lod) and raising Dorcas in Joppa, both today suburbs of Tel Aviv. He then goes some 75 miles up the coast to Caesarea where he ministers in the house of Cornelius.

As often happens, persecution in one place led to the spread of the Gospel in another, Chapter 11 tells how persecution scattered the disciples even further: “as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch” (Acts 11:19), The Gospel had now gone over 300 miles in its journey around the world.

 Antioch the Great

Called “the Great” to distinguish it from cities in other provinces called Antioch, the city was founded in the 4th century bc by Seleucus I Nicator as a “court city” of his Seleucid Empire. In 64 bc Syria became part of the Roman Empire. Antioch eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the Middle East and played a particularly strong role in the Roman Empire.

Syria had a sizeable contingent of Jews who had full status as citizens. It is likely that the believers fleeing Jerusalem established themselves in the midst of this prosperous colony. We are told in Acts that these believers preached the Gospel, “only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:19-21). These first Gentile converts were called “Christians,” probably not a complement at first.

The new community was instructed by Barnabas, himself a Levite, who was one of the first disciples in Jerusalem. He brought Saul – now Paul – with him and they remained there about a year. After that, Barnabas and Paul were sent by the Church of Antioch to spread the Gospel, first in Cyprus, and then in Asia Minor.

Towards the end of the third century Rome created a “super-province” called the “diocese of the East,” with Antioch as its capital. Thus, when the principal local Churches were recognized at the First Council of Nicaea (ad 325), “Antioch and all the East” was placed third in rank, after Rome and Alexandria. (Source: Greek Catholic Church)

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