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.

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?
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  • 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.
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