History of Hagia Sophia – the Church of Holy Wisdom

History of Hagia Sophia – the Church of Holy Wisdom

IT HAS BEEN DONE – HAGIA SOPHIA IS A MOSQUE! What will the world do? What will the Orthodox world do? Will the Evangelicals in the USA join a boycott? This was an intentional insult to ALL Christians, Orthodox, Protestant and Catholics. NO TOURISM TO TURKEY – A BREAK IN DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS? Time to organize on social media.

Now they are claiming the 1934 decree on the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a museum bearing Kemal Ataturk’s signature was forged! God save us from this newest insanity. Erdogan wants to recite the Islamic prayer of conversion himself in the same spot as Mehmet II in 1453.

In September 2018 Turkish courts finally forbade the re-conversion of Hagia Sophia to a mosque. However, just a few months previously, in April, the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, felt compelled to recite Muslim prayers and praise Mehmet Fatih in Hagia Sophia. I have no idea how independent the Turkish courts are from the President, I assume not much, so this decision must reflect the President’s direction on the future of Hagia Sophia. It would be great if this means we can rest assured that it will continue as a museum and the agitation by and demonstrations fundamentalists will stop. It was great to see the recent reports of the visit of the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, to Hagia Sophia and the possibility the re-opening of the Theological School of Halki will happen soon. There is a wonderful 10th century Byzantine church there that might date from the reign of John I Tzimiskes, an Armenian emperor. It has always functioned as a church and was never converted into a mosque.

Everybody understands that Hagia Sophia essential identity is Christian, even Muslims. The modifications to Hagia Sophia to adapt it for Muslim worship have never fit the building and feel awkward and unnatural. From the beginning the Ottomans understood that they were custodians of its Christian past and had a responsibility to preserve it, even as they used it for their own faith. For 300 years after the conquest the mosaics of Hagia Sophia were uncovered, millions of Muslims worshiped under them, undisturbed. This seems inconceivable today, but it is true. The beauty of the architecture and its decoration was treasured by the Sultans, who did their best to protect what they had inherited from the past, even though they had utterly destroyed Byzantium in 1453 and replaced it with a new Islamic Empire.

What you see when you visit Hagia Sophia today depends on what you see. Foreign tourists who don’t read Arabic have no idea what the Islamic inscriptions say. Most Turks are in the same boat, thy can’t read the Arabic, but they recognize the beauty in the calligraphy and the verses from the Koran that they know they depict. Religious Turks see Islam as a religion of peace and the ultimate fulfillment of Christianity and Judaism. They honor Christ as a Prophet and even respect Christ’s mother. All of changes to Hagia Sophia since 1453 are seen by them as positive improvements in line with God’s intentions.

The Greeks and Orthodox Christian visitors have a different experience in the church today which is totally foreign to what Turkish Muslims see. Hagia Sophia is still the center of their history and faith and the church is in captivity to another religion. They I have actually witnessed Muslims confronting Greek tourists saying – “Stop dreaming – you will NEVER get it back”. It seems Hagia Sophia is right on the fault line between Christianity and Islam, East and West. Now that the future of Hagia Sophia seems assured for the foreseeable future we can all share Hagia Sophia regardless of our religion (or lack of one) as our common heritage, something we can all enjoy and learn from. One can hope the museum workers of the Aya Sofa Museum will get all the support they need to conserve and present it to the public. The hordes of tourists that descend on the museum everyday are a great responsibility! (Source: Pallasweb.com)

It has been 565 years since the last Christian service in Hagia Sophia. Everything that gave Hagia Sophia its meaning as a church – the celebration of the liturgy and the worship of Christ – was brought to an abrupt halt in 1453 when the last candle was extinguished and the final Eucharist was swept from the altar. It was the absolute end to a long history and unique culture. We can still imagine what a service was like in Hagia Sophia. Liturgy in the church was sung – there is a ten second reverberation in the church that makes it hard to understand the spoken voice. Singing services were invented for the church. The choir of Hagia Sophia in the 7th century had 160 singers. Hymns and chants were composed for the church and followed the hourly services that were held in the church. Hagia Sophia was a processional church; bishops, clergy, and choristers lead the people into the church carrying crosses and icons with clouds of perfumed incense, spread by swinging and gently clanging silver censors. This was combined with the light reflected from the golden vaults and the beautiful mosaics and other artwork in the church that also reflected light. The Holy Altar was covered in glinting silver and gold and set with rich jewels and pearls. Finally the splendid rich marble revetments and columns all added to this unique experience of worship and wonder. In its current circumstances Hagia Sophia is like a bombed out Opera House.