Asia Minor," by Ronald Ginther


Asia Minor, which is now the Moslem-dominated European and Anatolian nation of Turkiye, was the first Christian land in the Eastern Roman Empire along with Christian Armenia, and flourished as a Christian land for a thousand years until the conquest by the Turks in 1453, when they took the city of Constantinople from the defending Byzantines, effectivelty ending the Christian Byzantine empire.

Paul's chief works of ministry were first accomplished here, with the assistance of Barnabas and also Mark and Timothy.

Asia Minor contains almost countless ruins of the Christian era, buried, or excavated partly or in whole.

The Church of Hagia Sophia, the main edifice of the Byzantines, still stands intact in Istanbul, formerly called Constantinople. The Islamic ruler of Turkiye, Erdogan, had declared the edifice a Mosque, no longer a Museum, which it was made during the Westernizing, secularist, democracy-leaning rule of Kemal Ataturk, founder of Turkiye.

Built by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century, it was the largest church of Christendom until St. Peter's in Rome was constructed.

The Ottoman Turkish Sultan, Mehmet in the 15th century, converted it to a mosque, but in the 20th century it was officially re-established as a museum instead, with no more Moslem rites being conducted there though some Moslem Kuffic religious inscriptions on huge shields still hang there (what the inscripions say probably promote the Moslem teachings, that "Allah is One God," and "Mohammed is his prophet").

It is a major tourist sight in the world today, and is still considered the mother church by the Greek Orthodox world. We must wait to see what Erdogan's reclassification of the edifice and his hints of rebuilding or remodeling the complex, entail.

The Greek Orthodox head, the Patriarch of Constantinople, still resides in the city, as a Turkish citizen in order to remain a resident, maintaining a church and office for the patriarchate that goes back over a thousand years to the earliest times of Christian faith in Asia Minor. If he were not a Turkish citizen, he would be regarded and treated as an ememy hostile to Turkish culture and religion, and driven out if not killed if he tried to remain.

Some of the church's ancient Christian frescos have been found when plaster was removed, and the frescos are still very beautiful. The ancient stained glass in the windows has also survived in many windows high up in the building.

Will the dictatorial Erdogan's "reforms' cause them to be re-plastered over or painted over? Much of the building is largely what it was under the Byzantines, though sadly deprived of the glorious aspect it had back then with the innumerable, lavish, golden embellishments. Even so, it remains a stunning sight because of its enormous dome and the huge open space beneath it, along with the dozens of fine marble pillars, many of which were brought there from all parts of Justinian's empire, taken from pagan temples to embelish the church.



Alexandria Troas--the important seaport and town on the Aegean Coast of Asia Minor where the Apostle Paul ministered, resided, and sailed from to carry the Gospel to Macedonia and other lands. It is located in Mysia, the old provincial name, and the area is called the Troad, after ancient Troy. The site of Troy is located nearby, about five miles inland on the hill known today as Hissarlik, a famous name in archeology because there in the latter years of the 19th century the German-American archeologist, Heinrich Schleimann discovered the walls and ruins of ancient Troy of Homer's Iliad. Until his disovery most scholars believed that Troy was only a literary invention and not a real place. They also claimed this was the case with Hittites mentioned in the Bible, until the Hittite civilization's ruined cities were found in Turkey.

A fresco of Christ and his mother Mary discovered in 1968 in Nicaea (modern Iznik, Turkey), in a ruined church, just above the floor level of the church destroyed in the Greek-Turkish war. I was touring with fellow military personnel from the American base in the area, and we were told by our guide it was newly discovered, so we were among the first to view it in all its vivid color. Earthquakes and perhaps artillery had reduced the church to ground level, with just a little above ground, and the fresco was spared by being in a recessed portion of a fragment of a sanctuary wall that survived.

A savage war was fought in the early twenties of the last century; the resident Greek population and the Greek armies were all driven out, and the Turkish nation was firmly established in the first years after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the close of World War I. This picture was taken by Ronald Ginther on a USAF base tour in 1968.


The Temple of Diana, the largest temple in the Greek world, reposed at Ephesus, chief city of Asia Minor, located on the coast of the Aegean Sea.

This stupendous temple was burned and destroyed several times by various madmen seeking fame for the deed that he figured would immortalize him, which it did, as a vandal and a fool.

Paul saw it on his visits and stays in the city. You could not go to Ephesus and not see it looming over the port and inner city markets.

The temple was dedicated to Diana, a mother goddess of the pagan religion, and in protection of its trade in idols Paul was nearly lynched by a mob (the account is fully given in Acts).

Despite its immensity and notoriety, scarcely a stone of the magnificent temple survives today on the original site.

A nearby mosque (also in ruins) contains pillars, it was said by the guide to Ronald Ginther on tour, of the temple. This pillar may have been one taken from the temple to embelish the mosque, when it was built sometime after the 7th century by conquering Moslems.


The amazingly pure, crystalline, light blue, fresh water Lake of Nicaea, in modern Turkey. Nicaea, the important city on the shore, was a venue for the earliest church councils, from which came the Nicaean Creed. The Roman Emperor Constantine called the councils to bring unity to Christianity and its doctrines, so important for the stability of his empire, for he wanted to set controls on the many sects and heresies that were dividing Christianity into rival camps, not to mention fomenting trouble and civil unrest in the now Christian Roman Empire.


NICAEA WAS A ROYAL CITY: The walls of the Byzantine city of Nicaea were three miles in circumference. The city became especially important after the capital was lost to the Byzantine emperors due to the Latin Crusaders seizing the city during a crusade instigated by a pope. The mighty were largely intact until the 20th century, but were severely ravaged in the Greek-Turkish war. The remains though are quite impressive and photogenic.

Turkish Iznik was a small city (now shrunk to a village at least in the 1960s when I was there), huddling in the ruins of the much larger, wealthy, and cosmopolitan city of Roman and Byzantine-Era Nicaea. It was famed for its blue tile industry in the Turkish Ottoman period, which lasted for centuries from the 15th century on up to the early 20th century.

Nicaea, from earliest times flourished. It was a refuge of the Byzantine Empire where Byzantine rulers found they could be secure until they could find forces strong enough to retake Constantinople their original capital from the Latins, which they accomplished by the superior forces of the Komnenian family dynasty and its restoration of the country.

In the 13th century, however, the Franks (called Latins by the Byzantines) captured it in a crusade led by Venice. It had to be considerably damaged at that time. Ships were brought overland to the lake to attack the city within the walls.

It originally held many monasteries and no doubt palaces and mansions, but very little of them survives. The churches are all in ruins. Earthquakes have done extensive damage in addition. A few fine mosques going back to the time of Columbus are covered with the famous Iznik blue tiles and appear like new today. The Iznik pottery was famous for a long time, but no longer operates. The village has grown to a a small town since 1968 when the picture of the walls was taken. Iznik takes advantage of the lush vineyards of the area, the extensive olive groves, the local archeological museum, the ancient ruins of the city and the great walls, and the tourist traffic attracted to its historic sights and also the pristine blue lake. It well worth a tour due to these many reasons because of the great natural beauty, the charming people, and the great historical and religious meaning for Christians.

Paul's travels, his missionary journeys, carried him from Israel to Asia Minor, and from there to Macedonia, and to Greece, and thence to Rome. Cyprus, Malta, and Crete were also visited and ministered in by Paul. Spain is thought to be another place he visited. He may even have reached Britain, not to mention, France (Gaul, for he had at least two years to pay a missionary call to Spain, Britain, and Gaul before he was executed in Rome. Those lands were well-known to soldiers and mechants of the time, so it was no problem finding a ship that would take a traveler to them. Spain was a part of the empire, while Britain would await the conquest of Emperor Claudius. Gaul was conquered by Julius Caesar, so it too, like Spain, was an imperial province, wtih all the seaports, roads and inns, maps, and other means of travel available.

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