The Western Christian World Celebrates Epiphany

The Western Christian World Celebrates Epiphany

The Western Christian world celebrates Epiphany as God’s revelation in Jesus, when prophecy was fulfilled and the star led the magi to the infant Jesus:

The Western Christian world celebrates Epiphany as God’s revelation in Jesus, when prophecy was fulfilled and the star led the magi to the infant Jesus:

When wise men from the East had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.  Mt 2:9-12 NRSV

The Orthodox Christian world celebrates Epiphany as the revelation of God in Jesus at the time of Jesus’ baptism:

“And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’” Mt 3: 16-17 NRSV

The Divine and the human intersect when God is revealed in human form. This is our source of hope that so much more lies beyond our comprehension and that a love so all encompassing, all embracing and infinitely pure exists. Living in Istanbul, we are fortunate to experience all the ways that Jesus is celebrated. In fact living in the lands where the Christian church was born, continually brings me back to the roots of my faith. When we celebrate the week of Christian Unity this month, we see how diverse and strong ecumenism is in this ancient city.

Last summer, Betty Frank and I arranged to see the Grotto of St Paul, in the hills above Ephesus. We wanted to see this Grotto, because it has a well-preserved painting of St Thecla (Θέκλα). The only written record of her life is the apocryphal book, Acts of Paul and Thecla, from the 2nd century. St Thecla was from a noble family and, upon hearing Paul speak, gave up her life including her fiancé to follow Paul. This decision was not well received by Thecla’s mother, who is also portrayed in Paul’s Grotto. Thecla’s life was a life with a singular purpose, a life that was consumed with her faith in Jesus and her confidence in Paul. She lived her last decades in a cave near Silifke, on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, teaching, healing and running a nunnery. Thecla suffered for her role as teacher and healer, particularly at the hands of men who were threatened by a female being a virgin and having authority. Men were sent to rape her, as an act of subduing her. Yet she was protected by God and lived a long life.

Her portrait in this Grotto next to the Apostle Paul’s demonstrates that women did have prominent positions within the early church. Stories, whether passed along orally, graphically or in written form, were based upon the lives of real people, people like ourselves, who had families, friends, jobs, heartaches, joys, and dreams. At the end of many of the letters in the New Testament credited to Paul, we see him giving greetings to those men and women who have worked hard in promoting the faith. I have often wondered about who these people were? In walking the paths they have walked, sitting in the ancient amphitheaters they sat in, looking at the mountains and the sea they gazed upon, I am humbled by those who have gone before me; those saints in the faith, who through their lives, kept the story alive.

At the end of this month, my two remaining colleagues Ken and Betty Frank will be leaving Turkey to return to the USA for a period of itineration and then retirement. They have given nearly 40 years of their lives to the work of the American Board (predecessor board to the UCBWM/WCM and the CGMB) in Turkey and in Zambia. Their work with youth, with teachers, with the Health and Education Foundation (SEV), with the refugees, with the interfaith community as well as the ecumenical Christian community, has touched the lives of many. I have seen this vividly at the several occasions celebrating their ministry. This past week, Betty and Ken were honored, along with our Program Assistant Tulin Kenber, by a prayer service and potluck supper given by those who work with the Istanbul Interparish Migrant Program (IIMP) and the World Day of Prayer. Now with the closing of our liaison office with Common Global Ministries here in Turkey, we begin to end an era that has stretched since the very beginning with the work of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in the Near East, but will continue to nurture longtime partnerships in different ways. I will miss them, as I miss all of the saints who have preceded me.

So I end this letter by sending my greetings to all those saints who I have had the privilege of working with over the years, both here in Turkey, and through our continuing relationships with the churches of the UCC and the Disciples. Please continue your prayers and your support.

Selam/Shalom/Peace be upon you

Alison Stendahl

Alison Stendahl serves with the Near East Mission, Istanbul, Turkey.  She is Academic Dean of and a math teacher at Uskudar American Academy in Istanbul Turkey.