Cappadocia, the land of beautiful horses in central Turkey, might be better described as the land of magic carpets and monastic caves.
The artistry of Turkey's central Anatolian craftswomen is unsurpassed. We were welcomed into a Turkish home in the town of Uchisar to watch an expert thread wool onto an expensive wooden loom, her eyes focused and her fingers rapidly forming the intricate patterns of the rug. No shortcuts or machine substitutes are permitted in this profession! She proudly showed us the rug she made many years ago for her wedding dowry.
From there we moved to a studio to view a range of finished woollen, cotton and silk carpets. Of particular interest to me was the kilim - a versatile flat weave, pile-less hand-woven rug used by Turkish tribesmen for centuries to line their tent walls, for bedding, as windbreakers in winter and as saddle bags. The nomadic herdsmen would carry their provisions in them as they traversed the volcanic valleys and fields of central and eastern Anatolia. And the caves?
Cappadocia lay at the heart of the Hittite kingdom and later became a Persian satrapy, a Greek colony and a Roman province. The easternmost and largest province of Asia Minor, it was penetrated by Christianity after the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:9), when God fearing residents of Cappadocia returned having been transformed by the Spirit of God having heard and believed the Gospel. Here Christians practiced their faith amidst paganism and severe persecution. They suffered 'grief in all kinds of trials' (1 Peter 1:6), and endured 'fiery ordeals'. No easy, soft centred salvation for these saints. (1 Peter 4:12).
Three centuries later Basil, the archbishop of this area, along with his brother Gregory of Nyssa, and their friend Gregory Nazianzen, organized Christian monasticism, to teach the saints, oppose heresy and help the poor. Their churches and schools were cut out of the Cappadocian rock.
A thirty minute drive from the caves brought us to the Derinkuyu Underground City, once home to twenty thousand people, and certainly to Christians escaping Roman, Arab and later Sejuk persecution. We descended 60 metres down narrow tunnels to a church nave cut out of the rock in the shape of a cross. No power point or pastor's car park in this place; no worship performance or "Let me lead you into the presence of God" jargon in this sanctuary; just gritty godliness in the face of severe, faith proving persecution lived out reverently before the ever present, promise keeping God.
Can we connect the carpets and the caves?
As my Turkish friend Cem remarked, 'It was tough living in tents!' The Apostle Peter described the Cappadocian Christians as 'scattered exiles, foreigners, aliens and strangers' in the world (1 Peter 1:1; 1:17; 2:9). Like their Lord they had no place to lay their head. The Cappadocian carpets remind me that Christians are pilgrims, while the caves tell me that pilgrims will be persecuted. 'They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated - the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.' (Hebrews 11: 37-40)
From pray'r that asks that I may be
Sheltered from winds that beat on Thee,
From fearing when I should aspire,
From falt'ring when I should climb high'r,
From silken self, O Captain, free
Thy soldier who would follow Thee.
From subtle love of softening things,
From easy choices, weakenings,
(Not thus are spirits fortified,
Not this way went the Crucified),
From all that dims Thy Calvary,
O Lamb of God, deliver me.