Peter’s First See

The evolution of the Patriarchate of Antioch

by Chorbishop John D. Faris

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For most people, the phrase “See of Peter” refers to Rome.

Rome is the site of the martyrdom of St. Peter and it has been, ever since, the See of Peter.

The term see may be unfamiliar. It is derived from the Latin word sede, meaning chair or seat, and refers to a seat of government, which in this case is the city of the bishop. However, there is another city of the ancient Roman Empire that can also rightfully claim to be the See of Peter.

Apostolic foundations. One way in which the early Christian communities established their legitimacy was to cite their apostolic origins. Because no apostle was more pre-eminent than Peter, many of the early churches took pride in their links to him. Rome, the capital, claimed prominence among all the churches because it was in this city that Peter led the church and was eventually martyred.

Constantinople (founded as New Rome) took pride in the fact that Andrew, the elder brother of Peter and the first-called among the apostles, is buried there. Alexandria, in Egypt, a city second only to Rome in the Roman Empire, claims its apostolicity because it was evangelized by Mark, a disciple of Peter. But Antioch can rightly be called Peter’s first see because he served there for seven years before going to Rome.

Unfortunately, little of the ancient glory of Antioch remains in the modern city of Antakya, in southeastern Turkey. Its 100,000 inhabitants make a living by trading and processing the fruit, olives, wheat and cotton grown in the surrounding countryside. Only archaeological remnants survive as testimony to the glories of the ancient city of Antioch.

In 301 B.C., Seleucus I Nicator, a general in Alexander the Great’s army, founded a city near the mouth of the Orontes River (today known as the Asi). Seleucus intended this city to serve as the capital of the Seleucid Kingdom and named it Antioch, in honor of his father, Antiochus. Because of its strategic location at the crossroads of caravan routes, the city flourished and became a center of commerce.

The Roman general, Pompey the Great, conquered the region in 64 B.C., making it a Roman province with Antioch as its capital. Already renowned for its wealth and luxury, Antioch was to become the third largest city in the Roman Empire, after Rome and Alexandria, with a population of over a half million. Antioch, while always retaining its Greek character, was also home to Macedonians, Syrians, Phoenicians, Jews and Romans. At the time of the apostles, Antioch was a center of government, commerce and culture.

Like the Seleucids before them, the Romans committed large sums of money to adorn the city with temples, statues, gardens, aqueducts and public baths. Even in the 11th century (when the city had already fallen into decline), Eleanor of Aquitaine, the mother of Richard the Lionheart, did not want to leave the elegance of Antioch for the mud of Paris.

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Tags: Christianity Turkey Ecumenism Orthodox Church Church history