Journey to Nicea: “Establishment of Church at Antioch AD 34”
ANTIOCH was the second most mentioned city in the Acts of the Apostles and the third city of importance in the Roman Empire. It was founded by Seleucus I in 300 B.C. on the Orontes, and was named after his father Antiochus. It was known for its splendor and beauty. After the Romans occupied it under the leadership of Pompey in 64 B.C. they competed among each other to make Antioch the “Queen of the East.” They built temples, theatres, public baths, bridges and canals. Besides its adornment, it was “notorious for the lavishness of its pagan population.”
Its location, on the river Orontes and 21 miles from the sea, made it a center of trade “being easily approached by the caravans of the East and through its port Seleucia having maritime communication with the West.”
This landmark of Syria, because of its location, size and importance in the Roman Empire, moved to be the second center of Christianity. Nicolaus, one of the seven deacons chosen to serve tables, was a proselyte from Antioch and was probably the first Christian from that city. To Antioch, the first Christians fled the persecution which followed the death of St. Stephen, the martyr. Here the word of God was preached to Jews and Gentiles by Barnabas, a man full of the Holy Spirit and of faith, and Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles. In Antioch, the followers of Christ were called, Christians for the first time.
The Jews of Antioch who were converted to Christianity were divided into two groups. The first group adhered to all that was old: yet the second group found it necessary to mix with the Greeks and become Hellenized (a form of Judaism that combined Jewish tradition with Greek culture). An issue was raised between these two groups over whether the Gentile had to be circumcised or not. The dispute between St. Paul and St. Peter, which occurred in Antioch, was an aspect of this conflict. It is from this atmosphere of enthusiasm and concern, of prophecy and teaching the first missionaries to the Gentiles which set forth the spreading of the Word of God.
Although the Book of Acts tells about the disciples fleeing to Antioch, about Barnabas who was sent by the Church in Jerusalem, in addition to other prophets and teachers (specifically, Symeon, who was called Niger; Lucius of Cyrene; Manaen, a member of the court of Herod the Tetrarch; and Saul) by the writings of ecclesiastical historians the tradition holds to St. Peter as the founder of the Church of Antioch around the year A.D. 34. However, being occupied with his missionary work, St. Peter appointed Evodius as his helper and successor. But, in fact, the history of the See of Antioch begins with the Ignatian Epistles, written shortly before the martyr’s death. Of the episcopate of Ignatius, which is believed to have lasted from about A.D. 70 to 112.