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Hagia Sophia without the minarets

As of Friday, July 24, 2020, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul has been put back into active use as a mosque. As a Christian, I of course mourn this deeply. As a historian, however, the move does not surprise me. Many are the religious sites around the world today that were once worship sites for other deities, for other peoples, and for other mysteries, some barbaric. That historian in me says we should temper our outrage that the conquerors of a land would choose to make what use of that land that they will, for we have done the same ourselves. We should be wary of venting too much indignation over the status of a building lost ere Columbus sailed the ocean-blue and started a chain of losses for the peoples who once dwelt where we now live. In a way, Erdogan was right in his contempt for a foreign opinion on this matter; the Turks rule the roost in Turkey (would that Turkey respected others’ borders and rights as vehemently as he demands for his own country, however, as Cyprus, Syria, Armenia, Bulgaria, and Greece can all attest).

The world is littered with buildings and sites that once belonged to others. Sometimes those others stubbornly remain. More often they have faded away. In many cases, we should be very glad there are no such troublesome “old ritualists” about. I do not care to see the Aztec sun temples be anything but museums or out and out ruins – theirs was a cult of pure evil and industrial levels of human sacrifice. The Phoenicians were likewise a sacrificial cult whose old worship sites should never be given back. I do not think anyone is longing for a return of the Roman or Norse gods either. Christians largely knocked down or re-purposed the old temples and should be under no modern obligation to give them back, despite what the neo-pagans insist. To the victors go the spoils, especially after the lapse of a sufficient period of time. For many buildings, the time is long indeed since they served their original purposes.

In 438 BC, Athens completed the Parthenon, a temple to the goddess of wisdom, Athena. For over 700 years, worship of Athena continued in that temple. As the Roman Empire Christianized, Athena was chucked out, and the Parthenon was remade into a Christian church (after a bit of remodeling), and rededicated to the Theotokos (i.e. Mary). In time the old temple acquired Christian iconography and was one of the chief pilgrimage destinations of the late Roman (Byzantine) empire. During the final collapse of Byzantium, Florence occupied Athens, added a tower to the building, and made it a Latin church. The Ottomans later booted the Florentines and turned the building into a mosque. In 1687, about 2000 years after it was built, during a war with Venice, the Ottomans used it as a gunpowder magazine, and Venetian artillery landed a round home. (see Wikipedia) Meanwhile, the Pantheon in Rome was once a Roman temple to all of the major gods. Now it is a Catholic church. Should these buildings be given back to “the old gods”?

In the west of England, near the Welsh border, lies the town of Shrewsbury (you Brother Cadfael fans out there ought to recognize the name). The Saxons, once Christianized, built a church there, and archaeologists believe they did so on the site of an old pagan sacred grove. It was common Christian practice to build churches on the sites where the pagans had worshipped – this was both politics and theology. The politics of the decision kept the pagans at least coming to the same physical location, and the theological import was that the site had been claimed for Christ. That church somehow survived and continued in use for centuries, until it became a barn. During those centuries, first, the Eastern and Western Christian churches split, then Henry VIII ripped England away from Rome. As even Anglicanism has nearly collapsed in England, the Eastern Orthodox have been busily winning converts. One such small Orthodox parish acquired this old Saxon church-barn and put it back to use – for them it was a matter of reclaiming “one of their own,” a small colony in a Britain ripe again for evangelism. They have since also acquired a much larger church in Shrewsbury proper – an old Norman church dedicated to a Middle-Eastern martyr. You can see their story here:

Should we demand they move out of their Saxon building at this point? Maybe the old pagans want to frolic there again?

In Jerusalem, we have the current Holy Sepulchre, which was built to replace a Roman temple to Aphrodite, which Hadrian had deliberately built over Jesus’s tomb. And the Dome of the Rock mosque is built right over where the Holy of Holies was for the Jewish Temple. Obviously the Jews want their Temple Mount back, but the reality is very complicated. Should all sides surrender it as a museum instead?

As an Orthodox Christian, though angry at Erdogan for what is ultimately an act of petty international spite, I am not without hope that Hagia Sophia will not forever be a mosque. In fact, I know it cannot be so. For Christians, even her now-former status as a museum was never good enough, nor permanent, being little better than a place of truce. For Christians, Hagia Sophia is, in fact, still a church anyway, and nothing can make it anything else, even if (to our eyes) it has been vandalized and desecrated. We are around, at least, to keep its memory alive. The cult of Athena, meanwhile, is truly gone and cannot lay claim to the Parthenon, and the Roman gods are silent too. For us Christians, to despair or remain overly angry solves nothing. Nor does casting blame on this or that politician or bishop – Erdogan should have been seen clearly for what he is nearly twenty years ago. For that matter, maybe we should really lay the blame on Enrico Dandollo instead. Or maybe on Basil II for the succession crisis that led to the Roman collapse in the decades after his death. Or maybe Christians should be praying and working for the Turks to convert, and to turn Hagia Sophia back into a church themselves.

Hagia Sophia has not heard her last Divine Liturgy, not by any means. And her memory is not totally lost – she serves as the model today for Orthodox churches the world over.

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  1. Manny Member

    It is very sad. On my post on the Hagia Sophia I expressed anger, and warned those who care about the free world that Islam poses a grave danger to the west. Here I’ll express my sadness over it. It was (and still is) a magnificent achievement by the sixth century Byzantines, and it should rightly be a church. You’re right. A museum was not good enough. A mosque is an outrage. A slap in the face.

    • #1
    • July 26, 2020, at 6:54 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  2. Barfly Member

    Manny (View Comment):

    It is very sad. On my post on the Hagia Sophia I expressed anger, and warned those who care about the free world that Islam poses a grave danger to the west. Here I’ll express my sadness over it. It was (and still is) a magnificent achievement by the sixth century Byzantines, and it should rightly be a church. You’re right. A museum was not good enough. A mosque is an outrage. A slap in the face.

    One that requires an answer.

    • #2
    • July 26, 2020, at 9:03 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  3. Sisyphus Coolidge
    SisyphusJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The veil is torn. Our mission is to our neighbor. I celebrate the history of the Hagia Sophia and would love to see it restored to its original purpose, but we are here for a short while and there is an outrage on every street corner and in every search result. 

    Honor the Hagia Sophia by being the image of God to your neighbors. And Lord have mercy.

    • #3
    • July 27, 2020, at 12:41 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  4. Zafar Member

    @skipsul – do you think this museum to mosque thing specifically needs a response?

    If so, why, by whom and specifically what?

    • #4
    • July 27, 2020, at 2:09 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  5. Kozak Member
    KozakJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The only reason Hagia Sophia is being used as a mosque ( I refuse to refer to Hagia Sophia as a mosque, it’s a Church and always will be), is muslim triumphalism. Istanbul has no need for another site for muslim worship.

    Having been there several times, I can assure you there are plenty of mosques in Istanbul. The Blue Mosque is right across the square from Hagia Sophia.

    No this is no more then a thumb in the eye of all Christians.

     

    History is long, and muslims may want to take pause. The only reason they are able to do this is the almost inhuman restraint of the Christians in this world. And Jews. Patience has it’s limits.

    Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosques immediately come to mind.

    • #5
    • July 27, 2020, at 4:00 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  6. Zafar Member

    Kozak (View Comment):

    The only reason Hagia Sophia is being used as a mosque ( I refuse to refer to Hagia Sophia as a mosque, it’s a Church and always will be), is muslim triumphalism. Istanbul has no need for another site for muslim worship.

    Absolutely true. And the Blue Mosque is never (not often?) full of worshipers. How full is Hagia Sophia going to be after the first flush of gloating?

    Having been there several times, I can assure you there are plenty of mosques in Istanbul. The Blue Mosque is right across the square from Hagia Sophia.

    No this is no more then a thumb in the eye of all Christians.

    I don’t think it’s directly about you for Erdogan (or his target audience). It’s about the Kemalists and Ataturk who made Hagia Sophia into a museum (and demoted Islam from its place in politics in the country).

    • #6
    • July 27, 2020, at 5:36 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  7. Manny Member

    Kozak (View Comment):

    The only reason Hagia Sophia is being used as a mosque ( I refuse to refer to Hagia Sophia as a mosque, it’s a Church and always will be), is muslim triumphalism. Istanbul has no need for another site for muslim worship.

    Having been there several times, I can assure you there are plenty of mosques in Istanbul. The Blue Mosque is right across the square from Hagia Sophia.

    No this is no more then a thumb in the eye of all Christians.

    History is long, and muslims may want to take pause. The only reason they are able to do this is the almost inhuman restraint of the Christians in this world. And Jews. Patience has it’s limits.

    Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosques immediately come to mind.

    No question, the dome on the rock should come down immediately. We bend over backwards, allowing all these immigrants, allowing them freedom of religion in the western countries, making all sorts of peaceful and ecumenical offerings, despite the terror attacks and the slaughter of Christians around the world, and what do we get? The reciprocity is pitifully poor.

    • #7
    • July 27, 2020, at 5:39 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  8. Manny Member

    Zafar (View Comment):

    Kozak (View Comment):

    The only reason Hagia Sophia is being used as a mosque ( I refuse to refer to Hagia Sophia as a mosque, it’s a Church and always will be), is muslim triumphalism. Istanbul has no need for another site for muslim worship.

    Absolutely true. And the Blue Mosque is never (not often?) full of worshipers. How full is Hagia Sophia going to be after the first flush of gloating?

    Having been there several times, I can assure you there are plenty of mosques in Istanbul. The Blue Mosque is right across the square from Hagia Sophia.

    No this is no more then a thumb in the eye of all Christians.

    I don’t think it’s directly about you for Erdogan (or his target audience). It’s about the Kemalists and Ataturk who made Hagia Sophia into a museum (and demoted Islam from its place in politics in the country).

    Yeah, but the earth has changed under the feet in these last eighty years. To do what he did is now an insult. Throw them out of NATo and the European Union. They are not a western country.

    • #8
    • July 27, 2020, at 5:42 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  9. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Zafar (View Comment):

    do you think this museum to mosque thing specifically needs a response?

    If so, why, by whom and specifically what?

    I have no idea what sort of response would have any traction or beneficial effect. Erdogan has chosen his own path, and like Chavez in Venezuela he clearly doesn’t give a damn about how his decisions affect his economy or people, choosing instead to place ideology over actual results. Russia is incensed over this decision, of course, but what could they do either?

    I honestly see no practical solutions here.

    • #9
    • July 27, 2020, at 6:01 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  10. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Manny (View Comment):
    No question, the dome on the rock should come down immediately. We bend over backwards, allowing all these immigrants, allowing them freedom of religion in the western countries, making all sorts of peaceful and ecumenical offerings, despite the terror attacks and the slaughter of Christians around the world, and what do we get? The reciprocity is pitifully poor.

    If you wish to increase the sufferings of Christians in Muslim-majority nations, and to see them wiped out, then blowing up the Dome is practically guaranteed to do so.

    Middle-Eastern Christians’ opinions on matters like this rarely seem to carry any weight here in the West, to say nothing of struggling Christian outposts in Pakistan, Indonesia, India (where persecution by Hindus is sharply on the rise), or in the ‘Stans of central Asia (where there are also significant Jewish populations).

    • #10
    • July 27, 2020, at 6:05 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  11. Kozak Member
    KozakJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):
    No question, the dome on the rock should come down immediately. We bend over backwards, allowing all these immigrants, allowing them freedom of religion in the western countries, making all sorts of peaceful and ecumenical offerings, despite the terror attacks and the slaughter of Christians around the world, and what do we get? The reciprocity is pitifully poor.

    If you wish to increase the sufferings of Christians in Muslim-majority nations, and to see them wiped out, then blowing up the Dome is practically guaranteed to do so.

    Middle-Eastern Christians’ opinions on matters like this rarely seem to carry any weight here in the West, to say nothing of struggling Christian outposts in Pakistan, Indonesia, India (where persecution by Hindus is sharply on the rise), or in the ‘Stans of central Asia (where there are also significant Jewish populations).

    Christians in the Middle East in Muslim countries are nearly extinct. Even our so called “allies”.

    • #11
    • July 27, 2020, at 6:23 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  12. Zafar Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):

    do you think this museum to mosque thing specifically needs a response?

    If so, why, by whom and specifically what?

    I have no idea what sort of response would have any traction or beneficial effect.

    What outcome would you want?

    I’m asking because your OP goes mch deeper than a fairly shallow argument about a very beautiful and historic structure’s use and label. (Which in turn projects current identities [and narratives] onto ‘who won and who lost’ almost 500 years ago in 1453.) And given the outcome you want, what actions, by whom, etc.

    Erdogan has chosen his own path, and like Chavez in Venezuela he clearly doesn’t give a damn about how his decisions affect his economy or people, choosing instead to place ideology over actual results.

    The thing is, they were both popular in the past for what they actually did. In Turkey certainly Erdogan’s economic decisions actually made a place where poorer people could get richer, and opened the door to a whole segment of the population that had been cut out of participating in a swathe of Turkish economic and political life.

    Middle-Eastern Christians’ opinions on matters like this rarely seem to carry any weight here in the West…

    In no small part because their views and opinions are often different from Western Christians, and sometimes unpalatable to what’s emerged as the Western Christian narrative (on things like Israel, and Syria, and perhaps even Muslims). Their interests are different because their situation is different. Muslims aren’t a monolith when it comes to opinions and interests, neither are Christians.

    to say nothing of struggling Christian outposts in Pakistan, Indonesia, India (where persecution by Hindus is sharply on the rise), or in the ‘Stans of central Asia (where there are also significant Jewish populations).

    Indeed

    • #12
    • July 27, 2020, at 6:49 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  13. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Zafar (View Comment):

    What outcome would you want?

    I’m asking because your OP goes mch deeper than a fairly shallow argument about a very beautiful and historic structure’s use and label. (Which in turn projects current identities [and narratives] onto ‘who won and who lost’ almost 500 years ago in 1453.) And given the outcome you want, what actions, by whom, etc.

    Well (since you asked) ideally I would like her back as the functioning patriarchal church of Constantinople. 

    But I also know there is no way for that to happen short of out and out war. And that sort of war would see millions of people displaced because Istanbul’s Christian population is now well under 10,000, whereas a century ago it was around half a million. The millions of Turks who live there today are neither guilty of, nor responsible for the actions of 500 years ago, any more than we Americans today should be held guilty of, or responsible for the Americans who once held slaves and fought a war to keep it that way.

    If the demands of Black Lives Matter are fundamentally unjust (and they are, unquestionably so), with slavery having ended in 1865, then what justice is there in the claims of a war lost in 1453, a war lost nearly 200 years before the first slaves were sold in Virginia?

    The loss of the Great Church as a museum is the loss of a gift of truce by Ataturk. Fine, Erdogan no longer wants any truce. Let him be treated as he wants to be treated. Boot him out of NATO, not for this, but for his other insults and backstabbing, and his undermining of NATO throughout the Mediterranean.

    • #13
    • July 27, 2020, at 7:04 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Zafar (View Comment):

    Erdogan has chosen his own path, and like Chavez in Venezuela he clearly doesn’t give a damn about how his decisions affect his economy or people, choosing instead to place ideology over actual results.

    The thing is, they were both popular in the past for what they actually did. In Turkey certainly Erdogan’s economic decisions actually made a place where poorer people could get richer, and opened the door to a whole segment of the population that had been cut out of participating in a swathe of Turkish economic and political life.

    That may be true, to a point, just as Chavez’s initial moves may have benefitted the Venezuelan poor, but both are typical examples of slaughtering the goose that was laying the golden eggs. Sure, everyone has a good meal of the goose, and feels full for a time, but then the eggs stop coming. Turkey’s economy is not in great shape, and Erdogan himself has been reshaping Turkish economics and politics ways very damaging to the Turkish people. Heck, that’s why he made this move now – his political support in the country is wavering and he’s out of more conventional means to regain it, so has to resort to symbolic moves like this.

    • #14
    • July 27, 2020, at 7:41 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  15. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Zafar (View Comment):

    Middle-Eastern Christians’ opinions on matters like this rarely seem to carry any weight here in the West…

    In no small part because their views and opinions are often different from Western Christians, and sometimes unpalatable to what’s emerged as the Western Christian narrative (on things like Israel, and Syria, and perhaps even Muslims). Their interests are different because their situation is different. Muslims aren’t a monolith when it comes to opinions and interests, neither are Christians.

    Exactly.

    It often comes as a massive surprise to Western Christians that Middle Eastern Christians are rarely what we would consider “pro-Israel”, for instance. Not only do they have more sympathies with the Palestinians, many of the Palestinians are, in fact, Christians who have been displaced right alongside their Muslim neighbors. And modern Israeli politics caters directly to American Evangelical Protestant interests and tourism dollars, while being extremely unfriendly to the Orthodox Christians who have been living there since the times of Jesus.

    And of course Turkish Muslims are not Lebanese Muslims, who are not Iraqi Muslims, who are not Saudi Muslims, and even that’s giving a national gloss to the many different sects and beliefs within Islam. It would be like trying to lump American Catholics with American Mormons with American Evangelicals – the differences matter greatly.

    • #15
    • July 27, 2020, at 7:51 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  16. Weeping Member

    SkipSul: In the west of England, near the Welsh border, lies the town of Shrewsbury (you Brother Cadfael fans out there ought to recognize the name)

    Loved that series – both the books and the TV series.

    • #16
    • July 27, 2020, at 10:14 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    This is also highly recommended reading:

     

    https://orthochristian.com/132898.html

    What is the appropriate Orthodox Christian response? Wringing one’s hands? Howling with exaggerated grief and anger? Writing a note of protest to the Turkish embassy? ‘Discontinuing the restoration of the Valide mosque in Mytilene?’ (That’ll show ’em! Eye for an eye!) Mobilising the Hellenic Navy?

    Or: Praying for the conversion of Turkey, so that Hagia Sophia can someday be an Orthodox church with an Orthodox congregation? Evangelizing Muslims everywhere? Re-opening churches that have flesh-and-blood, modern parishioners? Making those existing churches so spiritually beautiful that visitors will not know if they are on earth or in heaven?

    • #17
    • July 27, 2020, at 12:00 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  18. Lois Lane Coolidge

    All of this discussion is way beyond my knowledge, which is only in the most broad of strokes when it comes to Turkey, to have a real opinion on the politics. But I’ve been to Istanbul, and I am thinking now about the mosaic of Jesus I saw that was uncovered in the Hagia Sophia… the cats slinking through the door that has Constantine and Justinian offering gifts to Mary… the art that is deeply Christian. 

    Will this be destroyed or covered up?

    Either would be a shame, but I suppose it will be one or the other?

     

    • #18
    • July 27, 2020, at 1:11 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  19. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western ChauvinistJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member