Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Commemoration of the Fall of New Rome

Today (well not really today. It was May 29 but on the Julian Calendar, but we'll go ahead and mark it today) Constantinople, New Rome, seat of the Roman Empire, jewel of the Bosphorus, the guardian of Orthodox Christianity finally fell to the Turks lead by Sultan Mehemet II. The year was 1453. The last Roman Emperor, Constantine XI Palaiologos died defending his city alongside his faithful subjects as well as Genoese and Venetians, who had long been hostile enemies to the Empire.  The Divine Liturgy celebrated at Hagia Sophia, the greatest cathedral ever built in Christendom, was interrupted by the arrival of the sultan, still on his horse and the greatest cathedral in Christendom became a mosque.  A tragic day, which lead to further tragedies.

Other churches were similarly seized and/or ransacked and/or made into mosques.  Many Orthodox faithful were sold into slavery.  The Orthodox Patriarch was forced to become less a religious figure and more of a civic authority to keep the Orthodox millet in line.  The Orthodox faith, while tolerated and not officially persecuted, was heavily regulated by the Turkish authorities and the grandiose liturgies and ceremonies associated with the great feasts of the church became more private or low-keyed affairs, no longer enjoying public recognition. 

Though the Greeks and the Balkans eventually threw off the Turkish yoke, Constantinople and the Greeks who continued to live there were under intense scrutiny.  After the fall of  the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, little had changed. It was a different store, but still the same management.  Greeks and Armenians both suffered in the genocide of 1923.  In the 1970s, following Turkey's illegal invasion (and still illegal occupation of Cyprus), many more Greeks were expelled from Constantinople leaving only a small band of 3000 or so.  They call themselves Turkish citizens and are loyal to their country, but they are second class citizens, mainly because they will not submit to Islam. 

Things seem to be looking better.  The Halki Seminary, closed since the 1970s, looks like it may reopen.  More and more church property in both the city itself and in Turkey proper can now be used for the celebration of divine liturgies.  But, much still remains to be done. 

Constantinpole may have fallen but Orthodoxy survived.  It continued to survive in the Greeks and also in the many nations they converted like the Russians who had their own 1453 in 1917 with the Bolsheviks.  Orthodoxy survived there too.  If the Orthodox Church was not the Church that Christ established on earth, then how could it not be attacked by such diabolical forces and still survive in the hearts of her faithful? 

I long when Hagia Sophia be returned to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and that Divine Liturgies may once again be celebrated there.  But as long as there is an Ecumenical Patriarch on the throne of St. Andrew, as long as there are faithful Greek Orthodox who pray, Constantinople survives!

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