If you were to take about a three-hour drive traveling east from the town of Ephesus along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, you would arrive at the ancient city of Hierapolis. Today it lies in ruins upon a hilltop north of the modern city of Pamukkale, Turkey. Historians and archeologists maintain that Hierapolis was established sometime in the second century B.C.
Unearthed, this ancient site reveals that this antediluvian city was once known for its underground springs, mineral baths, and stunning, glittering white cliffs, and it seems to have also served as a place of healing, spa, retreat, and attraction for primal vacationers. But there is something else that can be found there…the ruins of an ancient dedicatory church to the Apostle Philip.
This once massive eight-sided basilica is believed by many to have been constructed on the very sight of Philip’s martyrdom and prior entombment. Right next to the ruins of the former church are several tombs, one of which is believed to have been Philip’s. However, the Italian archaeologists who unearthed the burial sites did not find any relics of this apostle. Today, pilgrims can traverse the long upward trail to the city center that thousands of wayfarers have walked since the third century to pray, worship, and meditate in memory of Philip and the Christ who called him.
Can we have any confidence or relative certainty that this is the actual place where Philip died, or was buried, or both? In a letter dated 140 A.D., Church Father Polycrates of Ephesus (130-196), sent a letter to the Bishop of Rome identifying this as the place. A portion of this letter is quoted by early Church historian, Eusebius of Caesarea and states:
“For in Asia, also, great luminaries have fallen asleep [died], who shall rise again on the last day during the parousia [Greek word for arrival] of the Lord when He comes with glory out of heaven to gather all the saints, including Philip, of the twelve apostles, who sleeps in Hierapolis and his two daughters…”
Isn’t it interesting that we actually learn from this letter that Philip also had family members buried there as well? In reality, this is one of the most trustworthy resources we have regarding any of The Twelve. Let me share one additional story about the Apostle Philip that has defined his persona as one of the selected messengers of Christ.
A fourth-century apocryphal book titled The Acts of Philip, depicts this apostle traveling on a missionary sojourn to Athens, Greece, where he stayed for two years preaching and telling the story of Jesus to the Athenians of his day. He is said to have baptized over 500 converts, founded a church, and installed a bishop. Philip then departed for Phyrgia, which is in modern Turkey. While there, he reconnected with the Apostles Peter and John. Tradition maintains that Philip asked Simon Peter, “I pray you strengthen me, that I may go and preach like you!”
It was also here that this primeval writing says that Philip joined with another apostle named Bartholomew in ministry for a short time. The two of them, accompanied by Philip’s daughters, eventually made their way to Hieropolis where church tradition and scholarship generally agree they settled.
It goes without saying that I find all this historical information extremely fascinating. But what really moves me is how Christ called these apostles. Each left all to follow, and then the passion of God burned so brightly within each one that they left a mark on the world that still lasts today! It is not an understatement to say that the message of Christ rested on their shoulders and world Christendom was established by their inspired efforts. It causes me to question what I have really done to advance the cause of Christ in our day. My efforts seem so feeble by comparison.
But the good news is that we do not have to play that game. Christ desires to be in relationship with us, as we are and who we are, and to use you and me in our own way and in our own time. This Sunday I will share the fourth sermon in our summer series that I have entitled, “The Twelve: The Search for the Apostles of Jesus.” As you have guessed already, we will turn our focus this week on St. Philip the Apostle. Take a look at some of the biblical passages that speak of this apostle – St. John 1:43-46, 6:47, and 14:1-11 – in preparation for worship. I believe it will prove to be an exciting time of discovery!
I wanted to also mention that we have been having a wonderful VBS this week. It is so encouraging to see all the smiling faces of children as they are being challenged to learn and grow in their faith. I also wanted to recognize the terrific work our incredible staff, numerous volunteers, and the Cokesbury team all working together to make this the best Asbury Vacation Bible School yet!
It is true joy to be a part of these exciting days, and I look forward to seeing each one of you in worship this Sunday!