By Schaeffer, Pamela
National Catholic Reporter , Vol. 42, No. 35
it was our first night in Turkey and I was sitting with my husband and an Australian traveler in a restaurant in Kufladasi, watching in wonderment as the proprietor-waiter placed our food before us. "Yummy, yummy in the tummy," he repeated with each presentation as if it were a mantra.
We had embarked in late October on an itinerary first planned as a go-it-alone trip one month after Sept. 11, 2001, then canceled after the terrorist attack. The main post-9/11 adjustment was that we had come with a small group, six people, accompanied by a seasoned guide. The restaurant experience was the first of many experiences in the two weeks to come that would feel a bit surreal.
My desire to visit Turkey (known historically as Anatolia and Asia Minor) began developing--hard to believe--nearly a quarter-century ago, when, in the first year of a doctoral program in historical theology, I signed up for a course in the Cappadocian fathers. The attraction must have been the course description, which surely noted that these were Eastern fathers, whose writings theoretically would deepen my understanding of the Eastern Orthodox faith.
As a child, I had been a frequent, if then-uninterested participant in liturgies and social events sponsored by my dad's Greek Orthodox parish in St. Louis, while being officially raised in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod of my mother. (I became a Catholic as an adult, a five on the enneagram seeking my own neutral place.)
Although my declared specialty in the doctoral program was American Christianity, useful in my work of that era as religion writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I have continued since that first course to read deeply in Eastern theology, including the writings of Cappadocians, Sts. Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and especially Gregory of Nyssa, whose "From Glory to Glory" was instrumental to my conviction of the universality of salvation through a process by which the Creator continually, inescapably, draws all of creation into darkness (the incomprehensibility of God) and transforming love.
Obviously, then, in planning our trip to Turkey, the region of Cappadocia near the center of the country was a must. But the more I read about Turkey, the more the list of "must-see" places grew. And each day we were there, I realized how much I had missed in my list-making; how many new places I will add next time I go.
Exploring Turkey is like turning the leaves of a great book, each one representing an era that could alone absorb a seeker for many days or weeks. No doubt the same could be said of many countries, but Turkey, at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, may have a corner on historic and prehistoric richness, in which many forms of religions, not least Christianity, play key roles.
It is possible in Turkey to follow in the footsteps of many famous persons and civilizations: the ancient Hittites; the warrior Alexander; the disciple St. John, whose apocalyptic visions described in the Book of Revelation center on seven cities in Turkey; the apostle St. Paul; the Christian church fathers who gathered in the first seven ecumenical councils, all held on Turkish soil; the Seljuk Turks, who established their capital at Konya and built a chain of caravansaries along the Silk Road, some 200 of which remain today; the Crusaders; the Ottoman Turks, who conquered Constantinople in 1453 and renamed it Istanbul.
Though it helps, a love of history isn't essential for traveling in Turkey. The country is worth visiting for its glorious scenery; its variety of towns and cities, from sleekly modern Ankara to charming Antalya to sense-assaulting Istanbul; for its shopping (leather, copper and ceramics, gold jewelry, beautiful rugs), available in every city and town, but most thrilling in Istanbul's Grand Bazaar; for its gracious older homes, many viewable by boat from the Bosporus; for its friendly people, often marked by an engaging entrepreneurial spirit. …