09 January 2024

Daily prayers during
Christmas and Epiphany:
16, 9 January 2024

The ruins of Hellenistic Pergamon … Pergamum is one of the seven churches in Asia Minor to receive a letter from Saint John in the Book of Revelation (Photograph: Haluk Comertel/Wikipedia)

Patrick Comerford

The celebrations of Epiphany-tide continue today (9 January 2023). The week began with the First Sunday of Epiphany (7 January 2024).

Christmas is a season that lasts for 40 days that continues from Christmas Day (25 December) to Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation (2 February).

Before today begins, I am taking some time for reading, reflection and prayer.

My reflections each morning during the seven days of this week include:

1, A reflection on one of the seven churches named in Revelation 2-3 as one of the recipients of letters from Saint John on Patmos;

2, the Gospel reading of the day;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The Library of Pergamum rivalled those in Alexandria and Ephesus and was given to Cleopatra as a wedding present

The Churches of the Book of Revelation: 3, Pergamum:

Pergamum is one of the seven churches in Asia Minor to receive a letter from Saint John as he describes his revelation on Patmos: Ephesus (Revelation 2: 1-7), Smyrna (Revelation 2: 8-11), Pergamum (Revelation 2: 12-17), Thyatira (Revelation 2: 18-29), Sardis (Revelation 3: 1-6), Philadelphia (Revelation 3: 7-13) and Laodicea (Revelation 3: 14-22).

The third letter in these chapters is addressed to the Church in Pegamum. Pergamum, Pergamon, or Pérgamo (Πέργαμος) is an ancient Greek city about 105 km north of Ephesus, and is known today as Bergama. Pergamum’s wealth, library, temples and beauty were surpassed in the region only by those of Ephesus.

The earliest mention of Pergamon in literary sources is in Xenophon’s Anabasis, and the march of the Ten Thousand under Xenophon’s command ended at Pergamon in 400/399 BCE. Pergamon became the capital of the Kingdom of Pergamon in 281-133 BCE under the Attalid dynasty, who transformed it into one of the major cultural centres of the Greek world.

The most famous structure from the city is the monumental altar, sometimes called the Great Altar, probably dedicated to Zeus and Athena. Many scholars believe the reference in the Book of Revelation to ‘Satan’s throne’ (2: 13) in Pergamon is to the great altar due to its resemblance to a gigantic throne.

The foundations of the altar are still located in the upper city, but the remains of the Pergamon frieze, which originally decorated it, are in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, where they have been installed in a partial reconstruction. The frieze is 2.30 metres high and 113 metres long, making it the second longest frieze surviving from antiquity, after the Parthenon Frieze in Athens.

The Theatre of Pergamon dates from the Hellenistic period and had space for around 10,000 people. It is 36 metres high and the steepest of all ancient theatres.

Pergamum’s library on the Acropolis was the second best in the ancient Greek civilisation. When the Ptolemies stopped exporting papyrus from Egypt, the Pergamenes invented a new substance to use in codices, called pergaminus or pergamena (parchment) after the city. This was made of fine calf skin, and was a predecessor of vellum. The library at Pergamon was said to have 200,000 scrolls, rivalling the libraries of Alexandria and Ephesus – Mark Antony later gave them to Cleopatra as a wedding present.

On the highest point of the citadel is the Temple of Trajan or Traianeum, also called the Temple of Zeus Philios. The Temple of Dionysus was built by Eumenes II in the second century BCE. Pergamon’s oldest temple, the Temple of Athena, dates from the 4th century BCE.

The Lower Acropolis includes a large gymnasium, the Sanctuary of Hera, the Sanctuary of Demeter, and the Sanctuary of Asclepius or Asclepieion. The Asklepion of Pergamum, after those of Kos and Epidavros, was the most important in the Roman world, attracting pilgrims and people in search of healing from all over the known world. There, a live serpent was kept in a mystical chest as an object of veneration.

The city was also a noted centre of idolatrous worship and of the Roman imperial cult. In Saint John’s time, there was a statue of Caesar Augustus in the Temple of Athena on the summit of the acropolis, and the walls of the Great Altar were decorated with reliefs showing the battle between the Greek gods and the giants.

The church was planted at an early stage in Pergamum, and the best-known surviving church building is the Church of Saint John.

Saint Antipas, the first bishop of Pergamum is said to have been ordained by Saint John the Apostle. was a victim of an early clash between Serapis worshippers and Christians. An angry mob is said to have burned Saint Antipas alive in the year 92 CE in front of the Temple of Serapis inside a brazen bull-like incense burner, which represented the bull god Apis.

The German engineer Carl Humann first visited Pergamon in 1864-1865, and returned in 1869-1871. He removed two fragments of a great frieze and sent them to Berlin, where the Pergamon Museum opened in 1907.

Meanwhile, at the beginning of the 19th century, with to the increase of the local Christian population, Pergamon became part of a newly established metropolitan district, but still part of the Metropolis of Ephesus. The district eventually became a diocese and the see was transferred to Pergamon (Bergama) in 1905.

After the Greco-Turkish War in 1919-1922, the ‘Asia Minor disaster’ and the genocide that ensued, the remaining Orthodox population was forced to leave the area. The distinguished Greek Orthodox theologian, Metropolitan John Zizioulas, was the titular Metropolitan of Pergamon and Adramyttium from 1986 until he died last year (2023).

Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon (front, right) with Metropolitan Kallistos Ware and Archbishop Rowan Williams at a celebration organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies in Westcott House, Cambridge, in 2014

In the Book of Revelation, the Christians in Pergamum (Revelation 2: 12-17) were told they were living where ‘Satan’s throne is’ and that they needed to repent for allowing heretics to teach (2: 16).

Verse 12:

Christ is introduced to the Church of Pergamum as the one with the two-edged sword (see 1: 16; see also Hebrews 4: 12, and Psalm 149: 6).

Verse 13:

The great altar to Zeus with its motifs, the statue of the divine Caesar and the veneration of the snake may all have inspired Saint John to describe Pergamum as ‘Satan’s throne.’ The Christians there are commended for holding fast to their faith, despite martyrdom and murder. Antipas, one of the Church leaders in Pergamum, was martyred by being roasted in a brazen bull for his refusal to take part in the imperial cult.

Verse 14:

However, it appears some Christians in Pergamum had been compromised by the imperial cult, described here the cult of Balaam, eating food sacrificed to idols and engaging in fornication. Balaam, a greedy false prophet, was asked to curse the Israelites, and induced them in engage in prostitution with Moabite women and to eat food sacrificed by their neighbours to their gods (see Numbers 22-25). In this instance, John may be referring to those who had taken part in the imperial cult. Participation in sacrifices to the emperor amounts to spiritual unfaithfulness and prostitution.

Verse 15:

The Church in Pergamum, like the Church of Ephesus, also suffered inroads from the Nicolaitans.

Verse 16:

Those who do not take the opportunity to abandon idolatry and heresy are warned of the consequences facing them.

Verse 17:

But those who listen and believe are promised the ‘hidden manna’ which Christ gives to those who conquer with him. Manna sustained the children of Israel in the wilderness; now, in the wilderness of persecution, those who abandon idolatry and follow Christ are promised the hidden manna, which may refer to the Eucharistic banquet.

In the classical world, stones of various kinds served as tickets and admission passes. The white stone and the new name may refer to the believer’s baptismal name, written on a stone, which can be compared with a ticket or a right to enter into the higher heavens.

As with all seven churches, the church in Pergamum is called on to hear the message: ‘Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches’ (Revelation 2: 17).

‘When the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught’ (Mark 1: 21) … the Old Synagogue in Krakow, built in 1407, is the oldest Jewish house of prayer in Poland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 1: 21-28 (NRSVA):

21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ 26 And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching – with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

‘At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region’ (Mark 1: 28) … spreading fame and news at a kiosk in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Tuesday 9 January 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is: ‘Whom Shall I Send’ – Episcopal Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East. This theme was introduced on Sunday by the Revd Davidson Solanki, USPG Regional Manager, Asia and the Middle East.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (9 January 2024) invites us to pray in these words:

We pray for Archbishop Hosam Naoum and other Christian leaders in the Episcopal Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East as they continue to serve their people and work for peace and reconciliation.

The Collect:

Eternal Father,
who at the baptism of Jesus
revealed him to be your Son,
anointing him with the Holy Spirit:
grant to us, who are born again by water and the Spirit,
that we may be faithful to our calling as your adopted children;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord of all time and eternity,
you opened the heavens and revealed yourself as Father
in the baptism of Jesus your beloved Son:
by the power of your Spirit
complete the heavenly work of our rebirth
through the waters of the new creation;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

Heavenly Father,
at the Jordan you revealed Jesus as your Son:
may we recognize him as our Lord
and know ourselves to be your beloved children;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Yesterday’s reflection (Symrna)

Continued tomorrow (Thyatira)

The Altar of Pergamon in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin (Photograph: Raimond Soekking/Wikipedia)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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