July 13, 2020

My Kingdom for a Church



My Kingdom for a Church
Fun fact: the Hagia Sophia was the world's largest building for nearly a thousand years. Dennis Jarvis, Wikimedia Commons

Here's a historical debate for the ages: the Russian Orthodox Church's Metropolitan Hilarion  recently decried the Turkish government's plan to turn the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque. The Metropolitan called the plan "unacceptable": "we can't go back to the Middle Ages now." And with the handing down of a Turkish court decision Friday, which would allow for the chuch's conversion, religious Russians may become even more rankled.

You may be wondering why the Russian Orthodox Church cares. The answer is complicated.

Hagia Sophia was built as a cathedral in the sixth century, when Instanbul (then Constantinople) was the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Russia's brand of Orthodoxy reached Kievan Rus' in the tenth century from Constantinople, and religious, political, and trade ties between the two were myriad. In fact, many of the pieces of graffiti in the Hagia Sophia (including these) may have been left by people from medieval Russia.

When Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453, the Turks turned the church into a mosque by removing the cross on top of the dome, adding four minarets, and plastering over the Christian mosaics inside.

In the early twentieth century, when the Ottoman Empire secularized itself into the Republic of Turkey, the Hagia Sophia was secularized into a museum, and is now a major attraction and site of veneration. It became a protected UNESCO site in 1985. The modern Turkish government, however, argues sovereignty.

For now, Russia might have to make do with its own eleventh-century Sophia cathedral.

You Might Also Like

Sophia Paleologue
  • March 01, 2013

Sophia Paleologue

History offered Zoe Paleologue little hope. Her homeland overrun, her royal pedigree in tatters... And then the Tsar of all the Russias needed a new wife...
Orthodox-Catholic Summit
  • February 14, 2016

Orthodox-Catholic Summit

This week, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill met in Havana. Why was this such a big deal?
Saints Cyril and Methodius
  • May 24, 2017

Saints Cyril and Methodius

A few words about two brothers who rejected their family's wealth and became known as the Apostles of the Slavs. They never visited Russia, but they translated the Gospel into Slavonic.
Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

The Latchkey Murders

The Latchkey Murders

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin is back on the case in this prequel to the popular mystery Murder at the Dacha, in which a serial killer is on the loose in Khrushchev’s Moscow...
A Taste of Russia

A Taste of Russia

The definitive modern cookbook on Russian cuisine has been totally updated and redesigned in a 30th Anniversary Edition. Layering superbly researched recipes with informative essays on the dishes' rich historical and cultural context, A Taste of Russia includes over 200 recipes on everything from borshch to blini, from Salmon Coulibiac to Beef Stew with Rum, from Marinated Mushrooms to Walnut-honey Filled Pies. A Taste of Russia shows off the best that Russian cooking has to offer. Full of great quotes from Russian literature about Russian food and designed in a convenient wide format that stays open during use.
Murder at the Dacha

Murder at the Dacha

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin has a problem. Several, actually. Not the least of them is the fact that a powerful Soviet boss has been murdered, and Matyushkin's surly commander has given him an unreasonably short time frame to close the case.
Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

The Life Stories collection is a nice introduction to contemporary Russian fiction: many of the 19 authors featured here have won major Russian literary prizes and/or become bestsellers. These are life-affirming stories of love, family, hope, rebirth, mystery and imagination, masterfully translated by some of the best Russian-English translators working today. The selections reassert the power of Russian literature to affect readers of all cultures in profound and lasting ways. Best of all, 100% of the profits from the sale of this book are going to benefit Russian hospice—not-for-profit care for fellow human beings who are nearing the end of their own life stories.
The Little Golden Calf

The Little Golden Calf

Our edition of The Little Golden Calf, one of the greatest Russian satires ever, is the first new translation of this classic novel in nearly fifty years. It is also the first unabridged, uncensored English translation ever, and is 100% true to the original 1931 serial publication in the Russian journal 30 Dnei. Anne O. Fisher’s translation is copiously annotated, and includes an introduction by Alexandra Ilf, the daughter of one of the book’s two co-authors.
Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

This astonishingly gripping autobiography by the founder of the Russian Women’s Death Battallion in World War I is an eye-opening documentary of life before, during and after the Bolshevik Revolution.
Russia Rules

Russia Rules

From the shores of the White Sea to Moscow and the Northern Caucasus, Russian Rules is a high-speed thriller based on actual events, terrifying possibilities, and some really stupid decisions.
Marooned in Moscow

Marooned in Moscow

This gripping autobiography plays out against the backdrop of Russia's bloody Civil War, and was one of the first Western eyewitness accounts of life in post-revolutionary Russia. Marooned in Moscow provides a fascinating account of one woman's entry into war-torn Russia in early 1920, first-person impressions of many in the top Soviet leadership, and accounts of the author's increasingly dangerous work as a journalist and spy, to say nothing of her work on behalf of prisoners, her two arrests, and her eventual ten-month-long imprisonment, including in the infamous Lubyanka prison. It is a veritable encyclopedia of life in Russia in the early 1920s.
Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod is a mid-sized provincial city that exists only in Russian metaphorical space. It has its roots in Gogol, and Ilf and Petrov, and is a place far from Moscow, but close to Russian hearts. It is a place of mystery and normality, of provincial innocence and Black Earth wisdom. Strange, inexplicable things happen in Stargorod. So do good things. And bad things. A lot like life everywhere, one might say. Only with a heavy dose of vodka, longing and mystery.
22 Russian Crosswords

22 Russian Crosswords

Test your knowledge of the Russian language, Russian history and society with these 22 challenging puzzles taken from the pages of Russian Life magazine. Most all the clues are in English, but you must fill in the answers in Russian. If you get stumped, of course all the puzzles have answers printed at the back of the book.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Our Contacts

Russian Life
PO Box 567
Montpelier VT 05601-0567

800-639-4301
802-223-4955