Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Hierapolis

Martyrion of St Philip, Hierapolis
Photo by the author

Unexpectedly, yesterday, I found myself on an unplanned visit to Hierapolis, the site of St. Philip’s martyrdom and original interment; near the famous travertine springs of Pamukkale, themselves a sight to behold.



High on a hilltop, looking out over a valley, this has been a site of pilgrimage for thousands of years. Now it is becoming a tourist destination all over again. The views here are, in a word, magnificent. Come if you can.



Philip is best known in esoteric circles for the Nag Hammadi Gospel ascribed to him, a collection of seemingly impenetrable, koan-like aphorisms. Their very strangeness argues for authenticity; the idea that anyone would deliberately invent such material and put it in the very mouth of Christ is, to me, unlikely. 

This place was a destination for Philip, as well; the hot springs were baths of purification, but the immediate area also held a Plutonium, an official entry to the underworld which exhaled pools of deadly carbon monoxide gas. I was privileged to be touring the site with one of the caretakers; and the senior archaeologist on the site was kind enough to allow us into the excavation area for a closer look at this ancient sacred place, which literally, and invisibly, held the power of life and death within its stone walls. Yet here in this place where death itself resides, water- that most quintessential symbol of life- flows outward from a thermal spring.

Creative priesthoods turned this unique and alarming geological phenomenon into a source of augury and revenue; so visitors to the area were able to fine-tune the pitch of their religious impulses between the white springs of heaven and a black hole leading to hell.

The area itself seems to stand between two worlds, physically and spiritually; and perhaps this outward, distinctly pagan aspect is what drew Philip to preach an inner transformation here. He was, according to the stories, successful— a little too successful. He was consequently crucified upside down; and the Roman Catholic church was, in the end, unable to resist the act of confiscating his remains for re-interment in Rome.

We want to change where we are inside; yet we want to hold on to what we have, too. When the Presence comes- in a touch within the hand at the airport, for example- it is more real than any such impulses, and immeasurably more refined. It simply is; there are no inclinations or desires within God. Those belong to us; and we perpetually mistake ourselves for Him. 

As He says, “My Ways are not your ways.”

I stand, like the ancient priests did, on the edge of death; and the evidences of heaven’s purity of purpose and intention flow abundantly. 

Here I am; and if that is all I know today, perhaps it’s enough.

May your soul be filled with light.


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