We recently returned from a vacation touring parts of Greece and Turkey. As you view the ruins of ancient Greece and Turkey, you can’t help but marvel at the accomplishments of these ancient civilizations. At the same time, however, they also reflect a never-ending cycle of progress and decline. As historian Will Durant says, all civilizations begin, flourish, decline and disappear.
One of the places we visited was ancient Ephesus, outside of modern Kusadasi, Turkey. Ephesus was the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire, after Rome, Alexandria and Antioch. One of the things that it was most noted for was the Temple of Artemis (Diana), one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. Today, there is only one pillar standing for what was once a 127 columned temple larger than a football field. Our guide said that one of the causes contributing to the decline of Ephesus was that many of the people who lived there or who came there to visit the temple and worship the goddess Artemis, stopped doing so due to their conversion to Christianity from the preaching of St. Paul.
The Book of Acts reports that Paul preached in Ephesus for more than two years, “so that the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured.” (Acts 19:10-12) Further proof of Paul’s effectiveness was marked by a near riot which was started by the silversmiths of the city who were losing their livelihood of selling silver images of the goddess, Artemis, because people were turning away from the worship of Artemis as a result of Paul’s preaching. (Acts 19:23-41)
Throughout human history, we see empires and nations rise and then fall, usually conquered through bloody war and conflict. Even some of the Crusades, whose purpose may have been noble in their origins, resorted to the sacking, pillaging, massacre and destruction of anyone or any place that got in their way.
For a brief moment in history, St. Paul changed this pattern in Ephesus. He conquered it without siege or sword, but with the word of God and the example of his life and the lives of his early Christian converts — a worthy model still appropriate for us today.