Nothing to oppose

We are in Pamukkale, Turkey, site of the ancient city of Hierapolis with healing thermal springs, Roman and Byzantine ruins, the sarcophagus of Marcus Aurelius, and the Martyrium, where St. Philip was killed.

Philip (see above -red cloak) was with Jesus when they miraculously fed a hungry multitude, starting out with only two fish and five loaves of bread. The “feeding of the 5000” is the only story, besides Jesus’ Resurrection, that is included in all four Gospels (Mathew 14:13-21; Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:31-44; John 6:5-15).

In the 5th century, the Martyrium was an important Christian pilgrimage destination. We will take you on a similar pilgrimage and explain how you can benefit from it.

We climb the hill where the warm spring water leaves calcium carbonate deposits, making the ground hard and white. Visitors are required to walk barefoot so as not to cause ecological damage — even though the rocks are uneven and sharp in places. If you believe the water will help you, then your belief will produce actual physiological benefits (placebo effects).

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As early as 2000 BC, people came to the springs for healing and the Romans constructed major baths to take advantage of the water’s healing properties. Hierapolis (Holy City) had a population of about 100,000 with huge gates, Temple of Apollo, and theater (built in 129 and shown above).

We climb the stairs to the Martyrium, where St. Philip and St. Bartholomew were (probably) crucified in 80 CE. There are various stories about this and scholars disagree regarding who was there and what happened. Some say Philip healed and converted the Roman proconsul’s wife, causing the proconsul to arrest and crucify the two apostles. An alternate story states that St. Philip’s prayers caused a sacred snake to die, angering a snake worshiping group. In either case, Philip preached a powerful sermon while crucified upside down, forgiving those who persecuted him. An earthquake knocked everyone to the ground, possibly killing his tormentors. His other listeners wanted to release the two saints and Bartholomew was taken off his cross. Philip insisted that he (Philip) be allowed to die.

Around three hundred years later, the Christian Emperor Theodosius had a vision of St. John and St. Philip, assuring him of victory in an upcoming battle. After his success, he ordered construction of the Martyrium, commemorating St. Philip’s martyrdom and grave.

I doubt these apostles, when alive, would encourage killing one’s enemies. This story illustrates how a vision need not be authentic to have real effects — the emperor gained confidence and won the battle and the Martyrium was built.

In parallel fashion, the thermal springs and the Martyrium healed many infirmities — and believers consider these events miraculous.

The Martyrium had an octagonal shape with small chambers for pilgrims to sleep. Pilgrims expected to be healed and to have dreams predicting the future.

My sons and daughters! I want you to gain the confidence and peace of mind you need to achieve your goals. Perhaps you will have a dream that will help this to occur!

We pass through the ruins as a storm approaches and look down at St. Philip’s grave, discovered by archeologists in 2011. The grave must have been moved after the Martyrium burned down in the sixth century.

We approach and look into the grave (it is empty). Philip’s remains were taken to Constanople and then to Cyprus and Italy. A Christian charismatic movement developed in this area, one that emphasized healing, dreams, and prophesy. St. Philips’ daughters lived nearby and were thought to have the gift of prophesy.

Christian authorities eventually shut down the unorthodox movement. The Gospel of St. Philip, which described miraculous events from his perspective, was not included among the four Gospels accepted for inclusion in the Christian Bible.

We wait for a powerful thunderstorm to pass. The air is cold, the wind blows, and it rains very hard. Eventually, we make our way down the hill.

I think about St. Philip’s death. Some people, experiencing severe emotional or physical pain, ponder suicide. Even though the emotional storm may pass, the memory of the pain remains, bringing depression. I suspect some who read these words ponder this situation and I invite them to walk with us.

It is time to walk again through the water.

Lao tsu writes (chapter 60):

“Governing a large country
is like frying a small fish.
You spoil it with too much poking.

Center your country in the Tao
and evil will have no power.
Not that it isn’t there,
but you’ll be able to step out of its way.

Give evil nothing to oppose
and it will disappear by itself.”

What does it mean to step out of the way of evil?

Why would St. Philip chose death over life?

The four accepted Gospels tell about Jesus encountering a crowd of thousands with nothing to eat.

“Where can we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Jesus asked Philip.

“Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little,” Philip answered (John 6:5-7).

If lunch cost $4 for each person, they would need $40,000 to buy food for everyone. Philip did not have $40,000.

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Jesus gathered the small amount that was available and, miraculously, there was plenty for everyone. There was enough left over to fill 12 baskets.

How much would it cost to feed all the hungry people today? They say there are 925 million undernourished people on this earth. If each were given a $4.00 lunch, it would cost $3.7 trillion.

Lao tsu suggests doing nothing. “Don’t poke at the fish,” he says. Be like the Tao — which does not act.

But that is not the point, is it? The point is that miracles are possible — that the unseen world is real. Acknowledging this produces placebo effects. Offer your small number of loaves and fish — someone else will take care of it. Your task is to be happy, in harmony with reality.

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St. Philip, on the left, was crucified but St. Bartholomew continued preaching. He traveled with St. James the Less and achieved martyrdom later by being skinned alive and beheaded. It all ends up the same, doesn’t it?

The Inner Way is a pilgrimage that does not require going anywhere. There is nowhere to go and nothing to do.

When you sit, be aware of your breath. You can come to terms with the forces that seem opposed to you. When thoughts of suffering arise, take note of them, and return your awareness to your breath.

Lao tsu steps out of the way. The suffering remains but, over time, the thoughts come more slowly and there are moments when no thoughts come. When there are no thoughts, you experience what it is like to die. You are outside of space and time but have awareness. There is no fear.

Then, a thought or sensation comes. You come back to normality but are changed.

You can step out of the way and return your awareness to your breath. By doing this you benefit physiologically. You gain tranquility.

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