Underground Christians

aida-tours-cappadocia-underground_city_cappadocia-turkey-03.12.2013Deep in the heart of Turkey lies a magical place known as Cappadocia, one of the most awe-inspiring sites my husband and I have ever laid eyes on. Before the time of Christ, an ancient civilization carved out nearly 200 underground cities throughout this region, easily rivaling the set of any Indiana Jones movie. It was incredible!

By the 4th century A.D., these magnificent cities were inhabited by early Christians who were forced to flee underground for protection from violent religious persecution from the Romans. Some of these elaborate and sophisticated cities go eighteen stories below the surface of the earth and boast numerous tunnels, stables, residences, halls, churches, meeting rooms, wells, and passages connecting various cities together. There are churches carved into caves with their walls and ceilings adorned with colorful, detailed biblical frescoes. These underground cities, supporting as many as 20,000 people, protected their citizens from religious persecution and attacks threatening their lives. Archaeologists and historians say that the early Christians tried to defend and protect themselves by using large round stone doors to cover the entrances, complicated maze systems, and even holes in the ceilings which were used to pour hot oil over intruders.

My husband and I were fascinated with the stories told about these faithful early Christians. At one point we arrived at a church eight stories below the surface of the earth. Upon viewing the church, one woman in our group loudly exclaimed, “Why on earth would these people go to all the trouble? Why did they even bother?” I turned and answered her with the first thought that came into my mind, “I really think it’s because they believed in their religion, and their faith caused them to act.”

Similarly, the writer of the book of Hebrews says: “And what shall I more say [of them]? [They] who . . . quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, . . . waxed valiant in fight, turned [armies] to flight . . . They were stoned, . . . were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: . . . wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, [and] tormented; ([They] of whom the world was not worthy) . . . wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Hebrews 11:32-38.)

I walked out of those caves in Cappadocia with so many thoughts swirling around in my head. What kind of people would go to such great lengths to preserve their faith? Why didn’t they just give up? Why did they bother? What are costs (and blessings) associated with discipleship today? And, more pointedly, where does my faith stand when challenged?

Today, we see persecution and attacks on Christians steadily increasing. Elder Dallin H. Oaks recently gave the keynote address at UVU’s Constitutional Symposium for Religious Freedom on April 16, 2014.

“Religion is being marginalized to the point of censorship or condemnation,” he said. “Religious voices, values, and motivations are being crowded out of the public square. Accusations of bigotry or animus leveled at those who promote an adverse position have a chilling effect on speech and public debate on many important issues,” he said. “Both freedom of speech and freedom of religion are jeopardized when their advocates are disparaged as being motivated by hatred.”

Despite his concerns, Elder Oaks was optimistic and said, “One reason for optimism is that the threats to religious speech and religious freedom have become so notorious that our citizens are beginning to become concerned.” Are we among those concerned enough to make a stand for religious speech and religious freedom in our realms of influence? Are we going to stand and defend our faith as impressively as the early Christians?

Ironically, retreating underground was the best way that they could defend their faith. Today, the best way we can defend our faith and stand with Christ is to remain “above ground”, visible for the world to see.

Have we been too comfortable as Christian disciples? Perhaps. In the August 2015 Ensign, President Russell M. Nelson said:

During these perilous times, life will not be comfortable for true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. But we will have His approval. He gave us this assurance: “Blessed are all they who are persecuted for my name’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (3 Nephi 12:10).

In short, as disciples, each of us will be put to the test. At any hour of any day, we have the privilege of choosing between right and wrong. This is an age-old battle that started in a premortal realm. And that battle is becoming more intense every day. Your individual strength of character is needed now more than ever before. … The day is gone when you can be a quiet and comfortable Christian.

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we’re a covenant making and keeping people. We have made sacred covenants at baptism to stand for Jesus Christ. Fortunately, we don’t need to retreat into underground caves to survive the battles going on around us. Yet sometimes we may unwittingly retreat for different reasons. I’ve seen first-hand the ways in which the adversary uses tactics of fear and silence to encourage good and faithful people to retreat. All of us can relate. We might worry that we aren’t knowledgeable enough or have a strong enough testimony to defend doctrine. We may fear we’re rocking the boat by sharing principles and doctrines that go against social trends. Perhaps we may not even want to “row the boat” and remain silent because we don’t want to ruffle any feathers (or get attacked). But Elder Jeffrey R. Holland advised us in the April 2014 General Conference to “Be strong. . . . Defend your beliefs with courtesy and with compassion, but defend them.”

We must remain above ground, standing for religious freedom and morality in social media, in our communities, in our homes, at work, and in conversations with our friends and family. If you’re worried about not feeling strong enough to defend a point of doctrine, take courage! Know that you have all the resources you need on LDS.org to defend truth with clarity and precision. Use the Holy Ghost as your guide and then stand and not flinch in the face of opposition, wherever that may arise.

I know that we are never alone and we need not fear. The early Christians in Turkey went to great lengths to maintain their religion and were required to do so in very unique ways. Even today, these 4th century saints are remembered as people who did everything they could to defend their faith. These are the types of people that history remembers and reveres. What kind of legacy will our faith leave for generations to come? And, when asked the questions, “Why on earth did you go to so much trouble to defend your faith? Why did you bother?” I hope we can each confidently answer, “I believed, and my faith caused me to act.”

 

Images courtesy of Turkish Tourism Board and personal photos from the author.

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10 thoughts on “Underground Christians

  1. Delirious

    I had an interesting conversation recently on Facebook on a Christian page. A man attacked our church, and when I defended it, he told me that I should get out of the church quickly while I still could! He said that I don’t know all of the things that the church teaches. I replied that I am, in fact, very well educated in my beliefs, having spent four years in our church seminary program, and having served as a missionary for the church. He said he felt frustrated that the church didn’t include some of our beliefs on the LDS.org website. I replied that perhaps afterall it is he that is uneducated about our beliefs, and that if something isn’t on the website, then it is probably because we don’t believe it! My biggest reason for getting involved in the on-going “virtual” discussion about our religion is to help dispel some of the ignorance that exists about our beliefs. Too many people are learning about our beliefs from biased sources, or those that purposefully promote incorrect ideas. What I have found is that you don’t have to be a scriptural scholar to have a gospel conversation, you just have to lay out the pure basic teachings of the gospel.

    Reply
    1. Angela

      Delirious, excellent comment! Thank you for sharing your story, it is powerful. I think you handled the situation so well and your comments were perfect. I really like that you said that you spent four years in seminary (no small thing) and that if something isn’t on LDS.org, then it is probably because we don’t believe it.

      I know that with more people like you out there, we can gather strength together and correct false doctrine and philosophies—even great lies perpetuated by the adversary.

      You said, “You don’t have to be a scriptural scholar to have a gospel conversation, you just have to lay out the pure basic teachings of the gospel.” Excellent!

      None of us have photographic memories and quote scriptures or Church manuals verbatim. We don’t need to these days with the internet. It’s all right there for anyone to do a quick search on LDS.org to find the answers.

      Thanks for your comment and insights!

      Reply
    2. Brittany

      Thank you for sharing. You are an example to all of us. I will change the way I interact with others because of reading your comment.

      Reply
    1. Kenan ennis

      Kiersten, im living 100 km away from that amazing and holly place, actually i borned in cappadokia.. Im a Turkish guy who believes the teachings of LDS and mormonizm..and 3 weeks later i will be in salt lake city.. 🙂 i was praying for long time to be near the temple as a guy who born in cappadokia .. My story is interesting also , at least to me..

      Reply
      1. Angela Fallentine Post author

        Kenan,
        It is so nice to see you on here! Thank you so much for your comment. Tell me more about your story. It sounds fascinating and I’m sure our readers would love to hear a little more about a Turkish man who believes the teachings of the LDS Church. I would also love to hear what you thought about Salt Lake City and visiting Temple Square.

        Looking forward to hearing from you, I’m very excited.

        Angela

        Reply
  2. Dr. Phil

    Angela – I love your sentiments here – I’ve been to Cappadocia as well and been similarly stunned at the commitment to worship and devotion by these early Christians. I metaphorically “link arms” with such Christians across time and space along with you.

    Reply
  3. Mandy

    What a great comparison to our day! Throughout history we have countless examples of unwavering Christians whose stories we need to take strength in. We need to be just as strong and dedicated today.

    Reply
  4. Josh

    Having been involved in this online battle for religious freedom and eternal truth for over 8 years, I can tell you that I’ve learned a few things along the way. One thing I’ve learned is when to engage and when NOT to engage with a person with a question (I’m still not perfect at this, but I’m getting a lot better). Some questions are sincere, while others are a baited trap. That discernment can be learned, but sometimes the lesson is painful.

    Regardless of whether one is always as tactful as everyone would hope, I have the deepest love and admiration for every soul who stands in defense of their faith and who promotes the values and principles of Christianity. It is crucial that each of us stands and speaks and serves. It is also crucial that we support each other in this effort, otherwise we’ll each feel like a soul on a remote island surrounded by ravenous sharks. That’s one reason I love your Mormon Women Stand community. I am impressed at how you support and edify one another.

    I’m not alone. I have you. You’re not alone. You have me. And we all have the backing of eternal truth, so long as we stay true to it. The truth is the only safe place to stand because Christ stands there.

    Reply
    1. Angela Fallentine Post author

      Wow, Josh, I loved your comment! I can tell you have a keen understanding of the rough-and-tumble online world of religious freedom. And you’re right, we aren’t alone and more numerous than the media portrays! It is so important to support one another and gather in strength to defend these liberties. There is much strength in numbers. Thank you again for your comment, it inspired me today.

      Reply

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