Friday, June 09, 2006

Hagia Sophia

This will probably be my last travel-log post about my recent trip to Turkey. It will also be the hardest to write because I am going to deal with some very abstract concepts. I'll try not to ramble.

I will also not respond to those wishing to call me names or who complain about my lack of sensitivity to Muslims in this regard. So, save the hate mail. I won't respond to it.

It is amazing to me how close the emotions of love, hate, joy and bitterness often stand to each other in our conscience. I find the ability to rapidly slide from one to the other to be one of the more uncomplimentary facets of the human condition.

I ran into this while in the Hagia Sophia. While looking at the remnants of the beautiful mosaics and frescoes as well as the magnificent dome and the truly monumental proportions of the church I was struck with what a travesty the Ottomans perpetrated on my culture when they overran the Byzantines. Let us be frank, the Ottomans invaded and conquered a culture that had existed for nearly a 1000 years in its Roman form and much longer as a conglomeration of Greek speaking peoples. As a culture, the Byzantines were superior to the Ottomans in almost every way except the ability to wage the most cruel and barbaric form of war. This doesn't mean that the Byzantines were perfect, far from it, but there is no doubt that the Turks simply stole a country from people who had lived there for millennia and who were culturally and spiritually their superiors.

The Turks then set about destroying all the references to that culture they'd conquered and apparently designed mosque to resemble Orthodox churches. They plastered over they tore down, they changed the language and while slightly more tolerant than the Fatmids in Egypt they forced many to convert to Islam at the point of a sword. The accounts of the atrocities committed upon the people of Constantinople after its fall are difficult for me to read.

The Turks even changed the names of cities so that the Greek heritage of the area was lost or at least submerged beneath a forced veneer of Turkish colored paint. The palace of the last Sultan is a tourist attraction. I don't think the Germans do tours of Adolph Hitler's house. If they do they approach it very differently and the Sultan was a ruthless dictator.

Much of the New Testament was written to churches in what is now Turkey. Much of the best of ancient civilization was preserved by the Byzantines. The Renaissance in Western Europe was possible not because of anything done by the Arabs as is often stated but because the Byzantines had never lost the knowledge of antiquity and Byzantine teachers were hired by Italian merchants and princes to educate their children. The Byzantines were the only state besides China to make the transition from antiquity to the middle ages. Far from being a culture in decline they remained until almost the end, a vibrant culture though reduced in size and influence.

I simply broke down and wept in the Hagia Sophia. I found myself weeping over the loss of what is without doubt, my cultural inheritance. I wept because it is a lie that the plaster over the frescoes preserved the art in the church. The art would have been better preserved if the Hagia Sophia was a working church as it had been for 800 years before the Ottomans converted it into a mosque. I wept and had to quickly leave before I collapsed on the floor. I went outside and waited near the gate for the rest of my group. Outside in the bright sunlight I was able to regain my composure and calm my soul.

Outside I was able to forgive both my myself and the 15th century Ottomans and I sat there and enjoyed the wonderful Saturday morning sun. I waited about 15 or 20 minutes for the rest of my group.

I had to struggle to remember those who committed this great crime are not the same people who are living in Turkey today. I do not hold children responsible for the crimes of their fathers. That said, I don't think that the Turks are able to stand emotionally far enough away from their history to be able to understand why the Hagia Sophia was simultaneously the one thing in Turkey that I felt I must see and the one thing I so dreaded to see.

Other Western nations are somewhat ashamed or at least speak in sheepish tones of their Imperial past and especially the crimes their ancestors committed in the name of their nation. I didn't see that in Turkey. As I said earlier I think that the Turks are still standing too close to their history to see how some of the things they've done look to others. I should also say that the Turks I met were friendly, polite and generally good people. I'd live in Turkey before I'd live in France or Germany or the UK. But, I still had to struggle to not hate the Turks on that day for what their ancestors did to my culture. It is a struggle I won, at least on that day.

I am grateful to the Turkish government for the restoration that is occurring in the Hagia Sophia. I am grateful that they have turned it into a museum. It will only become more spectacular in the future.

I'm planning to return to Turkey someday

I am praying that the Gospel may one day be proclaimed again from the pulpit of the Hagia Sophia.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Philo-Byzanto Blogger


Anonymous said...

I know what you mean. I am also Greek Orthodox Christian, and know that the Byzantines were the greatest Empire of all time, truly Roman and Greek at the same time, and aided by God, his Holy Mother the Theotokos, the angels and all of the Eastern Orthodox saints of the time. I also hope that one day, Christianity will be triumphant again, and that the Turks will be chased out past the furthest apple tree of Asia Minor. Those Seljuks ,and later Ottomans , were such barbarians, and I don't agree with people who say we worship the same God, since we don't. I have read quite a bit about Islam recently, and their god is a moon god, a part of Arabian star family worship. That is why they say Allah is the greater in their religion, since the original pagan people of the Arabian peninsula believed that this god had two daughters, and the he was the greater of these three gods. And they worshipped many idols in their main Kabbah, as well as the others, and it was destroyed by their fake prophet Muhammad, until one was left, and the idols in it were destroyed, and many rituals of the Hajj come from this pagan faith. And not to mention they totally misinterpret the Trinity, the hypostasis and hypostases, and think we worship 3 gods, which is not the case at all. Most of the "Christian" minorities in Arabia, were actually Ebonites and Nestorians, as well as a smattering of Arians. That is why their whole Koran is so confused about Christian doctrine as a whole. And they think that Christians say God slept with Virgin Mary! They don't understand the idea of one nature, with 3 persons joined con-substantially and hypo-statically, and that Jesus had two natures, one human and one divine, and two wills, one human and one divine, and was begotten of the Father before all ages, but not in a carnal sense, in a spiritual sense, though no less real, meaning we are dyophysite, not miaphysite, unlike the heretical Copts, Armenians, Syriac Church and Ethiopian.

And I hope the Patriarch of Constantinople never decides to reunite the churches of the east and west. The Roman Catholics are heretics, and can't be thought of as anything more. We must protect our church from ecumenism and heresy. We can't be infected by the modernist tripe or Rome, never, ever! They never came to our aid when we needed them. They enforced papal infallibility, Purgatory, the Filioque, and other things on us, and only sent 400 Venetian soldiers in the end in 1453, and did almost nothing about the Ottoman invasion. And let's not forget the other atrocities, like the 1204 Crusade, the invasions of the Normans, the stealing of trade by the Venetians (who double-crossed the Byzantines, or properly known then, Eastern Romans , even though they were allies!) And the lack of icons in Catholic Churches, their flawed interpretation of the Trinity, their Scholasticism, Humanism, realism in religious art, nuns with short habits, almost no fasting, priests that look like Protestant ministers, ugly religious art, ugly, modern, unspiritual churches, feminist nuns, ecumenism, kissing the Koran, saying Muslims have the same God as Christians, the pope saying its okay to be gay, them wanting to rule other the other patriarchates, saying some people who commit suicide might still get forgiveness and escape Hell, even though its an unforgivable sin, just like it is been told by the scriptures and apostolic tradition, as well as other things.

Lets pray for our beautiful church, my Orthodox brother, as well as all the other Eastern Orthodox churches, and our history, culture and traditions.

Long live Eastern Rome!

Fai Mao said...

I am a low church Protestant not actually an Eastern Orthodox Christian.

But I believe the heritage of the Byzantines is the heritage of everyone in the West.
The first public schools
The first public hospitals
The first nation to abolish slavery
The first nation to raise women above the level of chattel
The first (I think) to reenforce concrete with iron

The first 4 of those is possibly the greatest positive historical legacy of any nation of all time.