In our recent trip to Turkey, we visited Cappadocia, in the very center of the country. Cappadocia is mentioned twice in the bible, as one of the groups of god-fearing Jews in Jerusalem at Pentecost and as one of the groups of dispersed Christians addressed in the first letter of Peter. St. Paul is said to have conducted several missionary trips here. This is where in the 4th century the foundations of our Catholic faith were thought through with such intellectual men as Basil the Great, and Gregory of Nazienzen; and St. Gregory of Nyssa.
There was a pagan whose name was Gregory, who was exiled from Armenia and came to faith in Cappadocia, and returned as a missionary to Armenia. He converted the king of Armenia to Christianity, and the saint is known as St Gregory the Illuminator.
St. Basil is responsible for the third part of our creed about the Holy Spirit at the Council of Constantinople in 381: “I believe in the Holy Spirit…” Basil of Caesarea tempered the eccentricities of early Syriac monasticism and wrote a monastic rule. He did for monasticism in the East what Benedict did for the West a few centuries later.
We celebrated mass in a rock-cut cave church of over 1000 years old, a place where Mass had not been celebrated for over 800 years until just recently. Today very few Christians live in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country. Yet 1000 years ago, it was a thriving Catholic Christian culture. And today we still live that legacy here at Saint Benedict. Who knows, maybe in 600 years, there will be no Christianity in the United States. However, the faith will still manifest itself in another location with an even greater vibrancy.
On November 24th, the close of the Year of Faith, Pope Francis in his homily said, “Christ is the centre of the history of the human race and of every man and woman. To him we can bring the joys and the hopes, the sorrows and troubles which are part of our lives. When Jesus is the centre, light shines even amid the darkest times of our lives; he gives us hope, as he does to the good thief in today’s Gospel [Lk 23:43].”
No matter what is going on in the world, and no matter what occupies our time from day to day, Advent should be ablaze with hope, for we follow the light that “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. [John 1:5].”